Each Monday throughout February, we're featuring writing to the theme of 'obsessions'. Today's post comes from Melbourne-based writer, Scarlett Harris.
Many women who watch wrestling are introduced to it by fathers, brothers and other male family members.
My initiation to the sport(’s entertainment) came at 13 when a high school friend invited me over one night after school to watch VHS tapes of World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation) her neighbour had made for her, and I thought, “Why not?” As I continued to receive the tapes from her weeks after the episodes had aired I realised Foxtel could sate my increasing appetite for in-ring action merely a day after the WWE’s flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown!, played in the US. As my friend’s interest in wrestling waned and mine continued to grow, I soon became known as my class’s biggest wrestling fan.
At first, my parents would try to wean me off the product, convinced it was a phase along with the nu/rap metal of Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit I had started to blast in my bedroom with the door slammed shut (it was 2001, okay?). My mum made me change the channel when anything involving “foreign objects” (chairs, ring bells, sledgehammers etc) and intergender matches (women wrestling men) came on but those stipulations soon fell by the wayside like a formal dress from the shoulders of a Diva in an evening gown match. Hey, no one ever accused pro wrestling of being a bastion of gender equality. (On the other hand, the most recent live wrestling event I attended combined the two aspects of wrestling my parents feared the most: hardcore and women, with local women’s wrestler Vixsin coming away bloodied from being battered with barbed wire and thumbtacks, proving that women can wrestle just as hard as men.)
A year later my parents submitted to being dragged to Melbourne from country Victoria for the WWE’s first Australian tour in 20 years, 2002’s Global Warning. It was at that tour’s fan convention that I met my first wrestlers - Brock Lesnar (the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion), Randy Orton (boy, do I have a story to tell about that one!), and Batista, who wrestling laypeople might also know as Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy.
I would go on to meet many more, waste copious amounts of money on now-useless VHS tapes to record every episode of Raw and SmackDown! for about six years, and become a walking contradiction of wrestling fandom meets feminism, which I’ve written more about here.
When I moved to Melbourne five years ago, I couldn’t afford cable TV as a single girl trying to make it in the big wide world, so I fell out of touch with the machinations of the wrestling one. It wasn’t until I reconnected with a family friend at a wedding in 2013 that wrestling became a part of my life again.
I was first introduced to this friend years before when my 92-year-old grandmother was in hospital convalescing after a hip injury and we bonded over wrestling. He brought along his new baby and his American wife, who happened to be the cousin of a guy named Nick Nemeth better known to wrestling fans as former World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler.
At the wedding, my friend informed me that he was bringing out a slew of my favourite wrestlers that week for a mockumentary he was making and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. While as a young girl I entertained notions of movie stardom, I was reluctant to appear on camera. In the end, I figured it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
That’s how I became involved with my friend’s other brainchild, Outback Championship Wrestling, Australia’s premiere sports entertainment company based in Melbourne and airing its second season locally on Channel 31 from March. Again, being on camera is still not something I’m comfortable with, but somehow I agreed to be the host of the show.
As a teenager obsessed with wrestling I dreamed of working in the WWE. Not as a wrestler, or even an on-screen personality—though I wouldn’t mind Renee Young’s job—but in more of a backstage capacity. Writing storylines, perhaps, or as a reporter for their website or magazines. Fast-forward to 13 years later and it’s still inconceivable to me that I actually get to do these things as a part of OCW.
When most people find out about my dirty little (not-so-) secret, they find it hard to wrap their head around the apparent contradiction of a stereotypically feminine woman and a feminist (not to mention the cognitive dissonance of that pairing if popular opinion is any indication) having a passion for wrestling. Then they ask me why I love it. Is it the violence? The 'body guys'? The soap operatics? Disappointingly, I myself can’t even pinpoint the source of this obsession. It may be about holding on to coming-of-age nostalgia. Or a love of the game I imagine fans of other sports have (wrestling is the only “competition” in which I indulge). It could be an utter ’Mania only paralleled by Star Wars and Doctor Who cosplayers.
They also ask me if I know wrestling is 'fake' which is like asking a Breaking Bad fan whether Walter White’s just a character.
Being a part of the inner workings of Outback Championship Wrestling is probably similar to working on any other scripted production. A good analogy is that wrestling is like theatre with fighting. It also gives me a newfound respect for the men and women who put their bodies on the line every week in a capacity that’s anything but fake.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.