SCREEN-L Archives

January 1993


Options: Use Proportional Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 27 Jan 1993 19:09:14 EST
text/plain (60 lines)
Gary -- My work on the affective dimensions of sports is derrived from the
work of German sociologist Norbert Elias, specifically in his book, THE QUEST
FOR EXCITEMENT. Elias argues that sports allow for a "controlled release" of
affect that builds up in the course of having to control and regulate our
emotions in a civilized society. It is a sanctioned space of emotional
 expression. His focus is primarily on issues of class, but my work asks us to
the same phenomenon in relation to issues of gender. Traditional masculinity
has tended to favor that "vulcan-like" stoicism you evoke and has strong
sanctions against the display of softer emotions. Yet, it is clear, I hope you
would agree, that men actually do have feelings. I am calling for feminist
scholars to investigate the sites of traditional male culture to locate the ways
 that it allows for a "controlled release" of emotion. One might point to the
melodramatic dimensions of country-and-western songs as serving as professional
mourners for men who otherwise might not articulate their failed romances.
Wresling interested me because as televised, it takes on many of the dimensions
of soap opera. Of course, the fans recognize its fake. As Roland Barthes
 suggests in his essay on wresling in MYTHOLOGIES, fans experience wresling as a
 staged event which has tragic undercurrents. But then, like all staged events,
 knowing it is fake does not prevent us from shedding real tears. In the case of
WWF wresling, the series constructs protagonists and antagonists who are
 enacting central cultural conflicts in terms which would be immediately
to viewers of 19th century melodrama. Key themes might be the betrayal of
friendship for example, when Sid Justice turns his back on his tag team partner
Hulk Hogan in the middle of a match as part of the "buildup" for his subsequent
shift from good guy to bad guy. These narratives do have tremendous emotional
force which is clear when you watch the events in live arenas, as I have done
many times now. Men do turn red in the face shouting their rage at the class
injustices perpetuated by the Million Dollar Man and do cry, publically, at
the pathos of some of the events. Yes, camp is one reading strategy men adopt
to distance themselves from these events, which I suspect is what you mean when
you say wrestling is a "hoot" but that distance may be part of what allows the
emotions to be regulated and limited by the event. Camp, however, is simply
 oneway people read the event, even if they do recognize it as faked. Wresling
can thus be seen as a prime example of the affective dimensions of sport.
  Now,as for the link between affect and violence, it seems pretty clear that
affect will find a release in some way and that for many men in our culture,
it is expressed most readily through rage. I never saw my father cry, at least
not until last week when we attended my grandfather's funneral, but I saw him
respond to emotionally stressful events by jumping up and down in a blind rage.
He never was violent to my mother or I but he did find childish displays of
rage the most appropriate response to a range of emotional experiences. My
point was, then, that it is not surprising that domestic violence increases
during periods of increased affect. Elias argues that the hooliganism at
European sporting events is the product of affect that is evoked and imperfectly
 contained by the structure of the match. What is key, however, is that sports
does not create the affect (which has to do with the stress of living in the
modern world) nor does it turn that affect into violence; sports simply becomes
the site for that expression of affect and may, if we buy Elias's arguments, be
a means for the social control of affect which might otherwise turn into
violence if denied alternative expression. When sports works right, it contains
and regulates the affect which it generates, allowing a safe release of
 otherwise socially destructive affect.
  I have probably told you more than is warrent by your question, but I think
Elias's work provides a saner way of talking about this issue than the
 name-calling and fan-bashing which came before.
Henry Jenkins