The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling

( 4 )


Grantland and Deadspin correspondent presents a breakthrough examination of the professional wrestling, its history, its fans, and its wider cultural impact that does for the sport what Chuck Klosterman did for heavy metal.
The Squared Circle grows out of David Shoemaker’s writing for Deadspin, where he started the column “Dead Wrestler of the Week” (which boasts over 1 million page views) -- a feature on the many wrestling superstars ...
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The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling

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Grantland and Deadspin correspondent presents a breakthrough examination of the professional wrestling, its history, its fans, and its wider cultural impact that does for the sport what Chuck Klosterman did for heavy metal.
The Squared Circle grows out of David Shoemaker’s writing for Deadspin, where he started the column “Dead Wrestler of the Week” (which boasts over 1 million page views) -- a feature on the many wrestling superstars who died too young because of the abuse they subject their bodies to -- and his writing for Grantland, where he covers the pro wrestling world, and its place in the pop culture mainstream. Shoemaker’s sportswriting has since struck a nerve with generations of wrestling fans who—like him—grew up worshipping a sport often derided as “fake” in the wider culture. To them, these professional wrestling superstars are not just heroes but an emotional outlet and the lens through which they learned to see the world.
Starting in the early 1900s and exploring the path of pro wrestling in America through the present day, The Squared Circle is the first book to acknowledge both the sport’s broader significance and wrestling fans’ keen intellect and sense of irony. Divided into eras, each section offers a snapshot of the wrestling world, profiles some of the period’s preeminent wrestlers, and the sport’s influence on our broader culture. Through the brawling, bombast, and bloodletting, Shoemaker argues that pro wrestling can teach us about the nature of performance, audience, and, yes, art.
Full of unknown history, humor, and self-deprecating reminiscence—but also offering a compelling look at the sport’s rightful place in pop culture—The Squared Circle is the book that legions of wrestling fans have been waiting for. In it, Shoemaker teaches us to look past the spandex and body slams to see an art form that can explain the world.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With the loyalty of a devoted Wrestlemania fan determined to keep the sport respectable, Shoemaker, a book designer at Henry Holt and longtime wrestling scribe, establishes the tie between the amateur grapplers in the old sideshows and carnivals to the muscled studs of the current professional “contests” performing for sell-out crowds. Shoemaker is at his best when telling comic anecdotes about the colorful characters of the sport: “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Vince McMahon, Gorgeous George, Sylvester “The Junkyard Dog” Ritter, Ed “The Sheik” Furhat, The Funk Brothers, Kamala the Ugandan Giant, Abdullah the Butcher, the Von Erich clan, the Fabulous Moolah, and the Chiefs Wahoo McDaniels and Jay Strongbow. He explains how the Old School rules worked during the Jim Crow days when black wrestlers could not battle with whites. Fans will recognize some of the biggest names of the staged spectacles in this lively, informed survey: Captain Lou Albano, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, and the shapely Miss Elizabeth. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
Book designer and Grantland and Deadspin contributor Shoemaker offers a frontline report on a panem et circenses scene of power plays, big money and spandex girdles. No, it's not a KISS reunion, but instead the world of pro wrestling. Of course it's fake; early on, Shoemaker introduces readers to the insider term "kayfabe," which refers to "the wrestlers' adherence to the big lie, the insistence that the unreal is real." Consider this scenario: "Ravishing" Rick Rude insults a woman at ringside. She just happens to be married to Jake "The Snake" Roberts, one of Rude's many bêtes noires. The Snake vows vengeance, while Rude places her image on various strategically located parts of his costume. Kayfabe? You bet, even if Shoemaker quietly goes on to describe how the whole Snake/Rude show "underscored the fundamentally homoerotic nature of the enterprise." Good thing André the Giant isn't around to ponder such possibilities, but he remains a hero of the narrative--and, for all the oddness of wrestling and the avariciousness of some of the men behind the curtain, Shoemaker finds in its narratives a bit of the old Joseph Campbell hero quest, as when, once upon a time, the Macho Man set down the burden of evil and shook hands with Hulk Hogan, whereupon his "transformation into good guy was complete." The possibilities for hipster irony are endless in the fundamentally unironic display that is wrestling, just as in NASCAR or pro bowling, and Shoemaker is respectful even as he looks behind that very curtain to see how the odd dreams of pro wrestling and its discontents are shaped. A hint for would-be practitioners: It helps if you're, yes, a giant in "a playground for literally outsized men to act out metaphorically outsized tropes and storylines for the technological gratification of the masses." Put Greil Marcus and Susan Sontag ringside, and you get something approaching this book. A little too postmodern at times but an eye-opener.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592407675
  • Publisher: Gotham
  • Publication date: 10/31/2013
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 251,029
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

David Shoemaker has been writing about wrestling since 2009. He is a former book editor and is currently a book designer at Henry Holt and Company. Shoemaker lives in Brooklyn.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 21, 2014

    Professional wrestling is often derided by its critics as fake a

    Professional wrestling is often derided by its critics as fake and staged. Ironically, many of these same people will readily plunk down money at a movie theater to see a story played out before them and not bat an eye at the hypocrisy. Wrestling has existed as an entertainment medium that is part myth, part morality play in a literal theater of the absurd. It is an arena where an athletic competition exists yet the viewer is asked to suspend his disbelief.

    Commentating on this peculiar world is Deadspin "Dead Wrestler of the Week" writer David Shoemaker. While he is a wrestling fan, his writings on the passing of various wrestling personalities read more like eulogies. Yet, he takes the time to place their career within context of the times in which they wrestled and opining on the fans and their reactions to what they see. Fortunately, the run of tragic passings of wrestling personages has slowed way down from when DWotW was a regular feature on Deadspin. (Ironically, this review comes not two days after the death of Nelson Frazier, Jr - aka Mabel, aka Viscera, aka Big Daddy V.)

    Shoemaker begins with the dawn of the sport, starting in the carnivals and working his way through the period of legitimate competition before it finally settles into its current mode of script. This initial era is treated quickly but does not leave out essential details. Having read Tim Hornbaker's history on the NWA, that early period can get quite tedious (and confusing), a mistake that Shoemaker does not make.

    The majority of the rest of the book is dedicated to his profiles of deceased wrestlers repackaged from his Deadspin column. (The exception to this is a brief interlude on the Ultimate Warrior.) The careers of the wrestlers are retraced with no punches pulled as to what made them great or what held them back. Shoemaker discusses each wrestler's pop culture context; while I didn't agree with a couple of them (notably Rick Rude's), his arguments are sound and makes his cases. At least for me, there were holes in some wrestler's careers that were filled in because of reading this book.

    In addition, there are features of various aspects of wrestling. Wrestling topics such as the portrayal of minorities and foreigners, marriage, geopolitics, maiming and killing, are covered very well. They give the smart fan more knowledge of what happens behind the curtain.

    Overall, this book is not written for the "It's still real to me, dammit!" wrestling fan. That fan does not want to have the magic ruined for him; the wise friend of said fan will not recommend this book to them.  On the other hand, a book like this for the smart fan will be helpful as a resource, and as a way to remember those the wrestling community has lost.

    BOTTOM LINE: This is a book for the smart fan that he will not be able to put down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 23, 2014

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    Posted December 15, 2013

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    Posted January 11, 2014

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