Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



This study analyzes the relationship between professional wrestling as performance and its fans. For decades, professional wrestling has been characterized as a fraudulent sport of scams and illusion rather than actual and fair competition between athletes. Why then is wrestling so popular? I pursue the question by taking a close look at professional wrestling in four different cultural venues or sites of production: the historical archive, the live wrestling event, the televised event, and the Internet. In each site, I focus on what components define professional wrestling, how they operate, and what appears to be their purpose. Drawing on Neil Harris's concept of an "operational aesthetic," I feature components that expose rather than veil their operations and thereby invite the audiences to scrutinize how they work. In addition to Harris, I call on several other theorists to articulate what operations are revealed, and the results or ramifications of the exposure. Roland Barthes and John Fiske help me understand the event as a "spectacle of excess." I also use Barthes' and Fiske's models of readerly, writerly, and producerly texts to analyze the relationship between the event and the fans. The theories and perspectives of Harris, Barthes, and Fiske summon aspects of Bertolt Brecht's aims for theatre. By means of devices that expose rather than veil the apparatus of theatre, Brecht hoped to provoke audience members to be like sporting experts in their passionate critical viewing of the event. The results of the study suggest that wrestling fans understand and value wrestling because it is a performance and because they play a part in producing it. Far from being duped by the wrestling illusion, fans are able to enjoy wrestling with a double voice, producing pleasurable meanings for themselves through critical detachment and critical detachment through pleasure.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Ruth Laurion-Bowman



Included in

Communication Commons