El valor de la diversidad cultural
Wrestling With A Difference In Culture?
This blog has already focused on some of the differences between British and American culture. The use of the English language, of course, with its wildly varying vocabulary and seemingly endless shifts in pronunciation between cities, let alone countries.
British and American musical tastes diverge, too: most Brits really don’t understand or appreciate ‘country’ music, and since the commercial heyday of the Beatles and the Stones, Americans have often ignored domestically successful British artists who have attempted to ‘crack’ the US market (recent exceptions including the boyband One Direction, Coldplay and the London singer Adele, whose album 21 has sold over 10 million copies Stateside).
There’s also a chasm between a lot of British and American humour, with Brits preferring their comedy liberally slathered in irony and their cousins across the Pond generally going in more for slapstick (which is why daft British comedian Benny Hill was so popular in the US. Mind you, many Americans adore the anarchic and cerebral Monty Python as well).
To my mind, however, a quirky distillation of the two nations’ differing mindsets can be seen in their vastly different approaches to that most enduring Anglo-Saxon televisual past-time – professional wrestling.
When I say ‘wrestling‘, I’m talking about sports entertainment. This is not Olympic-grade wrestling, where two men, dedicated to achieving the ultimate accolades in their chosen sport, train for years to ultimately face off in serious competition. (Which is not to say that the wrestlers in World Wrestling Entertainment – WWE – are not physically impressive, because they are. More on this later.)
No, in the make-believe world of sports entertainment, the attainment of medals and plaudits is secondary to the gaudy, sensational soap opera that the characters act out every week in front of adoring audiences across the States (and occasionally the UK, too). The sport of wrestling is often secondary to the colossal egos which the superstars sport alongside their biceps.
Nowadays, American wrestling is big business. No longer do fans insist that the matches and feuds are real, to the chagrin of non-believers. Today they acknowledge the scripted element of the performance and marvel instead at the intricate choreography and stunning physical feats performed by the athletes on display; and make no mistake, these guys are real athletes, as fit as they come.
Anyone who says these men (and women) are mere muscle-bound non-entities have never witnessed the legendary Shawn Michaels in his prime, performing for up to an hour in exhausting bouts where he showcased his dexterity and incredible stamina; or Ric Flair, whose success in the famous 1992 Royal Rumble was a breathtaking exhibition in physical conditioning.
In comparison, British wrestling has always maintained an endearing amateurism – it’s a cherishably naff, pantomimic affair. Saturday lunchtimes as a child, I would sit with my grandfather and watch on television the exploits of home-grown wrestlers with names like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki (real name: Peter Thornley, from England). Contrast these prosaic monikers with their American counterparts: Hulk Hogan, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, The Rock, Ultimate Warrior, Mr Perfect – the list goes on. American wrestling has always seemed so much more glamorous.
Where Brits often appreciate the minor gesture, revelling in small-scale but heartfelt drama, Americans frequently enjoy bombast and spectacle – the bigger, the better. This is clearly evidenced in the two wrestling traditions. The WWE (formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation – WWF – until a legal battle with the World Wildlife Fund, also known as the WWF, forced the company to change its acronym) could easily pass for a Hollywood film, with the costumes and budgets to match.
The lycra-clad Adonises in American wrestling look alien compared to the pasty (but much more lifelike) British versions. American wrestling is still going strong today; wrestling in the UK is, sadly, relatively moribund, the consensus being: why accept second best, when we can see ‘the real thing’ on satellite television?
Personally, I have always loved American wrestling. It is one of the reasons that I, like many Englishmen, feel a great affinity for American culture: I grew up with it. We watched American films and TV shows, and cheered the spandexed gladiators going toe-to-toe in ’the squared circle’. American wrestling is as much part of my childhood as that old British perennial, fish and chips.