The Oral Poetics of Professional Wrestling, or Laying the Smackdown on Homer

Abstract

While typically used to analyze oral poetry and oral poetic traditions, composition in performance theory can be used to illuminate other types of art. One of these is professional wrestling, whose narrative structure and ways to make meaning remain largely unstudied. Through composition in performance theory, we can see that professional wrestling maneuvers are in fact formulae, serving to provide consistent and repeatable meaning rather than verisimilitude. Wrestling’s use of discrete narratives given meaning by an expansive and unending storyline is best understood with this theory. The study of wrestling can also inform investigations into the traditions typically studied through composition in performance theory, particularly concerning how formulae come into use and disuse.

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Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, wrestling together as The Rockers.

Video from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ls0gp9f4Jdg.

Shawn Michaels’ “Heel turn” on Marty Jannetty.

Video from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsvUNQyWFhw.

The Hulk Hogan Leg Drop, known for the past thirty years as a devastating finisher.

Image from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leg_drop#mediaviewer/File:Hoganlegdrop.jpg.

This maneuver is a transitional move in a match, not a finisher.

Image from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leg_drop#mediaviewer/File:Chief_Ade_leg_drop.jpg.

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