luchadores as gran calavera: up against the ropes

Good and bad in black and white.Its low brow. Its unpretentious.  Mexico’s luchadores mix circus style acrobatics with way over-the-top theatre; bring a mask, wear it and grab a seat. Warning. whatever you do, avoid any temptation to let the emotions seize you and hop into the ring. … The worse thing that can happen to a Luchador wrestler is to lose his mask. They protect their characters and their true identity.In fact, the decorative and aesthetic elements encode and embed important social and cosmological knowledge, ancient archetypes and multi-sensory meanings within the culture.Still, its a diluted and sensationalized form; whatever does not conform to the dictates of  good visuals tends to be discarded. That is,  the body as sensational field is distilled and recast to an acceptable representational field in line with the visual economy of the more developed world.

The wrestlers say many people who work or study with Los Luchadores do not know that they are professional wrestlers.Its a secret society. A lodge of sorts. As entertainment,  its part burlesque, part erotic, and in some measure, is a cultural reproduction of older Aztec legends and myths on sacrifice to the gods, human sacrifice, cannibalism, and the rituals of death and reincarnation. Mexican death masks meet Venice. Its pagan ritual vs. Christianity and its a toss-up to declare a winner or bad guy.

"Lucha Libre requires the best of three caídas, creating soap-operatic tension as each side is virtually guaranteed to win at least one of the first two caídas, forcing a third to decide the match. The most dramatic of all are the revelos suicidas, matches where the losing wrestler agrees to have his head shaved, or worse, surrender his mask. (The importance of the mask cannot be overstated. It represents the honor of the wrestler, and to have it taken is the ultimate humiliation. Mexico's most famous wrestler, El Santo, chose to be buried in his.) ... read more: image:

The wrestlers translate that dedication into their characters, helping create their persona and give life to the masks they wear.lucha libre isn’t just a violent spectacle, though it is violence that is tamed and mated to a ritual. The costumes and masks seem part of a comic book and science fiction tribute to superheroes. However,   its  a tribute to their heritage, a very serious source of pride, and an escape from their otherwise boring, unappealing lives.The use of masks is researched and is based on  derivative copies of the original Aztecs, who wore them into battle to inspire fear; the sport has been popular in Mexico City since the 1930s.

"Indeed, the masquerade is part of a Mexican tradition that goes back centuries. Aztec warriors would don the mask of an animal like the jaguar or wolf to enable them to fight like these creatures they so admired and intimidate their Conquistador opponents. Even after the Spanish conquest the tradition continued. Peasants on Saints Days constructed masks out of cloth, bone and wood to represent creatures such as tigers, armadillos and monkeys, that were the last vestiges of the pre Hispanic Pagan Gods, firmly believing that when they wore such masks, their true identities were transformed into Gods who would make their harsh world a far better place ….if only for that one miraculous day." read more: image:

“Lucha Libre can be seen on any night of the week in at least ten venues across Mexico City alone some of which cater to more than 15000 crazed fans who pay from £1- £3.50 to watch what is, ostensibly, grown men clad in masks and tights sweating profusely while rolling about the floor. The wrestlers, almost always tag teams, are divided into two distinct camps- the hairy, ugly, and at times deformed bad guys, or rudos, who employ all manner of perfidy and underhandedness to succeed (maybe distracting the ref while his tag partner belts his opponent over the head with a chair) and the well turned out good guys, or técnicos, who invariably play by the rules and use honest to goodness highbrow wrestling skills to win. Read More: a

"In lucha libre, the Mexican sport of pro wrestling, the wrestlers wear masks while in the ring and never reveal their true identities to the public, much like real-life superheroes and villains. To be unmasked by a rival wrestler, or indeed anyone at all, is usually an irredeemable dishonor to the athletes, but there have been cases where they continue to fight even after having been beaten in this way. The stock characterization for a luchador is a kindly Gentle Giant who loves kids, which is probably based on the story of Fray Tormenta (Friar Storm), a Catholic priest who started wrestling to earn money for the orphanage he worked at (see Nacho Libre for a more honest homage). Pretty much the only time a villainous or evil luchador appears in a series is when it's about wrestling to begin with. Over in Fiction Land, the Mexican luchador has become a sort of stock character used when the author needs ..." read more:

A veritable mad house, fighting has been known to break out amongst fans of either camp as the skullduggery reaches fever pitch and each side uses all at their disposal to distract the other sides team. Yet contrary to appearances this is serious stuff.  And such is the power of the luchadores amongst the people that one of their number, Super Barrio, has interrupted the Mexican Congress and led a successful demonstration that prompted the government to build housing for the impoverished. A local hero, the masked and cloaked wrestler is a respected national figure and representative of the left wing opposition – even though he still wears his pants over his tights… Read More:

"If I had to pitch my dream in 30 seconds it would be LOST meets Caligula. There’s a cast of 20-30 men and women that live all across the world that all share common connections that they are unaware of, but that the viewer can pick up on if they are paying attention. Every week 4-5 of those people are teleported away and into their Lucha Libre masks where they now have super powers and fight zombies and vampires as part of a massive never-ending secret crisis war. That lasts about 5 minutes and then they spend the rest of the episode having kinky sex and playing BDSM games with each other. All while in character, with the masks on and with superpowers. I must have dreamt through an entire season last night. I think if I toned this down I could pitch it to Fox as a mid season replacement. It’s got a legion of kinky Lucha Libre super heroes, that just writes itself." read more:

…In a fantasy-historical flashback we see Aztec ritual life rather nicely staged. With women wrestling as well, you can see the broad lines of  ceremonial dances and  an attempted virgin sacrifice; are performed in a theater setting  that really captures the feeling of a past culture. The standard unfolding is the sacrificial virgin is pulled from the jaws of cannibalism- a ram is tangled in a bush, magically materializing in Babylonian fashion- by a heroic righteous man, who loves her, which dooms them both for breaking sacred laws- Adam and Eve- and involves them on some dubious and antagonistic relation to god, perhaps in the plural form which provides variety.Mexico  led the way in turning championship wrestling into more of a carnival than a sport, and then they brought a wild sensibility to the aesthetic, ennobling and preserving a peculiar respect for wrestling fans, whose favorite entertainment is fortunately never lampooned. There is always a certain honor even in the low-brow which was not lost on a film maker like Luis Bunuel in his Mexican films which reflected that cultural dynamic and social cohesion.


Robin Esrock:Thousands are not so much ready to rumble as they are to marvel at the acrobatics. The hard ropes of the ring are designed to provide extra spring for the luchadores, who are regarded as among the most agile and versatile of all wrestlers. Their somersaults and leaps add all the excitement of a Cirque du Soleil performance. …A midget in a white mask seems destined for punishment, until he pulls off the most incredible manoeuvre, spinning with his legs around the heads of his opponents, and throwing them out of the ring altogether. Kids are screaming their approval, the atmosphere is electric, and while the contest has shifted from camp to the bizarre, the entertainment value is top-notch. The best of three rounds always goes to the wire, the bad guys always threatening to remove the mask of the tecnicos, and in one case they actually do. It appears to be a wardrobe malfunction. The unmasked luchador clutches his face wildly, and is led out of the ring before his true identity is revealed to the masses. For unlawful unmasking, the villain is disqualified, and justice is served.

Lucha libre is a form of physical theatre, designed to steam up our emotions, wow our senses and provide dazzling entertainment. Read More:

"Sadly, Santo, whose career lasted some 49 years, brought his career to a grinding halt when he voluntarily removed his mask on a TV documentary in 1984 aged 67. Beneath the mask El Santo, bald and wrinkled, looked like a sad and homely retired labourer and died just a week later. Rodolfo Guzman Huerta had long been forgotten and the character had overtaken the man. He was, of course, buried in his mask. But it was because of the success of Santo that most grapplers start their career in Mexico masked – a reality that in the forties prompted the wrestling regulatory body to create a whole new set of rules that revolved entirely around the wrestlers disguise and made the sport peculiarly Mexican. The worst thing that can happen to a fighter south of the border is that during a bout entitled, mascara contra mascar, he loses, is unmasked, and his name officially revealed." read more: image:

In general, sensory imagery aligns with sensory codes  within the brain. The brain, is like a circuit board able to function with multiple corresponding moral values. Ideally, each sensation perceived by a person should stimulate the corresponding sensory and moral value within the brain. The colourful designs the wrestlers, and the traditions from which it arises, -face painting-therefore, represent but one aspect of an intricate and integrated multisensory complex of beliefs and practices. What may, historically, have  appeared to be a straightforward and benign pattern of visual markings designed to increase the attractiveness of a person’s aesthetics, in fact, encodes and catalyzes  a series of sensory associations which start in the brain but reach to parts unknown: the cosmos.

The examples of the costumes and make-up of this Mexican sub-culture, – including women, and indigenous, among others,   considered here, indicates that, within its cultural context, body decoration is meant to channel and organize both innate and exterior forces, from the sensory perception to the cosmological. The body signs  should not be regarded as representations, but could be interpreted as conduits of energy. Without an understanding of the multilayered and or multi-sensory symbolism which informs the designs, and the spectacle, representations of the body art, and the ritual of the matches, becomes one dimensional and without profundity: superficial and as obvious as the three second pin.

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