Grappling With Exclusion
Review: The Wrestlers
With SBS Viceland recently showcasing the Vice series The Dark Side of the Ring, the time is clearly right for the channel to also showcase one of Vice’s prior forays on the mat. The Wrestlers looks at a number of the more unusual aspects of the wrestling business, peering behind the curtain and examining the people behind the larger-than-life characters. Focusing in particular at how an entertainment format can overcome stereotypes and exclusion, it is a fascinating series that pulls no punches.
It would be a mistake to think that these documentaries will only appeal to hardcore wrestling fans. Indeed, the stories that the series tells are broader human interest stories that look at the intersection between politics, culture, and entertainment.
For example, with most Luchadores making money from forays north of the border, the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies threaten much of the Mexican wrestling industry and its ability to appeal to a wider audience. Luchadores in border towns are showed to be frustrated with a number of these policies, and the look at life in the border towns is eye opening as a result.
The same episode also shows a lucha libre training school that works with young children. For these children, training in lucha is a social activity that helps them avoid some of the pull of local gangs. For the church, there is a lesson here somewhere in the important role that community organisations can play in fostering social cohesion.
Another episode looks at homophobia in wrestling and the sport’s recent attempts to stamp it out.
Vice’s Damien Abraham hosts and narrates all of the documentaries. He brings the sensibilities of someone who is clearly a fan, as well as an interview style that manages to gently draw out deeper insights from his subjects. His excitement for the subject matter is infectious, and gives the series an additional layer of accessibility.
There are times when this series is hard going. In particular, the episode regarding ultraviolent ‘death match’ wrestling shows matches where wrestlers take bumps on barbed wire, thumb tacks, and glass. While these matches are as worked as any other contest featured, and less violent than many feature films, viewer discretion is advised.
All episodes of The Wrestlers are currently streaming on SBS On Demand and can be viewed free here.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor
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