Not Just Boys Fun

As far back as I can remember, I loved professional wrestling, and since my mid-teens my music of choice is a sub-genre of punk rock called hardcore. From a young age, my parents tried to steer me away from violent entertainment, but still my interest in aggressive, angry, male-oriented subcultures persisted.

By my mid-thirties, I found myself single after a long-term relationship. I was on my own, with free time and a lot of questions as to how I had ended up nearing forty and alone. I gradually started to again fill my free time with professional wrestling and hardcore shows.

One night, while waiting for wrestling or a hardcore show to start in some small, dark VFW hall in a nondescript New Jersey strip-mall, it dawned on me that as a single adult man, it was an odd and telling choice to devote my time to stylized violence perpetrated by nearly naked men for the benefit of other men. I started to look around the room, and it was clear that the other people there were not unlike myself, male, not terribly popular in high school and not accompanied by a woman.

Not only was this a window into my current state, it was telling of my gender in general, that when left to their own devices, they enjoyed a psychologically complex world of theatrical aggression. The more time I’ve spent in these rooms, the more it has become clear that there was a common social awkwardness that I found familiar in myself, a general unease in one’s skin as well as the world, a discomfort that was relieved by these very structured subcultures, where participation and knowledge were valued over appearance and social skills.

In these small circles, the out of place and withdrawn became popular and gregarious, able to find a release from frustrating social awkwardness, in men theatrically fighting each other or listening to music based on yelling while smashing into each other. Entertainment that’s grand spectacle, creates an earnestness that allows the audience to escape themselves and recede from the outside world.

It wasn’t until I found myself hours from home, late on a work night, arguing with a random teenager about the finer points of Japanese wrestling, that it became apparent to me that this was a world where the escape is therapeutic but also a way to wallow in the safety of pleasures from my childhood and avoid difficult personal growth. I am not sure this project has been for the best, but I have for better or worse very much enjoyed myself.