On the (Rest of the) Net.

I’m at Paste Wrestling writing about the dearth of women’s wrestling merchandise on WWEShop.com, and the stuff that is there is exclusionary to children on the spectrum and women who’ve experienced sexual assault.

I wrote about the censorship of porn when many young people use it as sex education. [Archer]

My latest for SBS Life is about how women’s friendships can dwindle later in life and why that’s okay.

I wrote about why we need diverse podcasts for Feminartsy.

I contributed to Writers Bloc‘s list of feminist books for International Women’s Day and covered the All About Women festival for them.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rebecca Bunch is crazy. “So am I.” [Junkee]

Britney Spears deserves better than her Lifetime movie. [Buzzfeed]

“How Supergirl Became One of the Most LGBTQIA-Friendly Shows on TV.” [Elle]

The Good Fight needs Kalinda Sharma.” [The Ringer]

“No, I Don’t Want To Watch A Rape Survivor Reconcile With Her Rapist.” [Junkee]

Get Out the the horror movie of our time. [Buzzfeed]

And in it, “Allison Williams Knows How to Make ‘Good White People’ Scary”. [Vulture]

Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale in the Trump era. [The Cut]

How will women’s magazines cover Ivanka Trump? [Politico]

Kellyanne Conway is a Cool Girl. [WaPo]

What Donald Trump’s food says about him. [Eater]

How Big Little Lies challenges “Leaning In” and #WomenWhoWork. [Buzzfeed]

Daria Morgendorffer is the heroine we need now. [The Cut]

Intersectionality is not a brand, but it extends to brands. [Daily Life]

World Wrestling Entertainment asserted a year ago that it would start telling LGBTQIA stories. That still hasn’t happened. [Paste Wrestling]

ICYMI: I republished an old freelance article about how Gossip Girl and other flashy shows make me feel bad about myself.

And in case this wasn’t enough for you, there’s more feminist reads at the 105th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Transcendancing]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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I’ve started writing for Paste Wrestling about quotas being the only way World Wrestling Entertainment will diversify, that supporting WWE financially may mean supporting the Trump administrationwhy they need a women’s Royal Rumble match and the inequality that still remains in women’s wrestling.

I also wrote about shine theory in WWE. [Intergender World Champs]

And I attended Donald Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March in Washington D.C. and wrote about it for SBS Life.

I’m at Writers Bloc musing about the guilt that comes when the work isn’t and the obligatory leaving New York essay. 

How Carrie Fisher became the face of the Women’s March. [Vanity Fair]

Women filmgoers are largely responsible for Passengers flopping. But has Hollywood stopped to realised why we’re sick of rapey storylines and how we express satisfaction with our money? [Bibliodaze]

Beyonce, Kim, Taylor and Trump: how celebrity changed in 2016. [The Ringer]

Patriots Day is the first movie of Trump’s America:

“Such films are perfect vehicles for a Trumpian understanding of the world, one in which there are clear winners and clear losers, where environmental concerns disappear and the virility of the male ego (and, by extension, the American self-image) matters above all else. Where root causes of conflict go unaddressed; where nuance and reading and knowledge are denigrated as the provenance of intellectual sissy fools. These films ‘flatten journalism into a GIF,’ Nicholson argues. ‘They frighten me.'” [Buzzfeed]

Finding solace in the Final Girl as an abuse survivor. [Birth Movies Death]

How My Favorite Murder grants courage to survivors of violence. [Buzzfeed]

Image via Twitter.

Navigating Kayfabe in the Reality Era.

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This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 21. Republished with permission.

The dwindling amount of old-timers still alive that experienced the territories of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and even ’80s tend to look back on making towns with fondness, when wrestling was still considered by the masses to be “real”, so much so that even many rookies making their debuts at that time weren’t “smartened up” until after they climbed through the ropes.

The Attitude era that dominated the latter part of the 1990s will be remembered as the heyday of “sports entertainment” when anything could happen and often did. When the WWE “got the F out” in 2002 it took with it outrageous shenanigans such as DX invading WCW, Alundra Blayze dumping the WWE Women’s Championship in a trash can and Sable parading around the ring in hand print pasties, making way for the PG era in which John Cena and his candy-coloured merchandise reigned supreme.

Now, with social media and the WWE Network, it seems kayfabe is almost non-existent and Superstars have to strike a balance between making themselves available to fans on Twitter, Instagram and at meet and greets while attempting not to engage in any bad behaviour that might piss off sponsors. (Though there are still untouchables: Seth Rollins’ cheating dick pics were leaked early in 2015 before he became WWE Champion and when the new girlfriend he sent said pics to was revealed to be a Nazi-sympathiser later that year, she was promptly fired from her developmental deal while Rollins remained a dual champion. And although Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Snuka’s histories have been effectively erased from WWE, Legends who’ve behaved badly in the past but not since the company brought in the domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse clause in their Wellness Policy, such as Scott Hall, are still decorated.)

Perhaps the most obvious example that we are living in the reality era of sports entertainment is Total Divas. What was first marketed as a glimpse into the unique careers of female professional wrestlers quickly devolved into your typical E! fare: 40 minutes of personal drama such as Brie Bella and Trinity’s husbands, Daniel Bryan and Jimmy Uso, respectively, taking issue with their sexy clothes, and Brie’s desire to start a family. The latest seasons seem like an attempt to rectify that and, in the midst of the #DivasRevolution, explore what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.

What’s also interesting about Total Divas is that it builds a fifth wall between kayfabe and the “scripted reality” of shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Hills. In a profile on The Hills villains Spencer and Heidi Pratt in Complex magazine last year, “a talent manager who requested to remain anonymous” claimed that the show was “80 percent scripted”.

From that article:

The talent manager isn’t breaking news here—almost everyone who was on the show has admitted how fake it was. [Lauren] Conrad, [Brody] Jenner, Kristin Cavallari, Spencer, Heidi—they were actors on a show marketed as real life so that an audience could buy into a fantasy… On the final episode of The Hills, the fourth wall was broken, the camera panned out, and a street in the Hollywood Hills was revealed to be a movie set… [T]hat audience seem[ed] willing to accept the unreality of The Hills…”

As a culture we’re still getting our heads around the cognitive dissonance of reality TV being rooted in anything but reality while wrestling has long been determined to be, erm, pre­determined. So, when it comes to the intersection of the two, does that mean the storyline on the third season of Total Divas about Nattie and her husband T.J.’s marital woes is more or less real than Nattie’s accompaniment of Kidd to the ring when he wrestled (before his sidelining neck injury, which is a focus of Total Divas this season)? Are they both just tools to further the fantasy or is it a case of real life spilling into the workplace? And what about when we add social media platforms to the mix? We know they can be used to portray the best, not necessarily truthful versions of ourselves to the world, so was Nattie posting photos of TJ and their cats on Instagram at the time of their alleged estrangement part of the ruse or were the couple working on their relationship?

A more obvious distinction between kayfabe and IRL can be seen on Total Divas this season when Rosa wants to remain involved in WWE in the wake of her pregnancy. She can’t wrestle so she suggests backstage interviewing as a consolation, which is deemed to be too risky because “anything can happen” and she might be placed in “harm’s way” in this role. Had Total Divas been more like NXT’s more sophisticated reality show Breaking Ground and/or aired on the Network, perhaps this storyline would be left on the cutting room floor. But because it caters to E!’s audience—one that WWE doesn’t necessarily want to break kayfabe in front of—the reality of simply writing altercations to take place away from a pregnant employee isn’t portrayed.

The most glaring example of Total Divas and social media colliding is in Dolph Ziggler’s inclusion in the show. As one of the more active WWE Superstars on Twitter and in his extracurricular endeavours, such as stand up comedy, Ziggler appears in season four and five of Total Divas as Nikki’s ex-boyfriend and a potential foil in her current relationship with John Cena. The photos of Dolph and Nikki together prove their past relationship was real, but can we assume Ziggler’s apparent rekindled feelings are also?

Ziggler moonlights as a stand-up comedian and there’s a sense that he’ll have a successful, Dwayne Johnson-esque career after WWE in Hollywood. His WWE Universe (apparently separate from both the worlds of Total Divas/E! and the one you and I inhabit) relationship with Lana dragged on for months while Lana’s former client/love interest/real life fiance Rusev was injured, Ziggler went on hiatus to film a WWE Studios production, and when Lana broke her wrist, with the three Superstars relying heavily on social media to prolong the love triangle (and then a love square with the involvement of Summer Rae). Instead of putting the kibosh on the ill-fated storyline, Lana and Ziggler were tasked with promoting their “relationship” on social media. As lacking in chemistry as their pairing was, Lana and Ziggler seemed to genuinely enjoy playing it up on Instagram and Twitter, proponents of an alternate reality where images alone convey something very different to what’s really going on.

Returning to Total Divas, if WWE wants our suspension of disbelief to remain in tact (which they apparently do, as one can’t imagine that Ziggler would choose to carry on an Instagram relationship if it wasn’t part of his job), why do they cross-promote the conflicting reality show and their own programming so heavily? Given Ziggler’s growing reputation as a love rat (he gifted Summer Rae jewellery while she was allegedly involved with Rusev), was his wooing of Nikki on the show for real or an attempt at rectifying his WWE character?

During an interview on The Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast, the host further pitted Ziggler and Cena against each other in that Cena plays a musclebound meathead who’s hooking up with Amy Schumer in her runaway box office hit movie, Trainwreck, a role allegedly based on Ziggler, who dated Schumer in real life.

Relatedly, Tyler Breeze burst onto the scene as Summer Rae’s rebound, taking the spot of Ziggler both literally and figuratively. He appears on Breaking Ground and at once parodies and makes use of our obsession with social media, asking if he’s who we follow, toting selfie sticks to the ring and streaming his entrances on Periscope.

Total Divas also uses social media to their advantage with things posted by its stars on Instagram have been used to punctuate storylines, most notably Eva Marie’s falling out with the rest of the cast.

In the first few episodes of season four, Alicia Fox and the Bellas were irked because of Eva’s continued posting of ads for her hair extension line and various self-promotional content at the detriment of anything about wrestling. Then, when the rest of the cast blew up that Eva was getting specialised one-on-one wrestling training while they all had to tough it out in developmental, Eva retorted with an Instagram post about a lion not worrying “herself with the opinion of sheep”. (Just FYI: A female lion is a lioness, Eva.)

Since then, Eva has made amends with the rest of the show’s cast, even joining babyface Team Total Divas at WrestleMania, despite cultivating a successful heel gimmick in NXT and further reinforcing not only the fifth wall between Total Divas/E! and WWE, but one between WWE and NXT, as well.

Ryan Boyd unpacked the relationship between kayfabe and social media further in a piece for The Spectacle of Excess. He writes:

[U]nder the new rules of kayfabe, the audience is encouraged to be just as interested in Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah as they are in Kofi Kingston, and what’s more than that, the Nashville crowd got worked like hell when Kofi-the-real-guy said that country music sucks purely because he went one further in his heel antics. Kofi-the-real-guy is as much a part of the show as Kofi-the-heel—they’re both props for generating heat and selling T-shirts.

“Kayfabe is a matryoshka doll of carny deception, and if you think you’re not getting worked, that just means you’re getting double-worked. The kayfabe is coming from inside the house.”

*

A few years ago I was involved in the making of a wrestling mockumentary with a smorgasbord of former WWE Superstars which then led to me working in an indie Australian promotion that often brought out big names to compliment its own talent. While most of the wrestlers I grew up watching on TV were lovely in person, I did observe a certain disconnect between their characters and reality. But it must be hard to get a good grip on reality when the bulk of your life is spent perfecting your craft and the development of the character that goes along with it. There is an expectation in the professional wrestling world that you stay in character at all times to protect storylines and maintain “kayfabe”—despite the widely held belief that wrestling is “fake”—at all costs, but what toll does that take on everyday life?

One indie wrestler who knows the importance of social media and utilising it to portray your character to your fans is Melbourne wrestler JXT, who recently received a tryout for WWE when they were in town with NXT.

With a YouTube show entitled JXTv and a photo op gimmick appropriated from Instagram’s polaroid-esque layout, JXT’s social media presence compliments his status as a party-loving, millennial everyman and will show industry heavyweights that he has an in-built following if and when the time comes to make the move to the U.S.

JXT believes that to be a wrestler and have a strong social media presence is “super important.”

“I see wrestlers now without Instagram or Twitter and straight away in my head I say ‘they’re not serious’,” he continues. “WWE talks about Twitter constantly and references [its] Superstars’ Instagrams. The fans want to invest in you so having platforms where they can talk to you and see what you’re up to constantly is key in giving the fans a chance to make that deep emotional connection. It’s 2016: people have 7-second attention spans; they want to see a lot of their favourite wrestlers in short, sharp bursts. So things like Instagram and YouTube help because there isn’t a show on Tuesday morning but they can just check your Instagram to get a dose of what you’ve been up to.”

JXT’s main goal with JXTv and his other online endeavours is to make a name for himself. “You look at any big independent wrestler, [if] they have a heavy social media presence [then] that’s how they get their name,” JXT says. “You hear of all these cool wrestlers who aren’t signed to a big company yet through social media. CM Punk was renowned [in] internet wrestling circles and that’s why he broke the mold and WWE signed the independent guy. He had so much buzz they gave him a chance.

“Everyone knows who Colt Cabana is yet he doesn’t wrestle for any big wrestling company [save for] ROH in its smaller days… Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn… Everywhere I go I want people to know who I am before I even get there. That is the goal.”

But JXT insists his character, like so many of the most successful wrestling gimmicks, is just a heightened version of himself. “I love to party and I love wrestling so I take that and over-dramatise it. [But] when I’m just being me, I’m calmer and less over the top. You need to know who you are as a person, and not get lost in the hype and perceived ego of your wrestling character.”

While maintaining some semblance of suspended disbelief is integral to professional wrestling, it’s also a delight when wrestlers break kayfabe for real. Take the Four Horsewomen’s curtain call at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn when Bayley won the NXT Women’s Championship from Sasha Banks in a hellacious match, culminating in Charlotte and Becky Lynch coming out to join them in a tear-jerking show of friendship. In my opinion there’s no greater reward than seeing competitors who gave it their all express respect and, oftentimes, love for one another. Give me that over neatly packaged “reality” any day.

If we can take one thing from the shitshow that was the Rusev/Lana/Dolph Ziggle/Summer Rae storyline it’s the ability to ask the question, what even is the point of kayfabe, anyway? If Vince McMahon claims that WWE is entertainment and not sport, then why not treat its Superstars as actors and let them do what they want, within reason (*cough* Hulk Hogan *cough*), on their own time? With social media and the 24-hour news cycle the kayfabe model is a risky one that’s no longer feasible.

Related: World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasAChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

In Defence of Eva Marie.

My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [Harlot] Whorephobia & Misogyny in Wrestling: Still Real to Me, Dammit.

[Intergender World Champs] Smack Talker! Daniel Bryan’s Tiresome Vocal Misogyny.

[Complex] Over The Hills: The Afterlife of Heidi & Spencer Pratt.

[The Spectacle of Excess] Kayfabe is Dead. Long Live Kayfabe.

Image via Courtney Rose/Calling Spots.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

vince mcmahon donald trump

Remember that time Donald Trump “bought” World Wrestling Entertainment? Well I wrote about how politics and wrestling are more intersected than meets the eye, especially when it comes to a woman’s place in them. [Intergender World Champs]

I also wrote about the rise of female characters with mental illness on TV. [Bitch Flicks]

And what other industries can learn from porn one year on from allegations of rape against James Deen. [Archer]

People magazine put President-Elect Trump—the man who only a few weeks ago was accused of sexually assaulting one of its writers—on its cover because “it reports from inside the assholes of celebrities.” [Buzzfeed]

Don’t admire Ivanka Trump: fear her. [Buzzfeed]

Why she should acknowledge the #WomenWhoWork to keep her life functioning the way she portrays it to. [The Cut]

Like the Chinese nanny who taught her daughter Mandarin.

“How Trump Made Hate Intersectional”:

“It’s harder to talk about grabbing women by the pussy if there’s also a woman in the circle, and that in turn makes it harder to blindly assault. It’s harder to casually say nigger when there’s a black person in the circle, and that makes it harder to beat a black kid senseless without fear of repercussion. It’s harder to say faggot when someone queer is in the room, which lessens the ability to casually bully a gay person to the point where they take their own life. Yes, there’s hate spread throughout this country, but it stems from the sickness that involves stopping at nothing to keep spaces fully white, allowing white people to continue with behaviour that is no longer universally accepted in the real world.” [Daily Intelligencer]

What does the Liberal White Feminist Thinkpiece accomplish? [Medium]

Talk about a “rigged” election: here’s what it took to beat Hillary Clinton. [The Guardian]

“Identity politics” was not to blame for Hillary’s loss. [The Cut]

What it’s like to be an Asian background actor. [Vox]

Image via Intergender World Champs.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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I wrote about why World Wrestling Entertainment needs a women’s Money in the Bank match. [SBS Zela]

Who’s afraid of all-woman alliances on reality TV? [The Establishment]

Meghan Trainor’s blaccent and white artists talking black. [MTVNews]

How Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s is falling behind their Snapchats, Instagrams and personal apps. [MTVNews]

Also: On Edith Wharton and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. [Guernica]

On the public nature of black deaths and the need for lynching memorials. [Lenny Letter]

Blackface is the true face of racism in America. [Fusion]

What role did social media play in the murder of Christina Grimmie? [Rolling Stone]

Image via Raw Breakdown Project.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

marilyn monroe kim kardashian

I’m at The Big Smoke asserting that Kim Kardashian is our modern day Marilyn Monroe.

Following on from my piece last week, I wrote about how World Wrestling Entertainment got from the Divas era to the women’s wrestling renaissance. [SBS Zela]

What happened when a WWE Superstar sicked his Twitter followers—inadvertently or no—onto a trans woman. [Harlot]

Why famous male wrestlers need to stop being the deciding factors in women’s matches. [The Spectacle of Excess]

*Spoiler alert* Olivia Pope may have killed the man who set her up to be kidnapped but Scandal has missed an opportunity to address her PTSD with therapy. [WaPo]

Why are white tank tops still called wife-beaters? [Mic]

Why I don’t want my daughter to be a footy fan. [Daily Life]

The history of cats in bookstores. [Lit Hub]

ICYMI: The rise of self-indulgent comedy.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

charlotte wrestlemania 32 women's championship

I wrote about World Wrestling Entertainment’s new Women’s Championship and the renaissance of women’s wrestling. [SBS Zela]

In praise of the “ugly cry”. [New Republic]

“She just wants attention”: the insult du jour. [Slate]

What we can learn about clapping-back from Beyonce. [Elle]

The toxic relationship between masculinity and meat hinges on the “factory farm industry that makes billions of dollars insisting that men are the strongest when they have the most muscle, the least amount of feelings, and ingest the most ‘manly’ protein, like bacon, steak, and sausage.” [The Establishment]

Amber Rose’s MuvaMoji is an alternative—not an answer—to Kim Kardashian’s Kimoji. [Good]

Hillary Clinton said feminism and being pro-life can co-exist. Here’s a reminder of what being pro-life actually means. [Daily Life]

And Jill Filipovic unpacks it in a practical, US-centric sense. [Cosmopolitan]

Melissa Harris-Perry interviews Anita Hill 25 years after testifying that Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. [Essence]

More feminist goodness at the 95th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Sacraparental]

Image via WWE.com.