Torture to Order

Modern wrestling shows are "sadistic orgies, brutal, disgusting and repulsive" says

ALAN SULLIVAN September 1 1938

Torture to Order

Modern wrestling shows are "sadistic orgies, brutal, disgusting and repulsive" says

ALAN SULLIVAN September 1 1938

Torture to Order

Modern wrestling shows are "sadistic orgies, brutal, disgusting and repulsive" says


I HAD seen their semihuman photographs in the papers and had studied them with interest, for to me, revisiting Toronto after a few years absence, they seemed significant. They occupied space that cost money, a good deal of money, far more than would have been accorded to, say, some great statesman, scientist, or musician.

One photograph was entitled The Hooded Horror, the other, The Big Baboon. Of the two, 1 found the Big Baboon the less repulsive.

He was crouching in a simian fashion, nearly naked, thick arms outstretched in a sort of rigid, prehensile curve that promised destruction to whatever came within their crushing embrace. On a wide hairy breast his huge pectoral muscles spread like overlapping plates. His shoulders melted imperceptibly into a massive neck, which in turn taf>ercd to a gradually narrowing skull that contracted in a fashion which provided but a minimum of brain space, while from beneath the low and threatening forehead gleamed a pair of murderous-looking eyes.

Such the general impression provided by this, to me, remarkable likeness. That the man was prodigiously powerful, there could be no doubt that there could be any real mental activity here was even less doubtful. From hairy breast to bulging calves, from prognathous skull to earth-gripping, plantigrade feet, the picture presented a mass of potent muscle, primarily destructive, the reconstruction of a cave man of the Pleistocene Age, yet at the same time a twentieth-century product, an individual who had won significance, a great lump of bone. sinewr and muscle that had achieved what the Bowery terms “poisonality.” It is a good term.

A few days later 1 occupied a ringside seat in an arena the vast space of which was packed with spectators, rising tier on tier under the electrics, perhaps 8.0(X) of them, chewing, smoking, talking, all keyed up to a pitch of expectation one could not miss. One estimated that a fifth of the total were women, young, middle-aged and elderly. A few men were in evening dress. The place buzzed and hummed. On my left was a man about forty-five, with greying hair, kindly face and humorous mouth. He looked so attractive that, stupidly, I wondered what had brought him. I’d say he was a family man, well established, with just a touch of the churchwarden about him.

Now a murmur of satisfaction ran through the arena, and in a roped, floodlit stage the Big Baboon and the Hooded Horror regarded each other with diabolical scowls.

while each expanded his chest, flexed and bunched his huge muscles, and gave an admirable reconstruction of what must happen every day when two rival gorillas meet face to face on the fronded slopes of Mount Kenya. There was the same mutual threat, the same deep-throated growl, the same convulsive working of anthropoid jaws.

Elut this lasted only a moment. The arena resounded with catcalls, the referee stepped aside with a dexterity born of previous experience, and the two “poisonalities” got down to business.

What immediately happened, and for the next half hour continued to happen, is beyond me to describe. It is termed “all-in wrestling” but this, I submit, is a misnomer. More accurately, it was a scientific exhibition of brutality, shrewdly calculated to give the spectators their money’s worth. So far as I could see. the objective was to manoeuvre one’s adversary (or partner) into a position that gave one an opportunity to inflict such physical torture as compelled surrender, shoulders to the mat.

The two dripped with sweat; there was strangling, twisting, stretching compression; the distortion of feet gripped in a human vise. Now the Baboon’s right leg locked round the Horror’s neck so that a purple tongue protruded and his eyes bulged; now the Horror pounded the Baboon’s groin till that deadly grip relaxed. In the next moment the Baboon had the Horror apparently by the ears, swung him through the air like a flail, and used that floodlit stage as a threshing floor. The dust rose in a cloud, the spectators also rose, yelping with delight. Baboon and Horror, faces distorted, kicked, swung, plunged and writhed, till by some miraculous process the Baboon received a horny heel that drove deep into his digestive apparatus. His abdomen flattened, the wind went out of him in a great gust—and it began all over again.

“Brutal, Disgusting”

XTOW ALL this time—for every brutal, disgusting and repulsive moment of it—those 8,000 Torontonians were electrified. There had been roused in them, man and woman alike, a primitive, sadistic, atavistic flame that confounded me. They, too, had reverted to the primitive, so that the gulf between them and their hairy forebears on the slopes of Mount Kenya had been temporarily bridged. They yelled, scoffed, cheered and cursed; they mocked the Horror and the Baboon in turn; there were cries of “Kill him—choke him—slug him!” Some 2,000

women, who ought to have been at home with their children. if any, had become unsexed, transformed into yapping maenads whose attitude, at any rate to myself, was repellent. Finally, when the Horror lay flat with the Baboon’s knees driven deep into his midriff and a simian clutch on his thorax, a sigh of profound satisfaction ran through the arena; and my neighbor, who had been utterly absorbed in this sadistic orgy, allowed his features to reassume their normally friendly cast.

I knew that he had been watching my expression with amusement, while I had missed nothing of his. Now he turned with a little nod.

“Well, how about that?”

“I’ve had more than enough,” said I. “Good evening.” “Not going, are you? Another hour of it yet.”

‘ Thanks— but—well—”

“You’re not taking this stuff seriously?”

“Aren’t you?”

“No,” said he, lighting a cigarette. “No one does, really. You see, it’s all framed.”


“A put-up job from start to finish. They’ll do it again next week, and t’other fellow will win. Leave that to them.”

“You tell me those fellows were bluffing !”

“Well, they were and they weren’t. It’s roughhouse all right; also it’s good business.”

“Torture in public a business !”

“Why, certainly. But torture only up to a point. Most of those grunts and groans and grimaces are for our benefit. They have it down fine. Those body slams you saw a couple of minutes ago are always popular. There’s a certain amount of jealousy among the big fellows, but that’s all. They need each other, and they know it.”

“And what,” I asked, “do you make of the effect of this sort of thing on the public, on public taste, on public”— here I hesitated a moment—“on public decency?”

“I thought you were coming round to that.” He grinned. “English, aren’t you?”

“No, Canadian; but I haven’t lived here for years.” “Well, maybe we’ve changed since your time. I reckon we have. Now, as to this public you’re worrying about, don’t lose any sleep there. This arena holds five thousand dollars—good money right now. That tells the story. The public is getting the kick it came for. You think the whole business is lowering to public morals—I can read that in your face—but it doesn’t cut much ice, really. Forget it.” “Would you like your daughter, if you have one, to be here tonight?” I asked bluntly.

“For all I can tell, she is here; I never know what she’s doing with herself nowadays. If she is, we’ll trade opinions tomorrow at breakfast. Mind telling me how much you paid for that suit you’re wearing?”

“Ten pounds,” said I. “Good evening.”

“Caterwauling Antics”

I WENT to church on the following Sunday. The organ pealed, the parson appealed, and a dapper, morningcoated sidesman came sedately down the aisle with a plate. It was my friend of the recent evening; his demeanor sabbatical, his manner dignified, and he held himself as a brand plucked from the burning. Our eyes met when he reached me, and in his dawned an unforgettable flicker; a glint instantly subdued, but nevertheless the most provocative, suggestive and quizzical gleam it is possible to imagine. I could not begin to match it. Then he passed on.

Well, since then I’ve been wondering about this new Toronto, so familiar and yet so strange; wondering if it was a real civic cross section I saw that night in the arena, and what it is that has brought about so low a standard of public taste.

Certain phases of it probably don’t matter. It would not matter, for instance, if the Hooded Horror, the Big Baboon, and the whole tribe of similar and contemporary “poisonalities” were towed out into Lake Ontario and sunk deep. The community could but profit. They may be law'-respecting, tax-paying mammals who, off stage, are much like you and me; but I do hold that the influence of their mauling, bawling, caterwauling antics is deplorable.

Is the public appetite of this city so jaded, surfeited and dissipated, so lacking in what one may call “tone,” that the sensory receiving apparatus of 8,(XX) Torontonians demands these floodlit brutalities by mountainous grapplers in whom a Tait McKenzie or Walter Allward could find no line of grace or posture of physical beauty?

That is the ugly part of it. The whole thing is ugly, forced, unnatural; that frantic crowd, especially its feminine element, was ugly, its appetite coarse, its atmospherics all wrong.

Much of that disgusting show was, it seemed, playacting, and here is just where the psychopathological conundrum comes in. Baboon and Horror, apparently with the full connivance of the audience, were putting something over, and the box-office success of this strange collaboration hung on the degree of simulated torture that could be packed into the evening. No one was fooled except myself.

Was it a real cross section of Toronto I saw that night? I hope not! The End