I am at a dark divey bar in Pilsen across the street from the Pink Line, drinking a Bud Light and eating potato chips. The bartender, the two other silent patrons, and I all watch wrestling on the TV in the corner.
Scripted TV wrestling is like The Three Stooges but painted with a darker psychic palette. They get frustrated, they laugh with venom, they make heroic last stands, they slap and slapstick each other cathartically. A lotta yelling. Probably the yelling’est show on TV.
It’s also highly structured, like a play. We’re watching Act I: Trash Talk. The trash talker shows visible anger, his target is visibly upset. They’re gearing up for an emotional smackdown. The bartender laughs. “He’s funny,” she says about the trash talker.
However, when the trash talker moves within frame, we see that he is wearing nothing but a t-shirt and tight wrestling briefs. It’s arresting and vulnerable. Yields a Tom Cruise in Risky Business effect. The trash talk now seems like a speech delivered on a Wednesday morning by a sad man, alone at home, spitting out every hateful thing he wished he’d said to his boss before he was laid off. A man whose narrative arc for the day is built around whether or not he will put on pants.
I finish my chips and note that it’s a strange person who teases the exquisite sadness out of WWE Smackdown. What of my own self-perceived exquisite have I projected onto you, Man without Pants? Milk the last sip of Bud and hop on the Pink Line for the ride to the north side, home.