In her spellbinding Lucha Libre: The Family Portraits, the acclaimed Mexican photographer Lourdes Grobet reveals the masked gods of lucha libre (freestyle wrestling) at home, at play, and, in the case of the minor deities, at day jobs as cops or dentists. Grobet shows us técnicos, good-guy guardians of the moral order such as the Son of El Santo, looking comfortably bourgeois in his upscale living room — except for the fact that he?s peering at us through the teardrop eyeholes of a silver hood. We meet dirty-fighting rudos (bad guys) like Parka, posing in a cemetery; his skull mask and skeleton bodysuit could launch a Ph.D. dissertation on Mexican fatalism and black humor in the face of official corruption and narco-terrorism. Parka himself would probably say that I?m overthinking this. Then he’d drop me with his bone-jarring Skull Bomb move and, if the ref wasn?t looking, finish me with a steel folding chair. Like Mexican culture itself, lucha is too full of contradictory meanings to be neatly tied up with an Octavio Paz quote or laughed off as Nacho Libre kitsch. As Grobet suggests, lucha puts a masked face on Mexico?s split personality: Aztec and Catholic, aristocratic and revolutionary, sublime and soap-operatic. Sure, lucha acts out the power fantasies of the poor, who dream of giving their oppressors a gladiatorial beatdown. But unlike American wrestlers, luchadors specialize in high-flying moves — somersaulting, backflipping, springboarding off the ring ropes — that flaunt acrobatic prowess and risk serious injury. Defying gravity, such stunts invest lucha libre with a defiant spirituality, catapulting the wrestler closer to god, and ultimately to godhood. And who wouldn?t want to be a god? Looking into the shyly proud eyes of the cute little boy seated in front of his big-shouldered daddy, the rudo wrestler Aztec Blood, you know the answer.
About the Writer
Mark Dery is a New York-based cultural critic, freelance journalist, and lecturer. His most recent book is The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink (Grove/Atlantic, 1999). In summer 2009, he was appointed a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome; while in residence, he'll write a short book on the Anatomical Venuses (wax obstetric models) in Italyâ€™s curiosity cabinets.