During one of the in class discussions about the ambiguity of the violence portrayed in professional wrestling, some of the comments touched on a concept known as symplegna, taken from the ancient depictions in Greece where the lines between pain and violence is blurred from that of pleasure. The basis of these comments comes of course from the homoeroticism depicted during numerous wrestling matches. For instance, on numerous occasions, a wrestler on his knees would linger around the pelvic area of his opponent, and image that immediately compels one to do a double take because of the interesting and confusing juxtaposition of this action.
The layman’s stereotype of gays is centered on the image of a waifish, adolescent body dressed to the nines, with obvious attention paid to his appearance. Interestingly, these wrestlers, whose statuesque physiques are the very definition of masculinity perhaps somewhat confusing seem to engage in simulated sexual acts in the heat of battle even when (supposedly) in tremendous pain and distress.
The mixture of pain and pleasure seems all too counterintuitive; after all, cultural values seem to indicate that pain is the result of failure while pleasure is a reward for a job well done. Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that there are numerous counter examples. Biology itself seems to provide one of many explanations. When under distress, the body releases endorphins, signaling molecules that create a “high.” Past and contemporary culture also seems to indicate that this oxymoron is something innate and universal.
Off the top of my head I can think of several instances where this seems to be true. In Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus, the King depicted in the center of the work, having just learnt that he is about to suffer a military defeat, decides to go down in an orgy of pleasure and violence. This is evident in the raping of the sex slaves as well as the depiction of the King attempting to burn himself within the chaos.
Perhaps more comedicaly, I can recall both the shock and horror I experienced when I watched the following scene from Nip/Tuck, where one of the protagonists, Dr. Troy is so bent on getting rid of Gina, who had been a thorn in his side, that he literally bangs her off the roof. Indeed, this is an example of mixing pleasure with violence. Is the coexistence of pleasure with violence mere coincidence, some wacky hogwash that I’m taking far beyond logical bounds?