Reality and sports entertainment
Professional wrestling has a special place in popular culture as over-the-top sports entertainment with talk of ﬁxed ﬁghts and rowdy crowds. When you go to a live wrestling match it is easy to see why pro wrestling has a reputation; there are wrestlers in bright costumes, capes and masks, performing heroes and villains to a crowd of fans and anti-fans who cheer and boo for these stars of the wrestling ring. With historical roots in Victorian carnivals, Mexican lucha libre, or British and American freestyle wrestling, this kind of contemporary wrestling is described as sports entertainment to signal its spectacular nature. In turn, reality television is commonly talked about as popular entertainment, full of staged moments, peopled by wannabe celebrities and popular with the masses. When you watch reality TV it is easy to see why the genre has this kind of reputation; there are celebrities and participants in staged settings from studios to jungles, performing
meta versions of themselves to audiences, live crowds, fans and anti-fans, who chat, vote and tweet for the people they love and love to hate. With historical roots in variety theatre, radio and television ﬁctional and factual programming, reality TV is usually described as an entertainment genre. This chapter draws on sports entertainment to illustrate how to
understand reality entertainment as a cultural performance. A key point of departure is Roland Barthes’ (1957, 1972) seminal writing on the world of wrestling as a spectacle of excess. Jeffrey Sconce’s research on the show Celebrity Boxing on Fox (2002, USA) in America also examines the spectacle and textual play of producers, participants and viewers of reality entertainment (2004). Both works are richly suggestive for research on sports and reality entertainment. The empirical research in this chapter draws on qualitative methods, from interviews, focus groups and participant observation of professional wrestling live events, and reality television, as pre-recorded and live content for cross-media. This empirical research with professional wrestlers, promoters, producers, crowds, audiences, fans and anti-fans allows for an
exploration of spectacle, play and passion in these infamous examples of popular culture.