In Barthes’ understanding of the performance of the wrestling narrative (‘In the Ring’, from Mythologies), we might consider the narrative subject, the character in her presentation to the world, to be quite literally surrounded, inside and out, by the linguistic subject, the actor playing that role. The actor likewise surrounds herself with the character, taking on the aura of that narrative subject and making it move in gesture weirdly akin to Zizek’s observation of larger social interaction as a kind of puppetry act:
I am not human, I am a monster, I claim. It’s not that I have a mask of a theoretician and beneath I am a more human person; I like chocolate cake, I like this, I like that, and so on which makes me human. I rather prefer myself as somebody who not to offend others, pretends, plays that he is human (Taylor’s Zizek!, 2005).
The actor, the technically-proficient, trained, experienced performer, does not wish for us to see her in the ring, to recognize her as someone having a material history. we must instead, if all goes according to plan, see only the heel or the babyface.
The wrestlers, men of great experience, know just how to inflect the spontaneous episodes of combat toward the image which the public creates out of the great marvelous themes of its mythology. A wrestler may irritate or disgust, he never disappoints, for he always ultimately achieves, by a gradual solidification of signs, what the public expects of him (Barthes 13).
The actor’s ‘real-life’ identity can be implicitly recognized, and she can even be referred to in a kind of semi-absence as we actively discuss the match, but the persona that she has taken on is the one who is ‘really’ seen flying around the ring–even to the point that, like any other type of actor, she might willfully ‘lose herself’.
Though, this losing of self is, in reality, just as much a moment of authorship as any other: in fact, by influencing the character’s outcome by her performance, by exercising her authority to improvise in wrestling’s particular way, the performer exerts her professional, creative will on the narrative in ways that, say, conventional stage actors don’t have opportunities for. The structure of the wrestling performance as semi-scripted/semi-improvised allows for the individual presenting the narrative, the wrestling performer, to associate herself in literally meaningful ways with that character that she both represents and embodies. The performer might well ‘lose herself’ in the performance, but she cannot be said to fully ‘go away’; regardless of whether she identifies herself in the moment as the material person or the assumed character, it is all the same brain that makes the movements, that acts as the director of the scene, the match–at least insofar as that single character is concerned.
And the position of the wrestling performer is, of course, also unique for the way she is enabled to interact with her audience, her fandom–those most immediately present and concerned with the match at hand and the character’s role in it, able to high-five their favorite character as she walks into the ring, but still members of that broader discourse who can, at less exciting moments, consider rationally the situation of the actor as something different, a real life that is not nearly so iconographic, mythical, or plain to navigate. By contrast, the traditional stage actor is presented with an audience whom they, for the most part, ignore, under the authority of a script that gives nothing to the uniqueness of an unscripted moment; and the television and film actor has not even an audience to ignore, but instead performs only in the company of a crew, including a director who’s happiness with the product is, often, the principal judge of how the story continues. The wrestling performer, given that afforementioned degree of improvisability in her matches, can see the impact of her performance immediately and directly from the mass audience that surrounds her–boos and cheers, which, depending on the role she was playing, can each be equally confidence-stirring. In the wrestling ring, the narrative subject is literally interposed between the audience that approves or disproves of a performance and the most immediate author of that narrative, the performer using her own body to tell her own character’s story in her own way, right on the spot.