Steel Chair to the Head

The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling

Steel Chair to the Head

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 31 b&w photos Published: January 2005

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > TV

The antagonists—oiled, shaved, pierced, and tattooed; the glaring lights; the pounding music; the shouting crowd: professional wrestling is at once spectacle, sport, and business. Steel Chair to the Head provides a multifaceted look at the popular phenomenon of pro wrestling. The contributors combine critical rigor with a deep appreciation of wrestling as a unique cultural form, the latest in a long line of popular performance genres. They examine wrestling as it happens in the ring, is experienced in the stands, is portrayed on television, and is discussed in online chat rooms. In the process, they reveal wrestling as an expression of the contradictions and struggles that shape American culture.

The essayists include scholars in anthropology, psychology, film studies, communication studies, and sociology, one of whom used to wrestle professionally. Classic studies of wrestling by Roland Barthes, Carlos Monsiváis, Sharon Mazer, and Henry Jenkins appear alongside original essays. Whether exploring how pro wrestling inflects race, masculinity, and ideas of reality and authenticity; how female fans express their enthusiasm for male wrestlers; or how lucha libre provides insights into Mexican social and political life, Steel Chair to the Head gives due respect to pro wrestling by treating it with the same thorough attention usually reserved for more conventional forms of cultural expression.

Contributors. Roland Barthes, Douglas L. Battema, Susan Clerc, Laurence de Garis, Henry Jenkins III, Henry Jenkins IV, Heather Levi, Sharon Mazer, Carlos Monsiváis, Lucia Rahilly, Catherine Salmon, Nicholas Sammond, Phillip Serrat, Philip Sewell


“[Steel Chair to the Head] manages to incorporate a number of interesting perspectives on a complex topic and provides a number of essays that are genuinely illuminating. It did not help me win many converts to professional wrestling, but I would like to think that it won some converts to critical thinking.” — Bart Beaty, Canadian Journal of Communication

"Steel Chair to the Head . . . serves 14 arguments that swell over the simple fluff and shallow violence and pry deeper into the wet, sticky blood of the antagonists, the heart of the industry narrative, and its continuous thud and ritualistic timing for wrestling's own cultural reflection. . . . An unparalleled look at the cultural interaction wrestling has with history and the world. . . . A wrestling fan's best friend. . . ." — Nathaniel G. Moore, Verbicide

"Steel Chair To the Head is a truly fascinating look at the sport we love from a couple of steps back. . . . There's no book out there quite as a broad-ranging as Steel Chair To the Head." — Greg Oliver, Slam! Sports

"Steel Chair's contributors perform a good-faith service in rescuing this unfairly, if understandably, maligned 'sports-entertainment' from the 'garbage' realm of 'pornography propaganda'. . . ." — Andrew Hultkrans, Bookforum

"Provides readers with a deeper understanding of professional wrestling than heretofore available in the academic literature. . . . Insightful. . . . Excellent. . . . Highly recommended." — D.M. Furst, Choice

"[U]nparalelled. . . . Steel Chair to the Head is a wrestling fan's best friend, and the anti-fan's worst enemy. . . . Steel Chair to the Head gives a sort of stigmatic closure to pro wrestling by elevating its criticism and delivery to an intelligent sensitivity. . . . This fact-heavy anthology shows the brain behind the phenomenon that has disrupted our ever unbalanced culture. A definite too for a fan of media, wrestling fan or not." — Nathaniel G. Moore, Bookslut

"In the end, Steel Chair to the Head succeeds in showing that pro wrestling is one of the more brutally honest cultural mirrors in our midst, a relationship more akin to symbiosis than parasitism: a form of entertainment finally explored."
— Thomas Wheatley, Flagpole

"Why do millions of pro wrestling fans spend their Saturday nights watching well-oiled, muscled and costumed men performing in a well-rehearsed stage play in which the winner is decided days earlier? What attracts devotees to this sport? Editor Sammond and a host of academics answer these and many other questions, explaining what they think really goes on inside and outside that ring. . . ." — Publishers Weekly

Steel Chair to the Head is an exceptionally smart and well-crafted collection that will be a valuable resource for popular culture scholars of all stripes. From start to finish, there’s not a weak essay in the book. One of the best anthologies—on popular culture or anything else—that I’ve read in a long time.” — Gilbert B. Rodman, author of Elvis after Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend

“The mat is the place where sport and entertainment smack down. This excellent collection of greatest hits and latest memories of wrestling teases out the contradictions of this infinitely frustrating, excessive spectacle of domination and parody.” — Toby Miller, author of Sportsex


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nicholas Sammond is Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child, 1930–1960, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: A Brief and Unnecessary Defense of Professional Wrestling / Nicholas Sammond 1

The World of Wrestling / Roland Barthes 23

"Never Trust a Snake": WWF Wrestling as Masculine Melodrama / Henry Jenkins III 33

"Real Wrestling"/ "Real" Life / Sharon Mazer 67

The Hour of the Mask as Protagonist: El Santo versus the Skeptics on the Subject of Myth / Carlos Monsivais 88

The Mask of the Luchador: Wrestling, Politics, and Identity in Mexico / Heather Levi 96

Squaring the Family Circle: WWF Smackdown Assaults the Social Body / Nicholas Sammond 132

"Ladies Love Wrestling, Too": Female Wrestling Fans Online / Catherine Salmon and Susan Clerc 167

The "Logic" of Professional Wrestling / Laurence De Garis 192

Is RAW War? Professional Wrestling as Popular S/M Narrative / Lucia Rahilly 213

Not Quite Heroes: Race, Masculinity, and Latino Professional Wrestlers / Phillip Serrato 232

Trading in Masculinity: Muscles, Money and Market Discourse in the WWF / Douglas Battema and Philip Sewell 260

Afterword, Part II: Growing up and Growing More Risqué / Henry Jenkins IV 317

Glossary 343

Contributors 345

Index 347
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3438-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3403-3
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