Author Archives: mcgrewsadmin

About mcgrewsadmin

Big fan of all art forms, systems theories, cultural studies, fantasy and sci-fi, costume and fashion history, monsters, essays, novels, biographies, films, politics and most music.

Custom Wardrobe for Hair Shoots

Good Hair Seeks Good Wardrobe

A few specialty items we’ve built for specific hair shoots.

A common convention in the industry uses the triptych approach, unifying the hairstyles and models with similar costume/wardrobe silhouettes.

For Lunatic Fringe, St. George
Producer/Cape Design: Penny Goodwin
Photography: Debra MacFarlane

For Lunatic Fringe, Salt Lake City
Photography: Mitch Meyer

Costume Design: Legacy of the Force

Costumes for “Legacy of the Force:” A Star Wars Fan Film.


McGrews built the costumes for this slice of the Star Wars universe, including three Bespin uniforms in BLACK:)

Read more about the film plus its cast and crew here:


Or on its Legacy of the Force Facebook page


Poster artwork for the film by Alan Sitz.


The behind-the-scenes documentary by Alex Watson, “Star Wars: Journey of a Fan Film,” won both Audience Choice and Best Nonfiction at the 2015 Star Wars Fan Film Awards at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California.


See Alex Watson’s acceptance speech for these awards here.

Custom Elves: Salt Lake Downtown Alliance

Custom elf costumes for the Salt Lake Downtown Alliance staff.
Red velveteen tailcoats with fur collars, leather military cuffs, leather belts, leggings, hats and nifty custom elf shoes.




The Downtown Alliance organizes great special and seasonal events including the Downtown Art & Craft Market, the Winter Market, several street festivals plus Eve, the Jingle Bus and the Winter Gala at Gallivan Plaza.




Jason Mathis, Executive Director- Downtown SLC


Jason Mathis, Executive Director- Downtown SLC


Custom elf costumes for the Downtown Alliance, Salt Lake City, Utah

Custom Corsets: Dozens of Roses

One from the archives….

We typically create ten or more custom corsets each month and our shop is a destination for clients throughout America who love owning and wearing them. Each bears our famous Salt Lake Tightlacer label.

Our clients include everyone you can possibly imagine–from the steampunks, the goths, the greasers, the pin-up girls, the blushing brides, the circus performers, the society ladies, the fetish community and many, many others.

Corsets are firmly fixed in the fashion vocabulary, now and forever.

It is a pleasure as well as a source of great pride to create the highest quality custom fitted product you will find anywhere. We invite you to come get one for yourself.

Our famous Salt Lake Tightlacer label:


Production Designers Can and Should Help You Develop Your Script: (What I mean when I say I work in script development).


Writers and producers bring scripts to my colleagues and me so we can write bids for costume design, production design and line production. We do this for a fee because we ask that our clients be serious, plus our time and expertise is valuable. You’re probably familiar by now with Josh Olson’s famous I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script, and we, too, usually say no to doing too much work for free. If you’re paying us and treating us as serious associates, though, we are very interested in helping clients develop their scripts, and we take this job very seriously.

However, we may not be able to do our best pre-emptive work by the time someone finally arranges to come in and talk to us about costumes, locations, sets, props, miniatures and practical effects. Our shop is sometimes a script’s final destination, instead of its first. And this is not always a good thing for two reasons: If made with the script as-is, the final film product may really suffer from low production values. You should have seen us sooner. Plus, our responses to scripts are sometimes not what writers and producers want to hear. In a sense, the buck may stop with us.

This is neither funny nor punny because our work is sometimes negatively categorized as “below the line” of the usual “executive” production team. But we are your necessary eyes, scholars, hands and co-creators. As artists and art directors, we are materialists, bringing your script to life. The things we create for the world of your film need to be as beautiful and as credible as your script is. We are super-nerdy like that and are passionate about splitting hairs over historical facts, arcane subjects and technical terms. Because like you, we are consumers who love and appreciate good film, we will always play the devil’s advocate about your script’s content. We’re artists, and we owe it to the medium we love, so we won’t mince words.

Here’s how the script development process usually rolls inside our production design studio:


I am interviewing you!  I have to believe in you and your product.


I’ll first ask you where your script is in its development.

Have other eyes seen it, how many, and whose? What were some responses those readers had? How many rewrites has this script been through? How many issues or problems with your script do you already think you’ve resolved and how did you do it?  Who else is already attached- meaning other producers, director, crew and talent? Who is your distributor and what are the specifics of how this film will be released and viewed? Where are you at with your budget?


If you think it sounds like I’m interviewing you for a job, you are exactly right!

If I agree to sign my shop on to your production and design items for your film, it means I’m investing in your film. I’m attaching my name as a producer or costume designer to your project.  The stakes are high for me, my colleagues and my staff. So your script needs to have a good story and must actually be produce-able.

But since everything’s negotiable, too, we might be willing to produce the physical assets your film needs at a lower price-point if you already have a marketable director or actor attached. I might also agree to take some of our payment on deferment.


Sometimes we work as mercenaries in the production design business.

If you already have a decent budget, our shop might agree to create your film’s physical assets just for the work, regardless what we think of your script. We’ll do this sometimes during slow months or in-between big projects.  We may stipulate through an agreement that you will show us a rough, then a final cut, and we reserve the right to omit our association in the credits if the end product’s a real dud.

Those things being said, as production designers and art directors, we want to create a quality product, so we’re never going falsely praise a script that has issues!

Before I’ll even write you a bid or consider breaking down your script into my spreadsheet that includes head-counts for character and extras, their costume changes and costume multiples for continuity, I may confront you about some of the following common issues and I will ask if you’ll consider rewriting before you go into pre-production


The “common issues” include some of these:


Your script is too wordy.

Your story’s not being told with enough visuals. Film is a visual medium and your story should be told that way. As designers, we are film consumers, too, and we know overwriting when we see it or read it. I’ll go see theater if I’m craving a story told predominantly through dialogue. There’s always a Shakespeare or Sam Shepard production playing somewhere. I want to see that you know how your shots and cinematography are going to tell your story.

Your script contains awkward anachronisms.

Your script has anachronistic technology references, dialogue, attitudes or enculturated behaviors that don’t fit. A Harvard-educated scientist with redneck speech leaves me scratching my head unless your character is behaving ironically. And cell phones don’t belong in films about the 1980’s any more than feminism and political correctness belong in the 1880’s. Unless your story involves time-travel, these are distracting and your product may suffer from the old Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman problem. Revise your script. Don’t be a historical revisionist just because you want to further a personal agenda. We see this a lot in scripts from Utah, actually. Please. We want to be moved by your story, not preached to.

Your script is too populated with supernumeraries.

Your script has superfluous characters whom you drop in as bit players but don’t include later. As is said in so many creative or expository writing workshops, “don’t drop the thread.” If it’s a speaking role, make a decision about that small town store owner who exchanges philosophical barbs with your main character. Or that frat-boy bully who runs interference in your protagonist’s goal to get the girl. Their interactions are dropping hints for your audience, so don’t abandon the inclusion of these character in your story’s resolution. If you can’t do it, cut them. Wrap up all your loose ends.

Your main characters’ motivations aren’t clear and aren’t resolved.

After reading your script, I might code switch into my old theater director’s persona and flatly ask you, “What does character X need?” And how does your script further  resolve (or not resolve) that character’s needs and desires? If you’re not sure and can’t verbally sum this up succinctly, and if your script is also unclear about these motivators, how will I know how to design the right costumes for this character as he or she proceeds through his/her journey? How will our production designer know if the props or set pieces are correctly designed and chosen?

My design and producing colleagues and I love great film and collaborating with great artists and writers.
In a part II of this thread, I’ll talk more about the process of designing for film projects once I have a firm handle on (as well as belief in) your script.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Cosplay and the Problem of Marxism But Were Afraid to Ask (The Idea of A Cosplay- History, Portability, Artisanship and Commodity)

     I watched in admiration as our technical cosplay judges at this year’s Salt Lake Comic Con actually got up out of their chairs and walked around to the front of their table to touch and get a closer look at the costume details of Hiccup and Astrid, made by Jeremy L. Bird and worn in the competition by her (yep, her name is Jeremy) son Ryan and his girlfriend Janessa. Their costumes were definitely amazing, taking 1st place in the Intermediate category.

Cosplayers Ryan and Janessa as Hiccup and Astrid. Salt Lake Comic Con, September 2014. Costumes made by Jeremy L. Bird. First place: Intermediate Category. Photograph courtesy Robert Hirschi, official cosplay competition photographer.

Cosplayers Ryan and Janessa as Hiccup and Astrid.
Salt Lake Comic Con, September 2014.
Costumes made by Jeremy L. Bird. First place: Intermediate Category.
Photograph courtesy Robert Hirschi, official cosplay competition photographer.

     It had been a long stretch that day, overseeing the preliminary cosplay adjudication, the cosplay first aid station, the stage show and competition, and watching our judges’ polite and helpful interactions with sooo many contestants- most of these interactions made from from behind their table, in seated positions. The materials used in Hiccup’s costume, Jeremy said, only cost $150, but as all the judges agreed, the work featured the use of some expertly cut and assembled bleach bottles, sculpey and an assortment of repurposed fabrics and household materials she’d expertly put together in a faithful, realistic replication of the character.

Salt Lake Comic Con technical judges Kamui Cosplay, Aaron Forrester and Daniel Falconer checking out the details of a contestant's costume and giving personal feedback. Photograph courtesy Robert Hirschi, official cosplay competition photographer.

Salt Lake Comic Con technical judges Kamui Cosplay, Aaron Forrester and Daniel Falconer checking out the details of a contestant’s costume and giving personal feedback. Photograph courtesy Robert Hirschi, official cosplay competition photographer.

     Raw materials in our current era of personal cosplay can be costly sometimes, but the cosplay artisanship itself tends to be more rewarded or appreciated than the value of materials used. If someone uses pure gold in a costume’s armor or a skin that’s inexpertly crafted or rendered, who cares? But if someone fashions a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and it has gorgeous workmanship, the item gets great kudos and big attention from admirers and cosplay judges alike. What we’re presently witnessing parallels the historic economy of materials and artisanship plus raises that timeless “art vs. craft” question as well as the question of value. Consider what young Juan says in one of my favorite novels, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, about Mr. Dubois, his high school ethics instructor:

He had been droning along about “value,” comparing the Marxist theory with the orthodox “use” theory. Mr. Dubois had said, “Of course, the Marxian definition of value is ridiculous. All the work one cares to add will not turn a mud pie into an apple tart; it remains a mud pie, value zero. By corollary, unskillful work can easily subtract value; an untalented cook can turn wholesome dough and fresh green apples, valuable already, into an inedible mess, value zero. Conversely, a great chef can fashion of those same materials a confection of greater value than a commonplace apple tart, with no more effort than an ordinary cook uses to prepare an ordinary sweet.

These kitchen illustrations demolish the Marxian theory of value – the fallacy from which the entire magnificent fraud of communism derives – and illustrate the truth of the common-sense definition as measured in terms of use.”

Dubois had waved his stump at us. “nevertheless – wake up, back there! – nevertheless the disheveled old mystic of Das Kapital, turgid, tortured, confused, and neurotic, unscientific, illogical, this pompous fraud Karl Marx, nevertheless had a glimmering of a very important truth. If he had possessed an analytical mind, he might have formulated the first adequate definition of value … and this planet might have been saved endless grief.”

     I sometimes use that quote above during public presentations when I talk to producers and corporate people about what’s actually involved in designing and building costumes for films and events, but I can’t claim it’s something most people really get, unless they are also skilled- very skilled and accomplished at some sort of trade. They probably didn’t get the same level of indoctrination as I did with Marxism in college. – Yeech.

     Anyhow, artisanship didn’t always outweigh the value of raw materials in all trades, though, and the idea of a painting is, historically, a newer one. Arguably, our contemporary idea of a cosplay has evolved on a somewhat parallel path in terms of how a costume is situated in public or private space, as well as the materials, expenses and talents behind these works. M. Anna Fariello details the shift in perception and commodification of art and artisanship during the renaissance in an excellent essay, “Regarding the History of Objects,” in which she reminds us that painting evolved in response to specific economic social forces. In the renaissance, Fariello says, those not born into aristocratic families could now buy class.

The development of a merchant class, combined with a wider acceptance of secular humanism, allowed individual wealthy patrons to commission personal portraits, which, in turn, became tangible symbols of their wealth. To accommodate a patron’s desire for a personalized and portable status symbol, artists adapted methods used to create traditional wood altar-pieces to a smaller format, the painted panel. Thus, the idea of a painting was born. (10)

     The expansion of the merchant class changed everything.

The exploding popularity of cosplay in our highly mobile, commodity-hungry population mirrors this now.

The idea of portability is key and one can purchase or make the trappings of class for him/herself. A costumed person is a self-contained, mobile unit, and any painting on a wood panel travels better than a permanent fresco or painted ceiling. A renaissance family who buys that painting on a board can still display its status, even if it moves across town to another villa. Even if it’s a religious triptych of three images hinged together, the message is mobile.


Example of a hinged triptych by Hans Memling. A triptych is mobile propaganda, designed for a community’s learning and moral edification. It could travel to poorer churches way out in the boonies – to churches that maybe couldn’t afford to commisison artwork of their own.


     Historically, costumes, too, have stepped off the traditionally more stationary, pious, elevated stages of church steps and naves into secular theater spaces, public arenas and streets. We may be enjoying a renaissance now of 1960’s “happenings,” given the spontaneous performances you witness at any convention. Dramas communicated through costume, though, are still largely propagandistic from the top-down but they also work from the bottom-up, meant for the social programming and moral conditioning of whole populations. Now costumes are out there on secular occasions and convention floors and the individual cosplayer or costumed performer has become the buyer as well as the salesman. Cosplay artisans purchase their own class and status while simultaneously pitching the intellectual property belonging to corporations ranging from DC to Disney.

     Fariello describes how prior to the 15th century, materials were typically more expensive than the artist’s time, talent, or the painting process itself. Substances such as gold, lapis, rare pigments and chemicals could be hard to come by, plus they were expensive and difficult to process. Guilds heavily guarded their secret formulas and manufacturing processes for making things like pigments and glazes (8).  In the 14th or 15th century, a patron commissioning a new painting might indeed pay by the square foot, much like we’d pay for expensive slate flooring at the Home Depot today. The selection of which tile-layer should do the job might sometimes be a secondary consideration. Thus, many paintings created prior to increased availability of materials were typically commissioned only for permanent structures, churches, civic buildings, and public places. Places– that had most often held significant religious and cultural value.

Hiccup & Astrid, Salt Lake Comic Con 2014. Photo courtesy of Robert Hirschi

Hiccup & Astrid, Salt Lake Comic Con 2014.
Photo courtesy Robert Hirschi

     Similarly, value placed on theatrical costume by guilds who staged elaborate mystery plays, religious in nature, followed these trends. The fierce nature of guilds’ competition with other guilds fostered a keen artisan eye and rigor related to dramatic staging and accouterments. One could say we’re seeing history repeat itself in the form of group cosplay, skits and multiple characters who compete together. Robert Huntington Fletcher’s account of medieval theater contains some interesting reflection about how simple, symbolic and suggestive most of the set pieces were compared to the costumes that were given great details, elevated priority, and they were even stored from year to year in expensive caches. He provides some bookeeping evidence:

In partial compensation the costumes were often elaborate, with all the finery of the church wardrobe and much of those of the wealthy citizens. The expense accounts of the guilds, sometimes luckily preserved, furnish many picturesque and amusing items, such as these: ‘Four pair of angels’ wings, 2 shillings and 8 pence.’ ‘For mending of hell head, 6 pence.’ ‘Item, link for setting the world on fire.’ (110).


Here’s a great example of a group or “Mini Guild” entry: Galaxy Quest group.
Salt Lake Comic Con, 2014.
Photo courtesy Robert Hirschi






     In performance parlance, we could say that the idea of a cosplay has fully evolved along with our current era of democratized technology, availability of inexpensive materials, but the message of the dramas are no longer super relegated to Christian themes or characters. We do publicly celebrate ingenuity and frugality- those great American values. An awesome Iron Man costume made from cardboard is impressive, but it’s even more impressive when the maker has skillfully used time-consuming techniques with bondo or woodfiller putty plus endless hours of sanding and expert painting to create seamless, reflective beauty so that the cardboard resembles shining chrome.

     No longer in service to only religious dramas or even Hollywood icons, costumes have now and forever entered public space and now everyone can participate, purchasing or fashioning their own, even if what is usually being sold (the branded character) merely feeds back into the larger economic food chain. Guilds still form, compete and re-enact a new set of stories designed to teach our communities valuable moral lessons. But we are still being conditioned to display our status or talents while actively consuming and selling each other messages that during medieval theater used to come to us from scripture (and still come up in student essays about Spiderman’s big challenge to reconcile “great power with great responsibility”). And so it goes.

Adjudicating cosplay. Salt Lake Comic Con cosplay technical judges Melissa Spencer, Aaron Forrester and Tia Dworshak, with administrative help from Lynsey Marie Mitchell. Technical Cosplay Adjudicators, hard at work and taking their job very seriously. Photo, courtesy of Robert Hirschi

Adjudicating cosplay. Salt Lake Comic Con cosplay technical judges Melissa Spencer, Aaron Forrester and Tia Dworshak, with administrative help from Lynsey Marie Mitchell. Technical Cosplay Adjudicators, hard at work and taking their job very seriously. Photo, courtesy Robert Hirschi


Works Cited


Fariello, M. Anna and Paula Owen, ed. “Regarding the History of Objects” Objects and Meaning: New Perspectives on Art and Craft. Ed. Anna M. Fariello and Paula Owen. Rowman & Littlefield. Plymouth, UK 2004.


Fletcher, Robert Huntington. A History of English Literature. Boston, Richard G. Badger/The Gorham Press, 1913.,


Heinlein, Robert. Starship Troopers.


Check out more of Robert Hirschi’s photos on facebook or on the hotvisual website

The Bastards of Wrestling: Salt Lake’s Most Intelligible Spectacle


Saturday afternoon TV wrestling broadcasts always made us girl children yawn and groan.

But as an adult (and recent convert) I’m urging you to go experience wrestling, especially if you claim there’s nothing new or fun to do in Salt Lake City. It’s the best extant form of commedia dell’arte around, and if you’re a kinesthetic learner like me, you’ll appreciate the fact that this league, the UCW- ZERO is local and is smallish in scale, and you’ll also hope in some small way that it never gets any larger.

To better wrap my head around the social text that I experienced live last night, I revisited another one from my checkered past and I’m recommending Roland Barthes’ 1957 essay “The World of Wrestling” here as a primer for our full sensory and learning immersion.



Who Cares About Fakery? It’s All Theater

Barthes explains how wrestling is a theatrical act. It’s what everybody already knows, but I felt compelled to re-read him because what I’d most remembered him doing was arguing back at wrestling’s detractors (among them, probably whiny little girls like me who ‘hated’ wrestling and who no doubt complained, “I don’t understand it”). It’s quite the contrary, in fact, as Barthes argues. Wrestling is sublimely understandable, because every single element in wrestling has an “absolute clarity, since [the spectator] must always understand everything on the spot” (20). Everything at a wrestling event is based on understood signs within a system of signs. “In wrestling, nothing exists except in the absolute, there is not symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively” (25). He’s called wrestling an Intelligible Spectacle.

A perfect introduction for a newcomer ought to include something like my own neophyte experience at the local league event last night, on the front row of folding chairs barely eight feet away from the ropes. At this distance and degree of liveness, the sheer athleticism, endurance, fantasy, melodrama and showmanship finally manifested for me. Both television and cheap seats at the opera fail to show audiences just how well-choreographed, rehearsed, skillful and dedicated these true entertainers are. The sweat drips and flies. These wrestlers and their audience shills fight and get dangerously close to the spectators- plus their faces, close-up– are completely hilarious as they sometimes nearly break character, all making the the case for your necessary proximity.

Even the Jumbotron would fall short of showing you what is really happening. For a beginning wrestling spectator to “get it”, you need to initially get as close to the action as you can, so you’re in on all the jokes and tropes. Awestruck by this local league of muscle-y, spandex-clad athletes performing, punching, leaping and body-slamming for each other as well as their audience of about 100, in a converted warehouse just off of west Redwood Road, I clapped, air-punched and shouted right along with the crowd, many of them costumed for the Halloween weekend, or perhaps just organically emulating the stock characters of Duck Dynasty, the trailer parks and other boroughs of American reality, mythology and commedia.


Theater? Yes. But Definitely Athletic Theater!

Fake fights? Maybe. But required athleticism and skill? Lots. Some of the moves and series of moves in any fight are agreed on in advance, as my client Martin Casaus has told me for months now. He’s the lead roster star with the UCW- ZERO league. Other moves are improvised during the match. I could almost make out, so I thought, which series of moves were staged and which were improv moves.

Martin Casaus, from

Martin Casaus, from

Even though as my promoter/producer friend Johathan King assured me, it’s all “stunt man stuff,” the unmistakably remaining fact is that it’s always dangerous. Sitting together on the front row, we found ourselves talking about careers in wrestling and how as stock characters go, he says the “villains’” careers never seem to last as long as those of the “good guys,” which seems puzzling and in need of further investigation because Barthes argues that unlike sports, wrestling, has no winner (19). It is not the function of the wrestler to win, says Barthes,“it is to go through the motions which are expected of him” (20). Jonathan, describing himself as a major fan, detailed some harrowing injuries that particular players in this league had experienced during their careers –and this had me statistically wondering about who gets injured more– the good guys or the bad guys.


It’s Never About Fair Fighting

Barthes argues that wrestling is NOT a sport. It is a spectacle. And he’s correct, in that this variety of performative, stagey stuff with its flamboyant costumes, bragging personae and their scripted insult-spewing, never involves a real or “fair” fight, like ‘real’ Greco-Roman style or Olympic-style wrestling (the sort that adolescent girls also largely ignore during high school). Case in point, my client Martin has long described for me how these fights are staged, and the personas (and often outcomes) are clearly underscored from minute one. I’m glad I finally took the opportunity to see a live event, as he’s urged me for months to do. I found myself marveling at the transformation taking place before my eyes.

A respectable guy with a day job as a stockbroker, Martin Casaus, nearly naked and muscles rippling, enters the space, parades around the audience, title belts slung over both his shoulders, monloguing loudly about his prowess, achievements and his titles, as the crowd heckles and chants “o-ver-rate-ed! O-ver-rate-ed!” As a “villain” of wrestling, akin to an Il Capitano from the classic forms of commedia dell’arte, Casaus is just full of himself, full of bravado, strutting and basking in his own glory, even while the crowd chants at him, “You’re an asshole!” “You’re an asshole!” It’s such great theater. The sort where the audience is not required to sit quietly in the dark with hands politely folded in their laps.


Bastards and Good Guys: Everyone Suffers, and It’s For Our BenefitNacho-Libre-p01

The bastard or villain is the one who usually suffers, says Barthes. His body itself reveals all his “actions, his treacheries, cruelties and acts of cowardice” (23), however, in this local UCW- ZERO league, the sheer physiques of the “villains” seemed often mismatched with those of the “good guys” in terms of their muscle definition and mid-life tummies, or lack of them. They’ve plenty of pure physical variety to go around with all shapes and sizes.

Though according to Barthes, “the physique of the wrestlers therefore constitutes a basic sign, which like a seed contains the whole fight” (23). I think he must be at least implying that the fighters are costumed accordingly. If we’d been watching a western, we would have seen white and black hats. In the case of last night’s matches, by far the funniest “villain,” Suede Thompson, stood out with his costume’s actual use of sueded panne’ velvet amidst a sea of clingy, shiny spandex worn by everyone else. “Persona” seemed far more communicated through postures, posing and speechifying. Overall, it was a feast for the eyes, this hyper-masculine ballet of both real and mock violence.


I Show You My Victory and I Show You My Defeat

Defeat and Justice go hand in hand, Barthes claims. Defeat is not an “outcome”, but a “display” (21). Defeat of the bastard “is a purely moral concept: that of justice” (21). The displays of suffering at the fights last night were equally distributed. Everyone winces, contorts and oomphs when their heads are grabbed in mock neck twisting or slammed into the ropes or onto the mat. The facial acting alone and feigned helplessness are priceless.


Cheating: It’s Morally OK

The most riveting was a blended-gender fight, something I never expected. It featured Lacey Ryan, one of the coolest, toughest girls I’ve ever seen. 

Lacey Ryan, Wrestler. From

Lacey Ryan, Wrestler. From

When she “won” in what presented itself as a fair fight against her male opponent, a “villain,” I was reminded that Barthes argues that the defeated must deserve the punishment (21) which is why the “crowd is jubilant at seeing the rules broken” (21) as long as it is just. This all had me wondering how “taboo” it might be and in what context if in a fight, a female actually lost against a male opponent. In other words, how PC is co-ed wrestling these days? I winced, watching that particular fight, in much the way I winced watching Hit Girl get the crap beat out of her in Kick Ass. In both cases, I know everything possible was being done to prevent real injury but I worried nonetheless. In wrestling, Barthes insists, the “Exhibition of Suffering” is what the fights are actually all about (22). Last night’s fights revealed everyone’s suffering, and Martin was hit pretty hard on the head with a folding chair during his final match. What we actually watch wrestling for is the “great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice,” says Barthes, and just like in theater, “wrestling presents man’s suffering with all the amplification of tragic masks” (23). 

That chair itself told the true story of its own injury, its metal backrest bent and nearly unrecognizable. I flinched all evening at both the real as well as the simulated violence. One thing’s for certain, to be in wrestling you have to be fit, and tough. Asking Martin about what their gentlemen’s agreement is within the league and about how hard they can hit one another, he confided once that “it’s easier to hit guys harder the better you know them. You go easier on the new guys, because you haven’t become as good of friends yet.”  Villains or Good Guys, everybody’s a friend within the league, he tells me. Once again, Barthes has told us about the performance of wrestling –that defeat isn’t an “outcome.” It’s a “display” (21). Defeat of the bastard “is a purely moral concept: that of justice” (21).The defeated must deserve the punishment (21) which is why the “crowd is jubilant at seeing the rules broken” (21) as long as it is just. Will Martin seek personal revenge because his opponent “cheated” and hit him with a chair? No. But I’m told that the ensuing next round of fights will begin with this very premise.

The fights last night concluded with a costume contest, in which a young boy, clad in a China-made superhero costume complete with “muscles,” was awarded first prize. His opponents: Several adults. Talk about cheating or bending the rules.



Payment in Full: Congratulating Your Heroes

As the evening wrapped, spectators lingered and thronged around the doors, waiting for the fighters to emerge. Meanwhile, costumed kids took to the ring and practiced the “moves” they’d witnessed just prior. Watching in amazement, I saw them pull their punches, slapping themselves or stomping to make the loud “thuds” of stuntman legend. I’d asked Jonathan King if the league makes any money or if the roster members make any. He tells me that for the most part, the admissions charged and members’ dues and the school (yes, a wrestling academy- in case you’re interested and want to enroll!) make the league self-supporting. But, he also tells me, the fighters live for audience feedback at the end of a night.

vintage_wrestlerHe recounted some details of the recent 10-year anniversary event he’d produced for them, at a much larger venue in which they’d had an audience of about a thousand spectators. I asked if the league was truly ready to perform on this scale again or make the leap to mainstream tv broadcast or cable. I asked if the league’s reluctance to do this might be related to money, logistics, or maybe even ‘stagefright.” “Stagefright,” he answered.

Last night’s whole event reminded me of how a small group of friends and their extended comrades can enjoy a fun evening of karaoke together, yet only a small marginal few would feel truly comfortable at the crowd-level of, say, an American Idol competition. Indeed, some of the local “love” for the spectacle as well as the players might get lost in bigger venues or those far from home. As we waited for the fighters to emerge from backstage after last night’s event, Jonathan suggested I tell some of them what I admired about their particular moves or stunts, that that’s the feedback and reward they really cherished and lived for.

Not being well-versed in most or any of these moves, I gushed stupidly.
“Wow- amazing,” I stuttered as I met some of the wrestlers in person.
God, I’m such a dork.

I did ask Martin, though, “Hey, holy hell, where did you actually get hit with that chair?”  “Right on top of the head,” he said, pointing at his bean.  “Well at least it shouldn’t affect your tailoring,” I quipped back.

It’s actually nice to know and care about these performers in person, something a local league and small-scale community allow you to do.



Here’s Roland Barthes’ book, Mythologies, that you might find interesting. His essay, “The World of Wrestling” is here.

And check out UCW-ZERO’s facebook page  and come to the show dates with me