There is perhaps no organized spectacle more easily dismissed as moronic pretense than pro wrestling.

Thomas Hackett, the author of "Slaphappy: Pride, Prejudice, and Professional Wrestling," might very well agree with that assertion. In fact he acknowledges that the "sport" seems "the apotheosis of idiocy to a lot of people." But then he goes on to contend that the fantastically popular televised World Wrestling Entertainment extravaganzas and the many, much smaller wrestling exhibitions on display in VFW lodges and grange halls across the land also offer the open-minded an opportunity to understand the current psyche of this disturbed land...or at least the current psyche of the roaring young males who make up most of pro wrestling's demographic.

"We are a society consumed with measuring status," Hackett maintains. "We are also obsessed with image..." and "there is one area of contemporary culture called professional wrestling that explores these concerns in every single show."

Hackett's contention, backed by the testimony of the various wrestling fans he befriends, is that the opportunity pro wrestling offers these fans to scream insults and obscenities at the performers and each other and to throw chairs at the ring is their only chance to "be tough, be yourself."

Whether or not you buy this reading of pro wrestling's mission and appeal, it's hard to argue with Hackett's defense of the spectacle's fraudulence. "If the country's major investment banks couldn't be bothered to question the sham profits of Enron," he argues, "why should teenage boys second-guess the fabricated prestige of professional wrestlers?...And as President George W. Bush proved, you needn't have been a soldier to seem heroic; you just had to dress up like one."

Hackett's strength as a witness to the flamboyant world of pro wrestling is that he can maintain multiple, apparently contradictory impressions. Of the young men struggling for no pay as they try to crack WWE's lineup, he says, "I wished more of us could find as much pure joy in our culture as they found in pro wrestling." But he also chronicles the rampant drug abuse and self-destructive impulses everywhere evident in the game. "No other branch of popular culture produced so much misery," he writes, referring the addictions and premature deaths that have characterized pro wrestling for years.

This program aired on March 30, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.


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