In the bible the word ‘wrestling’ speaks very much of a spiritual engagement with God and an invitation to receive his blessing. In the book of Genesis the wrestling becomes quite physical as Jacob grapples with the angel.
“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.” Ouch!
These days the word is often used in phrases such as “wrestling with your conscience” or a government “wrestling with economic problems”. In mass culture however, it’s more likely to describe a couple of big burly fellas slamming the daylights out of each other in a boxing ring.
Whilst it’s not as popular as it once was, commercial wrestling has a long history in Australia going right back to the late 1800s. Stadiums around the country staged regular bouts, often attended by thousands with both local and imported stars. It was television in the early ‘60s that really propelled its popularity with World Championship Wrestling running every Saturday and Sunday on the Nine network.
Wrestlers like André the Giant, Killer Kowalski, Spiros Arion, Haystacks Calhoun and Brute Bernard were amongst hundreds who soon became household names. They were invariably cast as good guys or villains with hyped up controversy, payback and the odd chair smashed over a head – all part of the entertainment. By the late ‘70s, the public was obviously looking for something a bit less primal, the TV telecasts were axed and the popularity of local wrestling took a dive.
More recently ABC TV broke new ground with their Epic series, a season of musicals that highlighted legendary and infamous events in Australian history, such as Johnny Depp’s Pistol and Boo saga with Barnaby Joyce, and Schapelle Corby’s boogie board bust. It demonstrated that just about anything can be turned into a musical these days and I’m hanging out for “Storage Wars – The Musical” and even an all singing and dancing “Australian Lobster Men”.
It also indicated that the media, television in particular, needs to look at new ways of presenting what might have been a rather run-of-the mill documentary, news report or Q&A style forum. What I’m suggesting is a revival of the golden days of Aussie TV wrestling but with a distinct political and social agenda.
There are plenty of issues today that divide the population, with the more extreme views often spread by shock jocks and podcasters. There are plenty of big boppers on the right who could be coaxed into lycra and given a crash course in theatrical wrestling. Finding their combatants on the left might be slightly more difficult and professional actors could be employed as the so called voices of reason.
With a studio audience baying for blood, it’s “Wrestlemania 2024” as some of society’s more contentious issues are given a frantic workout in the ring. Take the current debate over the release of long term immigration detainees. The tag team of bully boys wanting to lock them up again could attack the opposing crew, paralysing them with claw holds and body slams as they attempt to rip the ankle bracelets off their legs.
Commercial wrestling has always been about good guys and bad guys and it would be up to the audience, their convictions and various prejudices, as for whom they cheered. Well-known politicians would be invited to sit ringside, screaming slogans of encouragement or disdain. Some might even have a spiritual engagement with God as they wrestle with their conscience.
The original biblical connotation might seem spurious in the light of what’s currently happening in the world, but the detached reality of a wrestling ring, albeit metaphorical, could well be a better solution than the current wars and deaths of civilians plaguing the planet.