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Faces and Heels

I used to watch professional wrestling. There, I said it, and I feel better. Most of my viewing occurred way back before pro wrestling became the huge entertainment business it is now and before its scripted nature was publicly acknowledged. We’re talking the late 1960s, when I was ten or eleven years old. I’d watch wrestling on channel 11 out of Atlanta on Saturday nights at 11:30. But the really entertaining telecast was on Columbus’s channel 3 at 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Jim Carlisle was the announcer. Promoter Fred Ward joined him on air. Ward always sent a special greeting to ‘all our shut-ins’ hoping they’d ‘be up and at ‘˜em real real soon!’ Live wrestling took place every Friday night at the Atlanta Civic Auditorium. I’d beg my father to take me, but he never would. Then, miracle of miracles, around 1970 they started having wrestling on Saturday nights at the Sports Palace, which was on the Barnesville side of Griffin. My father agreed to take me one time. He sat there and laughed through the entire card, so I decided he was an unsuitable companion with whom to watch wrestling. Luckily, my Uncle Dock Knight (he wasn’t really my uncle; his wife was a cousin to my mother, and I was raised to call them Uncle Dock and Aunt Bernice) and his son, the legendary Rudy Knight, regularly attended the matches, so I’d occasionally hitch a ride with them. Those were the days of grapplers such as Joe Scarpa, Paul DeMarco, the Assassins, Ray Gunkel and Buddy Fuller, El Mongol, Buddy Colt, Bobby Shane, and the Professional Doug Gilbert, most of whom I saw in Griffin. In pro wrestling, as in cowboy movies, you have your good guys and your bad guys. Good guys are known as ‘faces’ and bad guys as ‘heels.’ Occasionally there would be a ‘heel turn’ in which a good guy would become a bad guy, or a ‘face turn’ in which a bad guy would become a good guy. These turns offered an interesting lesson in crowd psychology. Even as a child, I was amazed at how easily and quickly a crowd could switch from hating someone to loving them, or vice-versa. It didn’t seem logical to me, even as I went along with it, to cease booing and start cheering someone just because he switched sides. The wrestlers were just following the script. So were we. We just didn’t know it. We should beware letting that happen in other, much more important areas of life. Take politics, for example. Maybe the same mentality that lets wrestling fans believe that’”a long history that proves otherwise notwithstanding’”a heel is really a face and is therefore someone they can and should support, also enables a large group of Americans to believe that someone who has never shown any sign of being on their side now is. This might be a good time to remind ourselves that a political narrative can be, like a professional wrestling one, fiction. Mike Ruffin lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville. He is the Connections Curriculum Editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon. His latest book, Fifty-Seven: A Memoir of Death and Life, is available through online booksellers. Editor’s note: You can experience professional wrestling and benefit local youth programs sponsored by the Barnesville Police Department by attending the Hometown Throwdown event Saturday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the LCHS gym. For more information, call 770-358-1244.

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