Sacrament! Religious syncretism in Quebecois wrestling

This is an excerpt from an essay I did which received an appropriately shitty mark

…Since Roland Barthes’ seminal 1972 essay, “The World of Wrestling,” the sport (as I’ll call it until wrestling is more thoroughly defined) has entered the ring of cultural and performance studies scholarship. Scholars grapple to define and locate so elusive a sport, which to Barthes was an “Exhibition of Suffering,” to others was a gendered performance, an archetypal tragedy, an orgy or fundamentally a comedy.  I shy from any teleological reading of wrestling.  It defies essentialism in its very performativity; as is often the case in performance studies, wrestling is too ephemeral, too changing, too slippery to capture in a chokehold.  It is an act of and from the body and therefore potentially tragedian, archetypal, heteronormative homoerotic, orgiastic or comedic in description, but like the rippling sinew and undulating flesh of its performers, not any one thing.  It is more accurately, as Sharon Mazer notes in her Sport and Spectacle, “a sport that is not in the literal sense of the word, sporting; a theatrical entertainment that is not theatre,” in short a performance of contradictions.

In a damp church basement in northern Montreal, these contrary bodies (opposed to definition, opposed to each other) meet every Saturday night to battle in an ICW ring. This display, a particularly Quebecois imitation of WWE wrestling, is what Barthes describes as true wrestling:” performed in second-rate halls, where the public spontaneously attunes itself to the spectacular nature of the contest, like the audience at a suburban cinema.”   Rows of metal chairs sit before a metal barrier in front of the ‘ring’ – a twenty by twenty foot square – surrounded by rope, and in the moments before the announcer’s entrance, anticipation.  Amongst the many bodies at play in wrestling are those of the audience, the standing or seated, cheering, jeering, leering consumers and directors of the performance in the ring.    Belonging to both the seamy and scholarly, wrestling has amassed an audience whose own archetypal performances shape the world of wrestling.  Primarily, there are the ‘marks’ and the ‘smarts,’ those who believe the “visual markers of authenticity” and those who participate in “fandom [as] a mode of performative consumption”(Koh).  For the marks, –who believe the narrative, who see naturally occurring heroes and villains and not managed personae, who see a steel chair to the head and not stage fighting, –the performance is ultimate physicality.  These people privilege the immediacy of the enactment over the script, but in their complete engagement and belief, are most susceptible to encountering the text within the spectacle. The ‘smarts’ are active readers of the script, watching and reading how the plan is actualized yet still engaging in the language of moments embodied on stage.  Their fixation on the spectacle is naturalized by the immediacy of engrossment, but underscored by an ironic practice of over-engrossment.


 When the first match begins – with a shirtless, spandex-clad blonde hero pitted against a bandanna-sporting, skull-bedecked villain – the line between the knowing spectator and the beguiled one is erased.   Whether or not the hero’s choreographed motions (the hero is thrown to the ground, he rises in pain, he gallantly punches and pins the still-celebrating villain) are ‘real’ is irrelevant.  The audience collectively and compulsively cries out at the hero’s pain and shouts at the villain’s, the audience’s bodies receiving the true emotions mimed on stage.  Such is the peculiar pleasure of wrestling, which lies “in believing and disbelieving in what it sees at the same time” (Mazer 7).

The lack of distinction, and the lack of importance, separating ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’ in the wrestling arena opens the possibilities of a dogmatic reading – wrestling is a play of faith.  Above the bodies posing and pounding on the ICW stage hangs the body of Christ, framing the display of physicality in the space of religion.  Because of its immaterial relation to reality, the actual contest is extraneous, and the “ritualized encounter between opponent, replayed repeatedly over time for an exceptionally engaged audience” is privileged (Mazer 3).  Ritual is performed in the ring, in the makeshift pews and from the rafters.  The audience, suspending disbelief or genuinely believing, practices the rite of faith.  Here, wrestling becomes catechistic; a moralistic tale of good and evil, multiple re-iterations of man’s literal fall from grace.  The sacrifice of the body, the mutilated flesh, the spilled blood, citationally reenact crucifixion.  The placing of this even within a peculiarly Quebecois house of worship adds layers of cultural meaning to the bodies present.  Shouts of “tabernacle!” and “sacrament!” come from the audience like displaced “hallelujahs.”   Simultaneously reiterating the religious foundation of Quebecois culture (particularly in this event) and blaspheming it, worship and heresy become utterances of the same sentiment…


Hey, it’s a Movie! (2): Venus Victrix

At the time of Josef von Sternberg’s Blonde Venus’ release, times certainly were changing.  Film audiences were still vibrating with the excitement of the advent of sound. WWI had only just waved farewell to arms and another global catastrophe loomed with the rise of the Third Reich.  Cities were being rebuilt, as were family dynamics in the midst of an unprecedentedly seismic global catastrophe. Renaissances sprung up on every front, from Harlem to the household.  Unsurprisingly then, despite insistence on a return to normalcy, change and instability became the standard of the time.  In Blonde Venus, this insecure modernization perilously coexists with the equally precarious status quo.  Ultra-modern pitted against the primitive, masculinity alongside femininity, white beside black, work versus leisure and other oppositions all point to the mutability of power in an age of uncertainty.  In a memorable performance scene, in which Marlene Dietrich’s Helen Faraday gives a cabaret pantomime of African dance, she straddles the unexpectedly narrow gulf between power and subservience, primarily as they relate to gender and progress.  In the dance scene in Blonde Venus, Sternberg utilizes film’s formal features to ape the shifting lines of status in an ever-modernizing society.

Power swings uneasily across gendered lines in this scene, where sexuality simultaneously empowers and endangers heteronormativity. Conventionally, the male is imbued with signifiers of potency: industry, progress, control – posturing him assertively over the female realm of domesticity, traditionalism and objectification.   Yet within this scene, these associations become androgenized, and, even when relegated to their gendered bounds, culturally impotent. Helen’s re-introduction to the stage marks both a feminine victory and defeat; she must usurp the role of man-as-worker (her husband having been chemically castrated, so to speak, by the technology over which he should have dominion), but she also must cater to the lusts of her presumably male audience. Helen’s caravan of dancers’ entrance onto stage seems to emphasize the latter role, with the camera severing their heads and parading their gyrating torsos and undulating legs.   Their rhythmic unity fuses the harem of exotic dancers into a spineless, carnal mass, maneuvered by the thrust of (man-powered) drums.


As the dancers’ ward, a shackled gorilla, and their audience, a jungle of gawkers, enter the frame, their hierarchal stance comes into question.  These amazons, objects though they may be, have total authority over the hairy ape and over their rapt masculinized audience. In fact, the dynamism of the performers incapacitates their onlookers, who are visually camouflaged and pruned by the set’s foliage.   As the women raise their pseudo tribal masks and march their prisoner towards camera and into the crowd, its position, too, comes into question.  It is pushed and pulled by the chain-wielding dancers, it appears lost and confused amongst the roaring audience and it is impotent to resist the drag of its captors.  Yet, it is the locus of the scene, the only distinguishable figure amongst a sea of masked women and anonymous spectators.  As the dancers begin an apparently ritualized dance around the beast, it is elevated to a near deific status.  Has primal man regained power over its harem?  Clambering onto stage, opening his beastly mouth (in protest? Threat? Mocking laughter?), the beast removes his hirsute costume to reveal an effeminate hand, face, body – those of Helen Faraday.  Thus, this feminine form assumes the masculine power of the deified ape, now transmuted into her strident display of sexuality. The beast has discovered tools: namely, that of her body.  She is blatantly sexualized, emblazoned in her costume’s pubic plumes and adorned torso; however, as a performer, her masquerade is voluntary and positions her above the audience and their gaze.  Even when objectified, Helen’s feminine sexuality earns her top billing.

The lines of power as they relate to progress, too, become blurred in the fervor of the dance scene.  Within the scene, ‘male’ and ‘female’ lose their opposing connotations as powerful or weak, now delegated to ‘progress’ and ‘primitivism.’ Progress is cultivated, human, white, in control; primitivism is wild, animal, black, enslaved.  Yet within this scene, the primacy of evolution over regression and the distinctions between such dichotomies are put into doubt.  Opening the scene, two dark hands pound a potent, tribal rhythm on the drums.  The shot cuts to the orchestra’s beaming black conductor, framed by the nightclub’s jungle-themed décor.  His inane grin and crown of palm fronds displace him within the scene, undermining the control his natty suit, wielded baton and deliberate choreography might otherwise privilege him.  Rendering him unsophisticated – inferior to the white audience who comfortably inhabit a tailored suit – he is reduced to minstrelsy, yet the need to unarm this “primitive” suggests his innate power.

The dancers’ and Marlene’s performance calls into question the supposed dominance inherent to modernity, miming savagery to show the flaws of cultivation.  As the dancers shimmy into frame– again, they are a mass of headless, black bodies, gyrating in irreligious ritual – their visual recollection of their displacement from Africa (urbanity’s symbolic opposite) equates them to feral exoticness.  Like rare birds, decorated in plumes no less, these women are animalized, made objects to be captured and to captivate.  Thus, these simulated women-of-the-jungle are enslaved as objects of visual pleasure, yet also have agency over their urbanite audience, which is hypnotized by their rhythmic and aesthetic fascinations.  The chains linking the women together also evoke ambiguous readings: are they shackled in slavery or united in solidarity?


Their ward, earlier read as man, can now be read as his evolutionary ancestor, an animal displaced from Africa.  The women have complete sway over him, further confusing their role on the hierarchy of power; made animal by their modern viewers, they are nonetheless the tamers of an even wilder beast.  As the chained ape and its leaders parade through the crowd, they remain largely in the shade of the artificial jungle and their metropolitan audience is bathed in shimmering whiteness.  Yet white is not necessarily suggested as light nor as right; in fact the audience is in the dark, duped into believing their agency over the performers.  Spectatorship itself indicated status; leisure time was privileged only to the masters of modern living, yet this performance retrogresses its audience, making them dumb onlookers of ancient rites. The performers trap their supposedly enlightened spectators in dumb paralysis, who unknowingly look on in carnal, not intellectual delight.

The music, fusing tribal beats and jazz, refers to opposing paradigms of “black music.” The primordial rhythm degenerates black culture, but the modernity of jazz immediately denies such a denunciation. As progenitor of an artistic renaissance, blackness colors modern dominion and distances itself from, via ironic conflation, the notion of primitivism as weakness.  Blackness here re-appropriates displacement, celebrating a re-constructed Africa in the costuming and set; subverts primal weakness, taking prisoners, in the audience and in the ape, of its own and asserts cultural power, trumpeting black contribution to modern society with swinging refrain.

Uniting all signs of power’s growing mutability is the Blonde Venus herself: Helen Faraday and her transformative performance. Removing her costume and adopting a bleached Afro wig (bedecked with mock-African talismans), she becomes a masquerade of black culture.  Yet, in her completed conflation of man with woman, animal with human, converting implied power in the process, her fusion of black with white cannot be read as mere masquerade.  Instead, it aligns her, a figure of power, with a culture read by her audience as inferior.  Moreover, as a performing ape-turned-sentient performer, she regains control of her masquerade, reducing her audience to knuckle-dragging onlookers.

The Blonde Venus — draped in fur or uncovered, masculine or feminine, sexual or sexualized, black or white, primitive or modern — divulges no absolute wielder of power. Instead, in her various roles and their conflictive and conflated stances, she merely questions with whom power lies, and whence comes history’s next victor.  Not only is power in constant flux between supposed opposites on the scales of gender and of progress, but also, like the volatility of the era, these opposites in themselves are fluid and interchangeable.


Nada calm it: Venice beeeaaaach


“Hey dad, what’s that over there?” “Not a comet, I tell you what”

Or so goes the fake origin story I just made up right now of Notta Comet (now Notta Comet 3, without Galen) who guess what, have a new single called Venice Beach b/w Home.  Spoiler alert! It’s good.


Lol I’ve totally forgotten how to write so this is the thing where I say “ok, a joke about The Age of Reason and the number of types of canned tomatoes there are at Segall’s” and you kinda fill it in from there:

Like best witches, a p good band from Chicago

Spoken word (“this is the part of the song where I tell a story about…”)

Lung-stuff, edit: deeeep lung-stuff

Nervous glee

Nice-guy brawl-y

“You bring the p-funk. No cops”

Anxious art-rock

Less math-y then I expected (“chugga-chugga-chugga STOP chugga-chugga, one more time” says Mr. Guitar)


“Home” has more of the canned and condensed sprawl expected of Montreal mathcore jazzcore nerds, stacked to the f-in’ roster with little bits of in-joke confetti.  Nervous hiccough vocals, like a shocked statesman (immediate reference point is Pops from “Regular Show,” duh) quckly become Vincent Price invocations of male-wail freakouts in between cooed anti-harmonies.  . I half-expected “dada” chanting halfway through “Home,” but it’s groggy-excited doo-wop instead which is really just as well.   In just two songs, Venice condenses the great time Montreal post-hardcore is having right now, like just a lot of fun.  Even though I’m in New Jersey in a gross robe, definite long-distance love-affair via Notta Comet.  Postcard says, “wish u were here,” return to VENICE BEACH comma HOME.


*Still* Room for *Shining Wizard*

Not being in Montreal is a very pressing issue in my life right now.  So is having a commensal at best relationship with art/media. That said, hearing Montreal duo *Shining Wizard*’s church-shaking new release is definitely activating the parts of my brain that can’t distinguish between envy and enjoyment (all of them).  Farley Miller and Alex Pelchat (of every band in Montreal [see also: the world]) bring tight dynamism to free jazz abstraction, toeing the line between creation and destruction with every free and freaky extended jam.  Miller’s drumming is tight and driving; Pelchat’s guitar is original without venturing into soloist solipsism.   Both know when to hold back and when to fucking go for it;  the serious musical chops so often associated with auto-canoodling are the with (mostly) none of the masturbation.  It is that tension between the high (re: those mathy song names! Like easily DFW chapter titles, tbh) and the low (re: grown men who happily discuss/name their band after WWE moves) that makes *Shining Wizard* brilliant.    Closer “Cling to the Fillibuster” runs through each of the genre tags in its bandcamp arsenal (“loud” may be an apt descriptor, but never a critique), going from straight-up sneering grime to jazz freakout in a matter of (well-times) seconds.  No Room for *Shining Wizard* is free jazz for even the uninitiated, a punk takeover of a music-snob genre.



Cold Foamers: All Cold Everything, v. Esoteric and Incoherent

I’ve been a fan of Alex G. since Jack told me Greg cried listening to him [references to personal life as legitimate journalism].  Consider the torch passed, tearducts.  Cold Foamers’ All Cold Everything is recorded and produced and played on by Alex G. so I kinda knew I was gonna like it, but this is delightfully Cold-Foamers-as-an-adjective.  This is late-to-early saturday music (sad and sorry) for late-to-early saturday people (sad and sorry).  Dirty basement and cold breakfast, love-loving and self-hating, close-the-blinds-I’m-tired music.  Vocals come in whispers and wails and screams, and are embarrassed and embarrassless.  Q: “Where’s your tantrum?”  A: Right here, big guy *shakes fist, speaks to father for first time in years*

Being in your early twenties and with friends who get you and why you are sometimes sad and sometimes happy and can help you make this into music is a really nice situation.  Right there, this is it. The ennui eats its tail and its a forever ouroboros but instead of that you make nice-sounding music (re: RAWKNROLL).


Screaming Females Interview: out of the vault, sophomore year edition

I did this interview in 10th grade (lol see “what advice do you have for a hs band” see also, all other questions) but this was at a time when I was too scared to publish anything that didn’t have a pitchfork corollary.  So, four years in the making: Hannah vs.  Screaming Females.



Hannah: Jersey bands often get a bad rap, because, well, 90% of what people know from Jersey sounds like Bruce Springsteen.  How much do you guys consider yourselves a strictly Jersey band and how does that affect your sound?

Jarrett: We are strictly a Jersey band because we were all born and raised in New Jersey.  Judging by what I read on the Internet, it’s really cool to be in a band that sounds like Bruce Springsteen right now…maybe we should sound more like Bruce Springsteen.  I feel like all of my life experiences added up to what my music sounds like, so I guess it has to sound like Jersey.     


Hannah:You guys started out in the New Brunswick underground.  Are there any other really cool bands from that scene?


Marissa: Sure.  There is a great band from New Brunswick called Mattress.  There is a great new band about town called Lost Weekend.


Hannah: Since your first album, you’ve signed to a label and opened for Arctic Monkeys and the Dead Weather. How has the band changed since its earliest days?


Marissa: Our label, Don Giovanni Records, is a very small operation run by two guys out of their apartments.  We were added onto the Arctic Monkeys and Dead Weather tours completely on our own accord by playing good shows, being seen, and getting offers.  Not much has changed in the way we operate.  We have a tiny network of cool folks who help us out with our band, but we still travel in our own van, carry our own gear, sleep on floors, and the like.  Only tiny nuances of change have popped up within the last couple years… 


Hannah: You guys tour an awful lot. do you get tired of being on the road?


Jarrett: Yeah, sometimes I get tired of being on the road but then I go home for a little while and get tired of being home.  I guess I’ll just stick to the cycle until I’m dead. 


Hannah: Half of the bands today can be fairly described as twee.  Do you have any particular reasons for your decidedly edgier style?  (It’s very refreshing)


Marissa: When we first began playing, the whole reverb-soaked twee craze hadn’t really exploded.  Even if it had taken off already, we’re not the type to jump on a bandwagon.

Mike: It’s because we grew up in New Jersey and it’s not a very cute place…

Jarrett: We didn’t just copy the latest new “cool” sound…


Hannah: A lot of people, outside of it and its residents, hate New Jersey.  Do you have anything to say in its defense?


Marissa: New Jersey’s residents run the gamut between sophisticated metropolitan moguls and genuine Jersey hillbillies.  It’s eclectic.

Mike: No.

Jarrett: No, I hate most of its residents as well.    


Hannah: Marissa, you shred fairly hard.  Really hard.  How did you first get into guitar?


Marissa: I picked up a guitar when I was about 14.  My dad plays a bit of guitar and offered to show me a couple chords since I had just started listening to rock music.  I spent a lot of time printing out tablature…  


Hannah: As an example of d.i.y success, do you have any advice for high school bands on getting heard?


Marissa: I was never in a band in high school…anyone who manages to get a band together in high school oughta construct a time machine and offer advice to a 14 year old me. 

Jarrett: If you’re looking for success, don’t follow our example.

Mike: If you’re looking for success, do anything but play in a band.  Go to Lincoln Tech and get a job as a mechanic.

Jarrett: Yeah, don’t bother with regular college…learn a skill…

Mike: Yeah, go to a trade school, get a job that pays well, settle down, and live a sad, sorry life. 

Image courtesy (?)




Hey! It’s a Movie: (1)

Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 thriller, Don’t Look Now, operates on a variety of planes, imitating fragmented reality through the lens of cinematic mosaic.  As onscreen couple John and Laura Baxter grapples with the loss of a child and the disintegration of reality as they know it, the formal features of film parallel the indeterminateness of the real, the fantastic and the phantasmic.  Reality within the film is not linearly legible, and therefore, neither is its space. The mathematical certainty of geometry falls prey to the disjointed logic of the occult, with surrealistic line and form expressionistically rendering the unsettling dissolution of truth.  These sharp angles are underscored by the ebb and flow of (uncontrolled) liquid, which navigate the many currents of reality in Roeg’s uncanny cinematic world.  In the opening sequence of Don’t Look Now, Roeg fills his filmic space with untamed angles and liquids to create a vision of reality both skewed and fluid. 

            Harsh angularity perforates the opening scene of Don’t Look Now, visually manifesting the film’s skewed depiction of reality.  The scenery of an idyllic, poetically meandering country estate, is cut and mangled by jagged lines, suggesting a fractured reality lurking beneath.  Mist enshrouds the landscape, but does not soften its edges; the hazy greens and grays of the English country are punctured by the sharp angles of action on screen.  Contrast comes in motion and direction: a girl ambling across screen and the cantering horse that passes her, her brother biking diagonally down-screen, the girl marching in a path perpendicular to his, a ball thrown to crisscross all lines of motion. The diagonal paths in contrast with the fixed verticality of the forest etch a veritable cinematographic pentagram onto the pleasant backdrop. With each cut, a new, diametrically opposed line of action enters the screen, visually mirroring the contradictions within the film’s reality.  Like the crisscrossing veins of reality within the film – where the probable intersects with the supernatural – filmic action and mise-en-scene evade the navigability of linear motion.Image

This motif of angles and their association with the occult formalizes as the scene shifts indoors.  In this space, the walls, beams and human figures that occupy the home replace the outside’s trees and household items balanced at irregular angles stand in for the sloping of the outdoorsA slanting table and the copy of (the revealingly titled) Beyond the Fragile Geometry of Space thrown haphazardly on the sofa indicate that John Baxter is an architect — a profession indebted to regularity, blueprint, line.  For Baxter though, this geometry certainly is fragile.  He is surrounded by variations on normalcy, both in his topsy-turvy surroundings and in their implied surrealism.  A canted shot of a kitchen island suggests that even the flatness of the quotidian can easily be skewed.  When he places a slide of a church to-be-restored on his viewer, he puts the negative on crookedly and must correct it, that is to say, he must upright it to restore the reality of the image.   To a man who deals in erection and symmetry, misappropriated angles can be read as blunders of Pisa proportions.  Yet in this cinematic space overrun by illusion, vertical – or upright – rarely meets its horizontal counterpart; instead, it intersects with diagonals and curves, crafting a jarring visual labyrinth rather than a fixed grid. This skewed mesh expressionistically reveals the anxiety between the real and the illusory. Everything on screen is in constant threat of being literally overturned, easily extrapolated as the possibility of the objective inverting itself.   When an object loses its normal incline, it becomes illegible, thus skewedness is irreconcilable with the canny.  Yet in the opening scene, glasses are precariously placed, tables are slanted, books and photos are flung but never stacked.  Matching shots of glasses falling, liquids spilling, books and slides being tossed all lead to the eventual implied tumble of the young girl into the creek.

This innocent’s fall, the culminating piece of the opening sequence, underscores liquid as an otherworldly danger.  The laws of physics cannot tame water; as Laura pithily notes, even frozen lakes bend to evade the reassuring orderliness of linearity.  Liquid poses a threat to the film’s reality in its very lack of containment.  When Baxter spills his drink onto his photo slide, the captured form of the cloaked figure oozes into a red blur, ruining the veracity of the image.  The photographic image – read here as the real – becomes formless and subjective when seen through a liquid lens. As the waterlogged photo flows into a visual match to the girls’ red rain slicker, water’s visual association with the solubility of the real reappears.  The bleeding image becomes a portent for the girls’ death; just as the photograph, a supposed shield against death, bleeds with moisture, the girl, despite her impermeáble, is still the current’s victim.   The physical motion of her fall into a watery grave is unseen.  Instead, a matching shot links the seeping photo to an image of the drowned girl, heightening the agency of the water rather than the human.  Thus, characters in the film are mere conduits for the more powerful currents and undercurrents at play in this wild vision of reality.  As John Baxter plunges underwater to recover his daughter’s lifeless body, Roeg breaks continuity to have the two figures emerge again and again.  The repetition of the tragic both reinforces the melodrama of the moment and reiterates the rippled surface of reality, so fragmented that it can reemerge in endless splashes. 

Roeg’s depiction of reality, broken into shards or distorted through a liquid film, is prismic, shifting between the illusory and the real in fractal form.  The planes of the occult and the apparent might intersect diametrically, but the possibility of so clear a distinction is dissolved by the relentless current of what-lies-between.  Reality here can function as a construct, but not feasibly as a construction, — lest one designed by Escher or the mad planners of Venice’s traversing waterways.   The truths we are left with are slanted and sinuous, either puncturing the confines of geometry or flowing around them.   Despite its title’s warning, Don’t Look Now requires a close viewing, so that Roeg’s chilling visuals can reveal their uncanny verisimilitude.