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A discussion with sociologist and writer Greg Stone about the sport and "drama" of professional wrestling, especially in the Twin Cities.

Stone has edited a book titled "Games, Sport and Power" and is interviewed about wrestling and what it can tell us about our society.

This recording was made available through a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.



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[HOOTING] SPEAKER 1: While wrestling with the policeman isn't the most enjoyable thing in the World, professional wrestling is a very popular sport in Minneapolis and elsewhere around the Midwest. Our guests in the studio this morning is Greg Stone, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and also an expert on professional wrestling. He's recently edited a book called Games, Sport, and Power, a TransAction book by the E.P. Dutton Company. Mr Stone, you say that wrestling is not a sport but a drama. What do you think are the elements that make it a drama?

GREG STONE: Well, I didn't want to say that it's more of a drama than a sport because there's a sense in which all social life is a drama. About anything we do can be seen that way at any rate. This is a stage. We have our costumes. We have our props, equipment, et cetera, so that I don't want to put wrestling down, especially since some of the wrestlers might be listening in and they are rather formidable people.

SPEAKER 1: What kind of social needs do you think that wrestling satisfies since it is so popular with such a broad segment of the population?

GREG STONE: Again, I have to repudiate your question, I don't like the term need.

SPEAKER 1: What do people get out of it?

GREG STONE: I do think it's a way for the more disadvantaged segments of the population to express discontent and violence and that also many of the conflicts in the larger society are dramatized. And the matches, certainly minority conflicts are dramatized there. Certainly the moral problems of good and evil or law versus order are dramatized there.

SPEAKER 1: The wrestlers--

GREG STONE: Such conflicts as these have their little microcosmic acting out. And people can be a part of these larger conflicts in a way that they can't during their workaday existence, I think.

SPEAKER 2: What kind of commentary do you see, social commentary do you see? How does discrimination fare in the ring at this point then based on what you say?

GREG STONE: Ordinarily, the good American Jack Armstrong like a hero will in the long run win out. And of course, he'll take his tumbles as-- well, I shouldn't say Jack Armstrong, but even Horatio Alger type hero, but Jack Armstrong as well. He will win out in the long run, but he will take his licks and the point being I suppose it's almost a kind of opiate of the masses that there is a heaven out there, if one is good and struggles with the evil forces in the world. This is indicated by short cropped hair, not necessarily butch hair, but business like Madison-Avenue-type hair, pink skin, well shaved features, et cetera.

SPEAKER 1: If the black wrestler usually takes the role of the bad man, how about the Black--

GREG STONE: This isn't always the case.

SPEAKER 1: It isn't always. What's the response-- is there a Black component in the audience normally?

GREG STONE: Not so much around the Twin Cities because the Black population is simply not a large percentage of the population. In New York City, for example, the Puerto Rican wrestler is the hero. And you'll have when the Puerto Rican hero wins, the good Puerto Rican wins, you'll have a great turnout, well, a great celebration with Puerto Rican flags, et cetera, on the part of the audience. They very much identify with the heroes of their particular ethnic segments.

SPEAKER 1: In one of your articles, I think, you make the comment that the--

GREG STONE: Although a person like Gandhi, for example, I think, would have relatively little ethnic identification.

SPEAKER 1: Mm-hmm. You make the comment that there's a strict code of ethics within the ring. The professional wrestlers signal to each other what they're planning to do. Is that code of ethics within the ring at all deceptive to the people watching, deceptive to the audience?

GREG STONE: I believe this is something that the audience knows very little about. Of course, there's a code of ethics in any kind of sport performance. Again, I don't want to distinguish wrestling from other sports in this sense. But generally, the wrestler cannot shoot, shoot being a real quotes match unless this is arranged for him to shoot, nor does he want to shoot because a real wrestling match is a very dull affair. Does that answer your question?

SPEAKER 1: So that they really they're acting out a script that they've almost--

GREG STONE: This would be the big difference. When you say sport is more of a drama than or wrestling is more of a drama than sport, the big difference between the drama we're engaged in right now and the drama on the wrestling ring is that we make our scripts or build our scripts as the drama unfolds. And in many wrestling performances, not all, in many wrestling performances, the scripts are prearranged and practiced, yes.

SPEAKER 1: I would think that would have the same flaw that character actors get into that some wrestlers get to be classed as the tough guy or the hero and other is always a loser. Is that the case?

GREG STONE: That's true. There are two things involved here. One is that when the wrestler does become so tight that he loses his appeal to the fans, he'll be moved on around the circuit.

For example, I believe that the Minneapolis organization has its main offices, not the-- well, is connected with the league which has its main offices in Amarillo, Texas. So you can imagine the extent to which the moves around the circuit are possible. There is that.

The other thing is very difficult for the wrestler because he may become so typed particularly for the bad guy that he has a great difficult that he experiences great difficulty in relating to his family, to his friends. He may lose friends. He's constantly challenged in public or this sort of thing, which can make life very difficult for him.

SPEAKER 1: So there's a star syndrome in that sport as well?

GREG STONE: Oh, yes.

SPEAKER 1: Are there young men coming into the sport of wrestling? Or do you think it's something that's slowly dying out?

GREG STONE: Oh, no, I think, it's going to stay about where it is, although it may even increase. I'm quite taken with the billboards which are appearing around the freeway or the freeways in the Twin Cities which are really rather slick advertising promoting jobs which may lend status to the sport and increase the market into higher levels of status than the present audience constitutes.

SPEAKER 1: OK. I'd be interested more in just some of your comments about generally how sports relates to the society. Now--

GREG STONE: Of course, that's the big question. And I think Saint Paul had this person.

SPEAKER 1: Oscar Newman was in town last week talking about high rise apartment buildings and how the crime rate increased geometrically when you got above 6 stories in the building. And his ideas about proprietary space, people feeling, or people needing to feel that something belonged to them, that it was their personal responsibility to care for it, I think, must also apply to public areas within a city.

GREG STONE: Well, perhaps, although that's pretty much like saying that spelling competence is related to the number of frying pans in the home, that if you buy more frying pans, you can spell better. And I'm sure there are other intervening variables, if you like, between the size of the building and the crime rate. No small part of which is the crimes that are reported by the police as opposed to the actual crime rate.

We have some interesting things going on in the department on this by at this time. Paul Reynolds, a professor in our department is doing work on this. And he finds that perhaps less than, well, about 40% of the crimes that are committed are reported to the police. And of course, crime rates are based on reports. And then, of course, of those that are reported, why not all of them get into the hopper either.

SPEAKER 1: That's right. I talked to him in connection with a series I did on rapes and the problem with reporting rape crime just by phone. And I think I was there. He did this in model cities.

GREG STONE: I think he--


SPEAKER 1: I met him at the news conference there. We're just about at the end of your time, and I don't want to make you late.

GREG STONE: All right. Well, thank you very much.

SPEAKER 1: Well, you just cut this out. That was just an interesting comparison of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Thank you, Mr. Stone, the Editor of Game, Sport, and Power, a complete book about the sports in society.


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