Tiger Mask Triangle

Episode 80 of the Tiger Mask pro wrestling cartoon from the 1970’s featured a televised match between Ken (Tiger Mask’s pal and man-crush) in his trademark red trunks, against a muscle jobber in green trunks named “Handsome Johnny.”   Tiger Mask watches their match from the locker room, his eyes glued to the screen — clearly very interested in the battle between his boy and Handsome Johnny

As usual, Ken’s legs were the focus of the action.  He soon Body-Scissors his jobber as he had done to Tiger Mask during a recent training session.

If wrestling (and Body Scissors) are meant to imply sexual activity, then this match, with Tiger Mask watching, establishes a love triangle between the three men — with Tiger Mask the odd man out.

Notice that Ken is wrestling against “Handsome” Johnny (i.e. “Desirable” Johnny) — not Ugly Johnny, or Monster Johnny.  Johnny is therefore a temptation for Ken.  As Ken increases the intensity of the Scissor, Johnny tosses his head back and opens his mouth wide — a facial expression that resembles a climax.  Tiger Mask, meanwhile, watches the erotic scene with a stoic, perhaps jealous, facial expression.

Next Handsome Johnny assumes the dominant role, driving his fist (which resembles a phallus) repeatedly into Ken’s abdomen, “pounding” him.  Now Ken throws back his head and groans open-mouthed as if he’s in the throes of ecstasy.

Tiger Mask, as we’ve seen in other episodes, is forced to watch the in-ring action but unable to participate himself.

Continuing to watch the two “handsome” men wrestle on the monitor, Tiger Mask takes on the role of the voyeur. He observes and apparently takes pleasure in the actions of the participants.  He reminds us that all of us wrestling fans are voyeurs — observers who derive pleasure from watching the (nearly) naked romp without engaging in the messiness and intimacy ourselves.

Tiger Mask is depicted with wide, excited eyes, entirely wrapped up by the drama in the ring as Ken suffers a Leglock and other abuse.

Tiger Mask inspires the voyeur in all of us — teaching the viewer that it’s OK to take interest in other men engaged in wrestling, to become captivated by the bodies locked in combat.  If the heroic Tiger Mask watches wrestling, then so should we.

A butterfly is shown fluttering across the screen.  Tiger Mask brushes it away roughly and leaves it to die pathetically on the floor — unwilling to allow anything to obscure his view of the object of his gaze.

Is the fragile butterfly meant to represent Ken — beautiful but doomed to suffer? Does the injured butterfly foreshadow Ken’s own agony depicted in the “Defeat of Ken” (Episode 101)?

As usual, the strength of Ken’s legs — the symbol of his power and potency — enable him to win the match.  His thick calves strain he climbs up the ropes — Handsome Johnny riding on his shoulders.  Ken drops the jobber on the back of his neck to stun him and wins the match, his arm erect, raised in victory.

What is the prize that Ken won in this battle — which has him looking so proud and excited?  Is it the fame that comes with victory — or is his real prize waiting for him in the locker room?

Alone together in the privacy of Tiger Mask’s dressing room, the buddies hold an intimate conversation.  Ken remains shirtless from his wrestling match, but Tiger Mask has donned a crisp white (innocent) shirt.  The love triangle is now broken and Handsome Johnny is forgotten.  We are now the voyeurs (the third leg — the odd man out — in this love triangle) as they spend some quality time together, gazing into one another’s eyes and sharing their deepest secrets.  Unfortunately the cartoon is dubbed in Italian, and my Italian is pretty rusty, but I think they’re saying something like:

Ken: Did you enjoy what you saw?

Tiger Mask: Well, you sure seemed to be enjoying yourself with that pretty-boy!

Ken: Please, don’t be jealous.  I was thinking of you the whole time — picturing you as the one in my Body Scissor.  You’re the only one I really want to wrestle.

Tiger Mask: Did that handsome devil hurt you badly?  Are you OK?  I know that his Leglock is brutal and I was really worried…

Ken: Thanks for the concern, but your rough training has toughened me up.   I’ve got to get out of here — I need to give my fans some face-time.  I am a rising star after all.

Tiger Mask: Wait!  Before you go, give me a little smile.  (Their eyes meet as Ken gazes over his shoulder before exiting the room.)

Then their private moment is over and Ken rushes off to be interviewed by the reporters.  As his popularity grows, we observe that his time belongs less and less to Tiger Mask, and more and more to the public — to the reporters and their readers.  Just as Handsome Johnny tried to come between the two friends, now the adoring fans — the seduction of fame and popularity — are coming between them.  Their relationship is doomed.

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