Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Henry Krips

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Alexandra Juhasz

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2012 Isamu Horiuchi


This dissertation examines professional wrestling in the U.S., in particular, live and television shows produced by the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Through the examination, it addresses complex issues of authenticity, audience, commodification, and discipline in contemporary popular culture and media.

I use three approaches in this study. First, I apply the theory of culture industry, developed by Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, to understand WWE wrestling. I examine how the WWE thoroughly stylizes its products to attract fans and condition them to repeat the same calculable reactions. However, contemporary fans often refuse to react as the WWE wants them to. By analyzing the complex interplay between the WWE and fans, I update and re-contextualize Adorno and Horkheimer's idea that the culture industry exerts total control over consumers.

Second, I examine the recent rise of "nonfictional" narratives in professional wrestling, narratives that candidly acknowledge wrestling's scripted nature. I demonstrate how the WWE uses nonfictional narratives to present fans new ways of finding realness in wrestling and respecting wrestlers. I also point out that, by utilizing both fictional and nonfictional narratives, the WWE has developed clever ways of balancing between offering controversial products and transmitting conservative and respectable messages to enhance its populist appeal.

Third, I look at the history of professional wrestling through theories of modernity and postmodernity. I grasp it as a dynamic process in which wrestling has expressed its challenge against and ambivalence towards dominant ideologies, values, and masculinities of modernity in multiple ways. I also examine the predominance of obsessed subjectivities in contemporary WWE wrestling as a unique form of postmodern expression. I argue that obsessively competitive and self-destructive performances of WWE wrestlers illuminate the contradiction of the construction of modern "disciplined" subjects described by Michel Foucault. They also reveal that in the culture where pain and destruction of human beings are among the most desired objects, the WWE has to endanger real live bodies of its wrestlers in order to survive and thrive. WWE is a rich, problematic, and compelling cultural phenomenon that illuminates issues and contradictions of itself, and the system it belongs to.