Let’s continue our earlier review of the punishment of Alex Riley by his former friend and mentor, the Miz. Even though Riley appears to be the larger, more muscular opponent, he suffers a painful one-sided squash. The Miz seems to have a psychological advantage over Riley, a lingering authority established early in their relationship. This is like when you run into an old teacher and soon find yourself stuttering like a nervous ten-year-old in the former authority figure’s presence. Old habits die hard.
Miz continues to torture his whipping boy, bending Riley’s arm and wrist around like he’s playing with a toy and trying to break it. There seems to be a measure of punishment in the actions of the Miz– retribution for something Riley did wrong. But why is Riley being punished? Obviously, the Miz is not happy that Riley has disobeyed him in the past. But why does this level of intense punishment seem appropriate and well-deserved in our minds? Why do we, the viewers, believe that Riley ought to get his ass kicked? “Yeah Miz, break his arm off! Make him suffer!”
Pro wrestling teaches the viewers that the ideal relationship for a man is a homosocial relationship with another man. To be successful in wrestling (and in life, apparently), a man needs other men to assist, mentor and protect him — as Riley needed from the Miz. The lesson we learn from watching Alex Riley take his beating is that it’s painful to stand on your own — it’s a mistake to sever your homosocial relationships with other men. Riley deserves the abuse he is suffering, in our minds, because his uppity disobedience has ended his homosocial relationship with the Miz. He dared to walk alone.
Pro wrestling is, therefore, in tune with the philosophy of our patriarchal society. The first rule of our male dominated power structure is that it’s Bro’s over Ho’s. If you want to be “awesome” and rule the world, well, first of all, you need a penis. Second of all, you need other dudes to help you. You need to be a “team player” to get ahead, to form productive, successful homosocial bonds (even if you need to sacrifice some self-esteem in the process.)
The second rule of our culture is that you must conform to the pecking order. Anybody who dares to step outside the male dominated social hierarchy is going to take a stiff beating for his disruptive disobedience. All animals, including humans, get nervous when the social order is disrupted. Any nerd who tries to humiliate the Alpha-Jock will be swiftly and painfully reprimanded by the group.
All the men in the audience watching this torture scene make a note to self — it’s better to obey the stronger dudes rather than try to buck the system. So pro wrestling doth make obedient whipping boys of us all — willing to conform to the social pecking order rather than stand up for ourselves (as Alex Riley has done), which could cause one to suffer a stiff kick to the mush (as Alex Riley has received.)
The first Man Rule, mentioned above, is that men need to form homosocial bonds. The second Man Rule is that we all must accept and obey the pecking order. Well, the third rule is to avoid sexual contact and attraction to other dudes at all costs. Any dude who wants to sleep with other men could upset the entire patriarchal power structure by blurring the lines between Bro’s and Ho’s, between Us and Them. Alex Riley is being punished, and deserves to be punished in our minds, because he is attractive (to the Miz and to us) and therefore he is dangerous and threatening.
If the Miz is falling for Alex Riley (as his longing gaze seems to indicate), then he of course must take swift and painful action to end their intense relationship. If we, the viewers, are feeling attracted to Riley (the transfer of the Miz’s feelings onto the audience at large), then we too want to see Riley punished. He deserves to take a beating for making us break the third Man Rule, for making us desire him.
When a Bromance becomes too intense, when friendship turns to potential sexual contact and “Gay Panic” sets in, when the public begins to question your masculinity, we see that it is time to end the relationship. Every pro wrestling Tag Team eventually breaks up, which teaches the viewers that we should form successful homosocial bonds, but these male-male relationships must never be allowed to become too intense or intimate.
So the Miz must hurt his friend — even though his body language indicates a desire for more physical contact — because he needs to terminate their relationship. The entire match shows the Miz alternating between close physical contact with Riley followed by the creation of physical distance between himself and Riley. His dilemma is summed up in the final moments of the match, where the Miz kneels over his beaten opponent, staring down at him as if deciding what to do. Should I violate the Third Man Rule and give this dude a big hug and kiss, or should I break off this relationship and abandon him?
The Miz makes his decision — choosing to walk out of the ring alone, separating himself from Riley once and for all. The take-away for the audience is that we, too, must make tough decisions. If we want to succeed, we will need to obey the Man Rules, conform to the pecking order, and reject any Bromance that becomes too intimate.
The scene closes with the Miz turning around to face his former Bro. Their eyes meet as the Miz smiles and raises his arms in victory to put his body on display for Alex Riley (and the rest of us) to admire one last time. Clearly there are some lingering feelings between Riley and the Miz, but their physical distance between them (one half way down the aisle and the other in the ring) illustrates that they are no longer Bro’s.
This match can be seen on YouTube.