The Neo-baroque in Lucha Libre – Kat Austin


Lucha libre displays a major trait of the (neo-)baroque: it presents us with illusions and then reveals their artifice to us, only to provide us with yet more illusions. Lucha libre is a neo-baroque form that plays with grand themes such as illusion and reality. This article attempts to prove the strong neo-baroque nature of Mexican wrestling by exploring its erasure of the lines between illusion and reality, its openness and dynamism, its emotive religiosity, and its use of allegory and mimicry.

Tres caídas me bastaron
Par darme cuenta
Que tú no eras mi aliada
No das la cara
Y nada lo que antes era
Arriesgo mi cabellera
Para quitarte la máscara [1]

Musician Sergio Arau sings these lyrics which invoke the language of lucha libre, Mexican wrestling. He, himself wears a wrestling mask indicating his own lucha, his own political combat against NAFTA. [2] Referring to NAFTA, he proclaims to his audience: “Now that we are going to be good neighbors… it’s time to leave hypocrisy behind. Let’s take off our masks” (cited in Arizmendi 1994, 109). The audience pleads for him not to remove the mask, because in lucha libre, unmasking results in a loss of honour, charisma, and ultimately, power. Then, “Arau hesitates, then in one fell swoop takes off the mask only to reveal a second leopard-skin mask underneath. The audience claps in surprise and relief, honor has been preserved, negotiations are not over yet” (cited in Arizmendi 1994, 109). Arau first presents us with illusion. He then attempts to free us from this illusion with his unmasking, but instead provides us with yet another illusion. Arau’s performance offers us a paradigmatic (neo-)baroque metaphor. Like Arau, the (neo-)baroque presents us with illusions and then reveals their artifice to us, only to provide us with yet more illusions. Lucha libre is a neo-baroque form that plays with grand themes such as illusion and reality. This article will attempt to prove the strong neo-baroque nature of Mexican wrestling by exploring its erasure of the lines between illusion and reality, its openness and dynamism, its emotive religiosity, and its use of allegory and mimicry.

Enmascarados: illusion and reality in lucha libre

Even those who know very little about wrestling can recognize the way in which it blurs and brings attention to the lines separating reality and illusion. Some will argue that the match’s outcome is decided beforehand or that the wrestlers’ movements are roughly choreographed. Meanwhile, in defense of the genre, others will argue that wrestling is real because of its improvisational quality, because its wrestlers are real athletes that can and do suffer injuries, because they fly acrobatically through the air using real muscles and skill, and because real blood oozes from their wounds. However, lucha libre’s real/fictive ambiguity runs far deeper than the question of the predetermined match or the existence of blood. In lucha libre, fiction and reality are inseparable: artifice is reality and reality is artifice.

Lucha libre is theatre that enters into reality. As Barthes claims, wrestling is not sport, but spectacle (1972, 15) and so, lucha libre and theatre share many similarities. Further, the theatre of wrestling, like baroque theatre, is the theatre of the world. “Professional wrestling is recognized and ultimately serves as a metaphor for structures and meanings. The squared circle, like the medieval stage, comes to represent the world itself” (Mazer 1998, 7). However, the world of lucha libre does not confine itself to the limits of the ring. The theatre of Lucha libre extends into everyday life and spaces, reminiscent of baroque theatre in which “theater met life and life met theater” (Ndalianis 2004, 198). Ndalianis recounts the wedding of Cosimo II during which a sea battle of the Argonauts was performed on the river Arno.

Theater spilled over the city of Florence…to the accompaniment of pyrotechnics, music, and songs, the theater spectacle included elaborately decorated barges on the river with astonishing ships, such as that of Hercules whose bow consisted of the heads of hydra, complete with flames emitting from each of the hydra’s nine heads. Other ships were drawn by sea horses, and yet another took the form of a giant lobster… (2004, 198)

Though the performance of lucha libre does not spill into the city streets of Mexico, its characters do in fact leave the theatrical space of the ring and continue the role of their persona in quotidian life. Lucha libre intensifies artifice with its characteristic use of masks which further complicates the separation of the supposed real and fictive worlds. A luchador never removes his mask except to his family and most intimate friends, and so, the entire public sphere becomes his theatre. One can find a masked luchador in the most mundane of situations: in a taquería, on a plane, in the mall. The luchador’s character and real identity are inseparable. He and his persona are the same entity. As Jean Rousset writes of the baroque, “C’est le personnage qui est la personne; c’est le masque qui est la vérité” [3] (1954 54). This unity of persona and person holds true in lucha libre as “a wrestler is not thought to ‘play’ a character so much as ‘be’ a character” (Levi 2002, 89). Mexican wrestling cannot present us with a clear distinction between pretense and reality.


Figure 1. One can find a masked luchador in the most mundane of situations.


The ambiguous nature of reality and illusion are materialized in the emblem of the mask and, perhaps not coincidentally, masking is key to post-colonial discourse. Octavio Paz insists on the colonial origins of masking in Mexican culture. “The Indians and mestizos had to sing in a low voice, as in the poem by Alfonso Reyes, because ‘words of rebellion cannot be heard well from between clenched teeth’” (Paz 1985, 43). He says that the lie and the truth are the same and that the lie “becomes a superior – because more artistic – form of reality” (Paz 1985, 43). This contradiction is beautifully synthesized in both the mask and in the postcolonial subject. “The masker signifies a double existence, for he is at once himself and someone else” (Smith 1984). The masker is both himself and someone else, the other, while simultaneously being neither himself nor the other. His identity is a third term which exists in a Derridian in-between space. This third term expresses the hybrid mestizaje [4] which embodies both the colonized and the colonizer, both indigenous and/or African as well as the Hispanic. Homi Bhabha suggests that cultural identity is born from this ambivalent hybrid space, the “Third Space of enunciation” (1994, 37). The mask is emblematic of this dual identity stemming from colonialism and hybridity. The post-colonial subject cannot help but be self-reflexive within his ambivalent double existence because the mask gives him the perspective of being an outsider, the other, while simultaneously being himself. Identity is questioned and problematized because it presents itself as being multivocal and illusive. The mask itself epitomizes artifice and yet, as Rousset argues, identity is found in masks (1954, 54). If the illusion of the mask is truth, then conversely, all truth is simply an illusion. The self-reflexive post-colonial subject recognizes the illusiveness of identity and how identity is simply artifice in its own right, an illusion, a construct. Nationalism itself presents a constructed/constricted mask. “To talk of ‘the nation’ is to mask difference(s) – to reconfigure and cover contradictory features in order to represent and lift the face of an imaginary national community” (Neustadt 2001, 414). However, Neustadt claims that “society’s marginalized Others can make use of masks as a performance strategy that calls attention to the masking process” (2001, 415). To use a mask is to enter into a dialogue about identity and the nature of reality and illusion.

Lucha libre performance epitomizes the problematic space between reality and illusion. Rousset writes of how the man of the baroque world, “il va d’illusions en désillusions et en nouvelles illusions, il doit apprendre que rien n’est qu’il paraît, que tout est ostentation” [5] (1954, 228). Lucha libre is densely layered with masks which create instability between being and seeming. The practice of bleeding best exemplifies the problematic real/fictive relation. The bleeding wrestler demonstrates to the public that the spectacle is not just artifice. The authenticity of blood and pain causes the spectacle to lose its artifice and enter into reality. However, the reality of the blood simply presents us with another mask seeing how “wrestlers are paid extra to bleed. Someone, maybe the wrestler, maybe the referee, makes small vertical incisions on the wrestler’s forehead. At the proper moment, the opposing wrestler hits the cuts to re-open them, and the other appears to bleed from the blow”. (Levi 2002, 48)

In lucha libre we cannot exit the world of illusions. The spectator is conscious of the illusion and how reality can enter into this artifice and vice versa. Wrestling fans are self-reflexive spectators who do not “so much suspend disbelief as they sustain it while looking for moments in which to believe. They look to see the fake and to see through the fake to the real” (Mazer 1998, 6). The self-reflective viewer who recognizes and appreciates the artifice in art is a (neo-)baroque viewer. “The baroque and neo-baroque create the illusion of the merging of an artificial reality into the phenomenological space of the audience while simultaneously inviting the spectator to recognize the deception and marvel at the methods employed to construct it“ (Ndalianis 2004,159).

The (neo-)baroque spectator recognizes that truth is vague and fleeting. If reality is illusion, then illusion can also be reality. Lucha libre demonstrates that truth, reality, and identity are rendered unstable constructs, and, like Narcissus’ image reflected in the pond, are only temporary and deceptive images projected on a fluid surface.

Beyond the ropes: open and dynamic spaces

Lucha libre is an open and dynamic form which metamorphoses and incorporates new signs into its body. Mexican wrestling owes its birth to change and adaptation. Lucha libre actually diverged from a US model that was introduced in the 1930’s and, because of its open and dynamic nature, it has become decidedly Mexican. Lucha libre represented lo naco, [6] the popular, and lo naco was celebrated by the neo-pop movement as being Mexican by essence (Levi 2002, 265). Although lucha libre and American wrestling exercise similar open and dynamic physical space within the performance, lucha libre extends this open space with the use of masks. Lucha libre also displays its open and dynamic form with its explosion of genres and its seriality.

What is immediately apparent about lucha libre is its open, dynamic, and interactive space. Unlike the commonly-seen stage à l’italienne whose back is closed to the audience, the wrestling stage is open to the audience on all sides. This openness ensures that the spectacle can extend beyond the bounds of the ring and into the space of the spectator. This extension of space allows for more dynamic interaction between performer and audience. The open stage also allows for multi-focal perspectives, making the spectacle intensely three-dimensional. The lines between performer and audience are blurred in a (neo-)baroque fashion. This is similar to Ndalianis’ (neo-)baroque concept of coextensive space where the audience’s space extends in the dimensions of the art and vice versa (2004, 163). The wrestlers are quick to contest the boundary of the ring, often flying into the spectator’s lap. The spectator also can enter the performance realm of the ring although (s)he more often exercises his or her part in the performance by interacting from the space of the audience. The divisiveness of the ropes framing the ring become arbitrary and useless as the audience itself forms part of the spectacle. The spectators exercise great power within the performance as they react to and judge the actions of the wrestlers. The opinions voiced by the audience shape the narrative of the spectacle. The wrestler will often ask the audience what action he should take and likewise, the audience will tell the wrestler and referee what actions they should take. In short, the audience is intensely involved in the story of the performance. A carnivalization is effected in lucha libre through the participation of the spectator. Octavio Paz calls this phenomenon the fiesta [7], where “the bounds between audience and actors, officials and servants are erased. Everybody takes part in the fiesta, everybody is caught up in its whirlwind. Whatever its mood, its character, its meaning, the fiesta is participation” (1985, 52). The fiesta constituted an essential part of baroque and especially Spanish baroque culture. The goal of the baroque fiesta was to inspire admiration through flamboyant pretension and artificiality (Maravall 1986, 241). This admiration contributed to “the irresponsible, stunned, and blind adherence of the masses” that the monarchy desired, and so “the public was allowed to enter the fiestas of the Retiro” (ibid.). While the Spanish monarchy had obvious motives for including all classes of people in its fiesta, lucha libre’s motives for inclusion are not as clearly nor as politically defined. However, it is safe to say that lucha libre carries on the baroque tradition of the fiesta with all of its artificiality, ostentation, admiration, and the participation of all social classes. Like the baroque fiestas which often took place in the open air of public spaces, the luchador brings his theatrical artifice into the public sphere. The limits between performance space and audience space in lucha libre are greatly extended when we consider that the luchador never abandons his persona while in the public sphere. When the wrestler leaves the domain of the amphitheatre in his mask, he brings his masked persona into our world and is only limited by its boundaries.

Lucha libre is also open and dynamic within the space of its text. Mexican wrestling is an adaptive hybrid form that extends across genres and incorporates cultural fragments. Lucha libre is a “liminal form between sport, ritual, and theatre” (Levi 2002, 13). Mexican wrestling destroys the borders between sport, ritual, theatre, dance, and film, unifying a variety of artistic forms. This explosion of generic boundaries echoes the baroque when “Baroque art came to abolish the borderline between the ‘three arts,’ and even between art and nature” (Panofsky 1995, 45). Mexican wrestling and its signs have also emerged in multimedia forms such as film, graphic novels, animation, music, and performance art. Ndalianis claims that our tastes for multimedia forms comes from the “corporate mergers that integrated companies with diverse media interests contributed to the emergence of an entertainment industry that not only thrived on investment of multimedia forms but aimed at dispersing multimedia entertainment products to a global market” (Ndalianis 2004, 39). Capitalism is strongly linked to multimedia aesthetics which partially explains the multiplicity of media forms that speak of lucha libre and its serial nature. “Neo-baroque seriality is the end product of an industry that is driven by cross media extensions and cross merchandizing” (Ndalianis 2004, 41).

The fact that capitalism produced the serial form is evident in the Mexican wrestling film. Hundreds of films were produced starting in the 1950’s as churros.[8] The seriality of lucha libre media ensures its open form because it is not enclosed or restricted by an overall linear or cohesive narrative. The unrestricted open narrative explains why so many lucha libre movies could be produced in so little time. For example, the most famous luchador, El Santo, starred in 50 films. These films are what Omar Calabrese would classify as being examples of the (neo-)baroque phenomenon of variation on a theme seeing as they have “no overall story acting as a frame for individual episodes” (1992, 39). The films starring El Santo are like the Colombo episodes that Calabrese cites in which the protagonist

is exactly the same in each episode… There is clearly a strongly repetitive iconic element. Other elements, however, such as the hero’s adversaries, the situations, and the environmental characteristics of the scenes, vary considerably. The thematic and narrative modes also appear to be fairly standard. (1992, 39)

As in Colombo, the narrative in every episode is also essentially the same: El Santo uses his extraordinary skill to conquer supernatural beings (vampires, mummies, aliens, evil scientists) that threaten the human world. Apart from the invariable Santo and the invariable plot, the rest of the episode is composed of variables which create neo-baroque variations on themes. Furthermore, testing our preconceived notions of time, space, and their relation to narrative, El Santo remains unchanged in every episode and acts as if the previous episodes had never happened. The lack of linearity and continuity between episodes makes each episode seem as if it took place in an alternate reality. The neo-baroque claims that multiple contradictory narrative paths can exist at the same time because the neo-baroque is “a world of multiple originals that intersect at certain points and diverge at others” (Ndalianis 2004, 80). The neo-baroque narrative is large, dynamic, intersecting and would appear chaotic. However, its reader must find order within its apparent chaos, its delicious labyrinth. “The unity of the neo-baroque embraces a more daunting task than that of the baroque, asking its audience to discover order from multiple and often contradictory paths” [9] (Ndalianis 2004, 91).

The Alternate Cathedral: Lucha libre’s (neo-)baroque religiosity

Lucha libre has a (neo-)baroque religiosity, an intense emotivity and ritual nature which sometimes borders on the sublime. “One of the repeated concerns of the baroque era…was that the individual be ‘moved from within’” (Ndalianis 2004, 219). Lucha libre effects an emotional and spiritual response similar to that of religion. In fact, lucha libre presents an alternative to the cathedral with its spiritual ritual nature and ostentatious emotionality that resembles that of Catholicism.

Mexican wrestling shares many connections with ritual and religious drama. It is immediately apparent how wrestling embodies a type of allegorical morality play of a cosmological battle between good and evil. [10] In lucha libre there is an inter-text of indigenous and European religious rituals which give the genre a spiritual and almost sublime quality. The wrestling mask, particular to Mexican wrestling, invokes the mask of ritual drama. For example, the mask has ritual traditions within Mexican culture such as in the p’askola, the sacred clown that dances on several feast days (Levi 2002, 143). The role of p’askola gives the masked man a spiritual power as “the masks themselves empower performance by facilitating the spiritual powers of the performer” (Levi 2002,146). Displaying uncanny parallels to Mexican wrestling, in the Nahuatl danza del tigre young men “dress as jaguars, wearing painted clothing and heavy wooden or leather masks that resemble lucha libre costumes. The youths fight each other with rope whips in order to shed one another’s blood as sacrifice” (Levi 2002, 144). The blood sacrifice of these young dancers recalls the flagellation of Christ, a suffering for a greater end. In the case of the danza del tigre, the end goal of the blood sacrifice is rain. The dancers transcend their human bodies, taking on the power of their jaguar masks, their ritual masks. When the spectator watches men who wear the ritual mask he “watches men greater than himself” (Smith 1984, 10) and so, the performers transcend to a divine level. In the danza del tigre, the dancers represent the divinity himself, the jaguar deity. This sublime [11] nature of this ritual drama could not have been achieved without the use of the mask which transcends the human because

the protagonist, grand and remote in his mask, suffers horribly and endures magnificently beyond the human scale. The masker no longer has a human identity: he is transformed, he shares a moment with divinity. Effecting the union with the god, he acts out the struggle on behalf of the entire community”. (Smith 1984, 50)

This divine agony represented in wrestling alludes to and allegorizes Christian suffering. The gestures and body of the wrestler give substance to Catholic themes of suffering, making this divine experience tangible in the immediacy of the material body. Barthes’ genius recognized the similarities between wrestling and how it represents a type of martyrdom which is eerily Christian. He claims that:

wrestling presents man’s suffering with all the amplification of tragic masks. The wrestler who suffers in a hold which is reputedly cruel… offers an excessive portrayal of Suffering; like a primitive Pietà, he exhibits for all to see his face, exaggeratedly contorted by an intolerable affliction. (1972, 19)

Christian allusion continues in the defeat of the wrestler as:

defeat is not a conventional sign, abandoned as soon as it is understood; it is not an outcome, but quite the contrary, it is a duration, a display, it takes up the ancient myths of public Suffering and Humiliation: the cross and the pillory. It is as if the wrestler is crucified in broad daylight and in the sight of all. (Barthes 1972, 21)

Further, this embodiment of the sublime belongs to the baroque. The baroque attempts to make material and immediate what is abstract and remote from human experience. Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1647-52), brings “what is limitless and incomprehensible into the realm of the visible and tangible” (Rupert Martin 1977, 104). Bernini is able to sculpt in stone the saint’s sublime ecstasy of her union with God. However, the artist can only express the divine on human terms and so, he employs the emotionality and sublime experience of orgasm in order to convey her experience. Lucha libre also employs a similar physicality to represent sublime experience.

Figure 2. Lucha libre’s (neo-)baroque religiosity: El Santo

Figure 2. Lucha libre’s (neo-)baroque religiosity: El Santo

However, this sublime experience only comes from the representation used to elicit emotional response from the audience. The baroque theatricality is essential to move the spectator, just as the Counter-reformation used the baroque’s theatricality and emotive power to seduce its audience and convince them of the supremacy of the Catholic Church. The goal of lucha libre is to move the passions, so that the audience becomes angry with the match’s injustices, pitiful from the wrestlers’ suffering, and filled with awe from witnessing their superhuman acrobatic skills. Consequently, all the signs of wrestling must be amplified, exaggerated, and ostentatious in order to more forcefully communicate their message to the audience. The spectacle necessitates excessiveness because “in wrestling reserve would be out of place, since it is opposed to the voluntary ostentation of the spectacle, to this Exhibition of Suffering which is the very aim of the fight” (Barthes 1972, 19). Likewise, the baroque shows, amplifies and intensifies the interior emotions and psychology (Martin 1977, 73). This amplification of emotionality has been connected to kitsch, kitsch being “anything that is considered too obvious, dramatic, repetitive, artificial, or exaggerated” (Olalquiaga 1992, 41). Lucha libre could also be deemed as kitsch seeing as it shares all the qualities that Olalquiaga cites, not to mention its pop culture nature and its large low-brow appeal. However, baroque Catholicism can also be seen as kitsch because of its inherent materiality. Olalquiaga perfectly sums up Catholicism’s relation to kitsch:

Catholicism facilitates through its imagery the materialization of one of the most ungraspable of all experiences, that of the transcendence of spiritual attributes. Because of the spiritual nature of religious faith, however, iconolatry… is often seen as sacrilegious, as the vulgarization of an experience that should remain fundamentally immaterial and ascetic. In this sense… the whole of Christian theology has been accused of lacking in substance, and therefore of being irredeemably kitsch. Like kitsch, religious imagery is a mise-en-scène, a visual glossolalia that embodies otherwise impalpable qualities: mystic fervor is translated into upturned eyes, a gaping mouth and levitation… passion is a bleeding heart; and evil is snakes, horns, and flames. In kitsch, this dramatic quality is intensified by an overtly sentimental, melodramatic tone and by primary colors and bright, glossy surfaces. (ibid., 41)

Essentially, lucha libre and the baroque church perform the same function: they make material the immaterial while intensifying the dramatic and emotional qualities of this spectacle. The Catholic Church is the greatest theatre (Smith 1984, 49) and lucha libre capitalizes on the seductive techniques of the church. The baroque is where the transcendental is made secular (Martin 1977, 54) and the secularized material nature used by both Catholicism and lucha libre to embody the transcendental has the potential danger of falling into the category of kitsch. However, in this supposed vulgarization and emotionality of Catholicism and lucha libre, lie their expansive power and effectiveness.

El gran teatro del mundo: allegory and mimicry’s staging of socio-political dialogue

Two key (neo-)baroque devices that lucha libre employs are allegory and mimicry. Both strategies are characteristically post-colonial. Post-colonial discourse employs allegory because, having been used by colonial discourse as a tool of domination, allegory has been appropriated as a form of counter-discourse in postcolonial literature (Ashcroft 1998, 9). Colonial and post-colonial mimicry come from the legacy of the imitation of the colonizers by the colonized. However, mimicry results in a

‘blurred copy’ of the colonizer that can be quite threatening. This is because mimicry is never very far from mockery, since it can appear to parody whatever it mimics. Mimicry therefore locates a crack in the certainty of colonial dominance, an uncertainty in its control of the behaviour of the colonized. (Ashcroft 1998, 139)

Mimicry, mockery, and parody are inseparable and will be treated as similar phenomena. The concept of the copy, the simulacra, is also (neo-)baroque and relates to the imitative nature of mimicry. When mimicry becomes threatening, it transforms into mockery and parody. Parody is an essential component of the neo-baroque (Sarduy 1980, 123). Both allegory and mimicry hold the power to create and stage dialogues concerning important social and political issues.

In the ring itself, wrestling performs an allegorical function. The ring “comes to represent the world itself. Its oppositions, hierarchies, conventions, and transgressions become at once more and less than what might actually be perceived in the ring itself“ (Mazer 1998, 7). The wrestlers stage an allegory of the narratives of our world. We witness how the técnico, the “good” guy represents the established citizen who plays mostly within the rules. He is balanced and orderly compared to the rudo, the “bad” guy, who is erratic and easily impassioned. The técnico practices classical restraint and maintains the status quo. Heather Levi links técnico to the technocrats of the PRI and suggests that “support for the técnico wrestler might be read as a kind of support for the government” (2002, 109). The rudo, however, disrespects authority and breaks the rules. He dissimulates and comports himself unpredictably. He resembles the vato loco [12] because he is tough, “someone from the city with little formal education but plenty of street smarts. The rudo, in this sense, is both product and master of his urban environment” (2002, 109). The rudo could represent the marginalized of society who must use deception in order to gain power within a system that is inherently in their disfavour. Not only do the rudo and the técnico allegorically stage the story of the marginalized in combat with the established class, but these types could also be seen “as two competing models of urban comportment, contradictory notions of what is appropriate behaviour in a situation of perpetual and disorienting modernization and urbanization” (2002, 109).

Many activists and performance artists combine the signs of Mexican wrestling with mockery/parody in order to more effectively communicate their message and empower their cause. “Because of the importance of the metaphors of masking and struggle, lucha libre was easy to adapt as a form of parodic political commentary” (Levi 2002, 179). The classic exemplification of mockery and lucha libre is the figure of Superbarrio. Superbarrio was a chubby middle-aged representative from the Asamblea de Barrios in Mexico City who dressed up as a masked wrestler in order to represent the housing needs of the poor. At first this masked wrestler seems to derive his power in his allusion to Superman and the superhuman qualities associated with super-heroes, however, his mask renders him more powerful than any allusion to Superman could. Superbarrio foremost finds his power in his mask because “the mask liberates man. Behind it he is free both to express joy, pain, or anger without social or religious restraints and to mimic and mock those that impose those who sanction and impose the restraints” (Smith 1984, 2). In his mask, Superbarrio can fight any politician because of the inviolability and power the mask gives him. His power also comes from his mockery because when

Superbarrio enters the struggle (lucha), and Superbarrio appears in the office, the functionary behind the desk feels absolutely disoriented, out of order. He’s the one who starts to stutter, who stumbles and knocks things over… Because he knew by the presence of Superbarrio that we were mocking him. (Rascón quoted in Levi 2002, 175)

Masks by their very nature, draw attention to the issue of artifice and the masks people wear. The political world is filled with deceit and pretense and thus, Superbarrio “parodies the deception behind official masks” (Neustadt 2001, 423). Overall, mimicry, mockery, and parody present effective tools for the oppressed to resist their oppressors.


Lucha libre is one of the great theatres of our world. Through its blurring of illusion and reality, its openness and dynamism, its emotive religiosity, and its use of allegory and mimicry, it demonstrates strong neo-baroque forms. However, beyond this neo-baroque display, how does it aid us in understanding and improving our world? The exploration of lucha libre directs us to diverging paths: it can provide us with a new model of identity or it can continue to deny any fixed identity.

The new model of identity that lucha libre proposes establishes itself in its ability to move beyond the confines of time, space, and social divisions. Mexican wrestling surpasses time’s boundaries because it maintains its historicity without possessing the dead fixedness of tradition. The history of lucha libre “is rooted in the urban, modernizing environment of Mexico City in the 1930’s, and its link with the indigenous practice is filtered through the nationalist discourse of the post-revolutionary state” (Levi 2002, 178). Not only are lucha libre’s historical roots multiform, but the genre itself is in continuous flux, continuously incorporating new signs and forms, and therefore cannot be relegated to the past. Mexican wrestling also transgresses social divisions of race, class, and gender. Lucha libre incorporates the indigenous, primarily by its use of the mask. Contrary to popular belief, the Mexican wrestling audience includes all ages, social classes, and genders. There are also female luchadoras who are not sexualized in the way that female American wrestlers are, but are instead valued for their athletic prowess. The ring is also frequented by gay and transvestite wrestlers. The inclusive nature of lucha libre recalls the carnivalesque inclusion of which Octavio Paz speaks where “in certain fiestas… the customary hierarchies vanish, along with all social, sex, caste, and trade distinctions. Men disguise themselves as women, gentlemen as slaves, the poor as the rich” (1985, 51). The carnivalesque nature of lucha libre which excludes no social group, would serve as a very desirable metaphor for Mexican culture and identity.

However, though this identity may seem agreeable because of its hybrid and inclusive nature, we must recognize it for what it is: another construct, another mask. As Neustadt asks us, “How can subaltern writers and artists reject the masks of ethnicity, nationality, gender, and class without substituting essentializing myths of identity?” (2001, 429) His answer is nihilistic and simple. These artists must negate their own identities with parody and “conjugate collective (non)identities that face, and performatively efface, the masks of nationalism” (2001, 429). When dealing with identities, we must make the (neo-)baroque realization that our identities are formed from illusive masks, and yet, these illusive masks form our very identities.


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Smith, S and V. Harris. 1984. Masks in Modern Drama. Berkeley: University of California Press.


[1] “Three falls were enough / For me to realize / You weren’t my ally / You don’t face up / And nothing is what it used to be / I’ll risk my mane / To rip off your mask” (Sergio Arau cited in Arizmendi 109).

[2] North American Free Trade Agreement

[3] “It is the character who is the person; it is the mask that is the truth” (translation mine).

[4] Mestizaje is cultural and racial blending.

[5] “He goes from illusion to disillusion and to new illusions, he must learn that nothing is what is seems, that everything is ostentation” (translation mine).

[6] Naco is defined by urban as being “classless, pretentious, obtrusive, the Mexican version of white trash. Mostly blue-collar undereducated people, but can be applied even to a wealthier crowd (nouveaux riches, snob)” Levi defines naco as being “simultaneously urban and provincial, modern and backward, unpretentiously inauthentic” (2002, 264).

[7] festival, feast day

[8] Churros were fast and cheaply-made films owing their metaphoric name to the Spanish word for “doughnut”.

[9] This ordering impulse does not constitute a contradiction between the (neo-)baroque and the classical. “The very aim of requiring the audience to discover order out of chaos suggests that neither the baroque nor the neo-baroque can be defined as a formal structure that is in opposition to the classical” (Ndalianis 2004, 91). The (neo-)baroque includes the classical.

[10] What may seem to be a Manichean duality is not really this simple. See section, “El gran teatro del mundo: allegory and mimicry’s staging of socio-political dialogue.”

[11] “Sublime,” within this text describes that which transcends the human, a seemingly spiritual quality which is not articulable with human devices which could stem from either ecstasy or extreme suffering. In the context of suffering, “sublime” refers to Edmund Burke’s definition where the sublime passion is caused by the painful thought and “concentrates the mind on that single facet of experience and produces a momentary suspension of rational activity, uncertainty, and self-consciousness” (Harmon and Holman 2000, 501-502).

[12] Vato loco is interchangeable with the term “cholo.” Cholo culture goes back to the 1930’s in the urban borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico. The original vatos were zootsuiters (pachucos) who created their own style and hybrid language. They were often involved in criminal activity. The vato loco maintains the urban, rebellious, and criminal character of the pachuco but is now typified by his own contemporary style. Today’s vato stereotypically dresses in chinos, a wife-beater tee-shirt or a plaid flannel shirt, and wears a bandana that half-covers his eyes. Vatos locos are often gangsters.

Author Bio

Kat hails from the bustling metropolis of London (Ontario) where she finished her MA, performed in amateur theatre productions and sold cheese. She recently moved to Montreal after having been lost in Japan for two years and is currently working on a PhD in Hispanic studies.