In Depth

Philosophy Smackdown

Table of Contests


1. Reality: Work vs Shoot

2. Freedom: Scripting vs Spontaneity

3. Identity: Person vs Gimmick

4. Morality: Babyface vs Heel

5. Justice: Prejudice vs Progress

6. Meaning: Sport vs Monster

Dark Match: Pro Wrestling vs Philosophy


Chapter Descriptions

In Reality: Work vs Shoot, we explore the long-awaited encounter between what is real and what is fake. We will get to the heart of what reality is, and how pro wrestling helps us to understand the key distinction between appearance and reality. We will witness the times when that distinction breaks down in pro wrestling, known as ‘shoots’, including the infamous ‘Montreal Screwjob’, and discuss what being a pro wrestling fan can tell us about being responsible citizens in a democracy.

In Freedom: Scripting vs Spontaneity, we look at the idea that pro wrestling is scripted, and the extent to which this is a distinctive mark of pro wrestling over other sports, and real life. We explore the different extents to which pro wrestling is scripted, and discuss philosophical accounts of how ‘real life’ is scripted. We also talk about breaking cultural scripts, looking at the development of women’s wrestling, and examining the controversial issue of intergender wrestling.

Identity: Person vs Gimmick delves into the relationship between a wrestler and their character, or ‘gimmick’. We explore questions of personal identity, such as what happens to a character when the person playing them changes, and how we can make sense – if at all – of a character changing over time. We also talk about what happens when wrestlers ‘work themselves into a shoot’, and inadvertently becometheir characters. We also see that the predicament of wrestlers and their gimmicks is not a million miles removed from then issues of identity we face in our everyday lives.

In Morality: Babyface vs Heel, we examine the age-old question of what makes a good person, and how this idea plays out in pro wrestling storylines. Of particular interest is the classic babyface/heel dynamic, and how this has evolved in the last 30 years or so. We track this using Aristotle’s account of the virtues to explore how the roles of good guys and bad guys have changed, and what this tells us about our cultural interpretations of what it is to be a good person, and the aims we set for ourselves.

Justice: Prejudice vs Progress scrutinizes pro wrestling’s sometimes uncomfortablerelationship with issues of social justice, such as racism and homophobia. We explore some controversial cases of race and patriotism in pro wrestling storylines, and contrast different ways of approaching LGBTQ issues. We also look at what it would take for a pro wrestling company to be socially responsible, and discuss the challenges awaiting the different approaches to doing so.

In Meaning: Sport vs Monster, we tackle the question of what pro wrestling fundamentally is. Is it a sport? Sports entertainment? Or a ‘monster’: something entirely resistant to categorization? We see that the issue of whether or not it is a sport is far more complex than it might seem, particularly when we clarify what sports pro wrestling is most like. We also trace the carnival origins of pro wrestling to develop the idea that pro wrestling is, and ought to be, in a class of its own.

The Dark Match: Pro Wrestling vs Philosophy offers some reflections on the similarities and differences between pro wrestling and philosophy, both as a subject, and a discipline. It gives an insight into philosophical practice and method, and how both bear a striking resemblance to aspects of pro wrestling, such as the similarities between the narrative structures of philosophical works and pro wrestling matches, and the need for a philosopher to develop their own gimmick in order to succeed.

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