Recently, I watched Urban Roots, a documentary on the urban agriculture movement in Detroit, Michigan. The film was released in 2011, just as the Motor City approached the height of its fiscal and governmental crisis. The state of Michigan assumed control of the city in 2012, and the city declared bankruptcy in 2013.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, my brother and I (and later my youngest brother) counted ourselves as rabid professional wrestling fans, not differing much from other boys in grade school and junior high at the time.
Wrestlers were–and, in some ways, still are–cartoon characters, acrobats, carnival barkers, outlaws, and court jesters all rolled into one. They were superheroes and supervillains in the flesh. No amount of brutality, no amount of damage could keep them down.
Professional wrestling is fake. The matches are planned and scripted. As children, we knew this. Adults would love to scoff at the matches on television and remind us of that fact. Did we care? No. The ability of wrestlers to enchant an audience and dispel its disbelief with characters and stories testifies to the performers’ skill as craftsmen and the inexplicable power of the medium itself.
When the WWF rolled into the town, our father would take us to the Erie Civic Center in Erie, Pennsylvania. All the males in the household—our father, my two brothers, and I–would pile into the car and make the two-hour drive to that struggling former manufacturing hub on the shores of Lake Erie (You might ask or add: Which one? There are so many.). We saw many of the great wrestlers of the era: Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Ted Dibiase, the Hart Foundation, the Rockers, just to name a few. However, we never watched one of the more magnetic and influential figures in professional wrestling: Jake “The Snake” Roberts.