Reviews

One Ring Circus: Extreme Wrestling in the Minor Leagues

JILL MANDRAKE

The question you have to ask yourself about One Ring Circus: Extreme Wrestling in the Minor Leagues, by Brian Howell (Arsenal Pulp Press), is this: by the time I’m through with this book , or maybe I should say when this book is through with me, do I want to become a minor league wrestler? The answer is yes. Extreme wrestling in the minor leagues is the last bastion of acceptable marginality, at least the way Brian Howell, the author and photographer, portrays it. Who wouldn’t rush to join the entourage? Two things drew me to this book immediately. First, when I was a kid and a fan of wrestling at the Queens Park Arenex in New Westminster, B.C., I sought the autographs of such icons as Gene Kiniski, Hardboiled Haggarty and Haystack Calhoun. Now, when I look at the contemporary wrestling scene to discover how its performers have evolved over the decades, I’d say they’re about the same, but with a current necessary emphasis on spectacle. Second, Howell photographs both the wrestlers and their devoted audience, and when I saw who that audience was, I thought, Holy cow, I went to school with some of these people! Yes, I recognized many faces in the crowd. They are a little more careworn now than in junior high, when they were my classmates. But I left Surrey and New West behind; looks like they didn’t.

I felt I had a social obligation to make certain that Howell presented the wrestling devotees with the same authenticity, and hopefully respect, as he did the wrestlers. He did. In the words of Stephen Osborne, who wrote the preface: ”[The book] returns the world to its subjects, the wrestlers themselves and their fans, who are presented here unsentimentally, with dignity and honour.” Both the text and the photographs of One Ring Circus are consistently accurate, or convincing might be a better term. Among other things, the wrestling I grew up with had the novelty of a few female wrestlers, but they weren’t taken very seriously. Now, such women as Bam-Bam Bambi and Cheerleader Melissa demonstrate that minor-league wrestling can give women, if not equal time, at least some equal footing in the wrestling hall, “where everything is drenched in the same light.” The partially unsolvable mystery is this: how has the fierce love of wrestling endured through the ages? In more of Osborne’s words, wrestling carries “its own spectacular set of customs, conventions, rituals and taboos, and its own practices and traditions.” Even though the pay is often only twenty to fifty dollars per show, and a packed house is seldom more than 35 people, there is the dependable, down-home feeling that we can always claim this netherworld as our own. The accessible glamour of that one ring circus will certainly beckon, once you’ve put down the book of the same title.

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JILL MANDRAKE

Jill Mandrake writes strange but true stories and leads Sister DJ’s Radio Band, featuring rhythm and blues covers, post-vaudeville original tunes and occasional comedy bits. https://hido.bandcamp.com/album/the-neti-pot

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