Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Alligator Wrestling

Florida's already been a pioneer in the dubious fields of bear wrestling and coleslaw wrestling, so it shouldn't really surprise anyone that at some point, some crackers would gaze upon a gator and say, "let's rassle it."

You can observe alligator wrestling matches in all its puzzling glory at Gatorland in Orlando and you can even, for a ten dollar fee, jump in the ring and wrestle one yourself. Me, I can't imagine paying money to watch such a thing or even to partake in such a thing, but on the other hand I suppose some of these rasslers can't imagine paying money to put a rolled-up handful of tobacco leaves in your mouth and set fire to it. To each their own.

But even kids are allowed to wrestle at some of these places, and that's definitely not cool. Parents, hypnotized by the dazzling circus-like atmosphere, apparently convince themselves that it's not that dangerous to let junior go out there and risk being eaten.

Don't let anyone convince you otherwise: it is dangerous, quite dangerous. A few years back, an article in Garden & Gun laid bare the insanity of the pursuit, mostly without judging but by letting the words of the wrestlers hang themselves:

Williams has “sat on more gators than you’ve ever seen in your life” and been bitten “too many times to count,” including once, during a show, when the gator’s teeth came straight through his hand. “The gator did what we call a lockup,” he explains. “He grabbed my hand and wouldn’t release. I told my backup guy, ‘We have a problem here,’ and he laughed and said, ‘What do you mean we?’” ...The force exerted by a twelve-foot alligator’s jaws is more than two thousand pounds per square inch, which is akin to having a Chrysler dropped on your wrist bone. Wrestlers have lost hands, had their heads crushed. Stitches numbering into the hundreds are not uncommon.

Despite the dwindling numbers of its hardcore practitioners, the art of gator wrestling has been "a thing" in Florida since at least the turn of the last century, and doesn't seem to be disappearing anytime soon. I'm surprised PETA hasn't made a bigger deal out of this, since they'll harass just about every other business on Earth that doesn't use animals in a way they approve of. But what with the popularity of dog racing here as well, may I propose alligator racing as a safer, saner, kinder-to-the-critter exploit? (At least no one here's thought of dog wrestling.)

Interestingly, according to Florida Memory, this most American of entertainments was actually introduced by the Seminoles. Somehow, there was a myth going around among the white man back then that Seminoles wrestled gators. When the Seminoles started marketing themselves as a tourist attraction in the early 20th century, they appropriated that misconception and played it up, staging alligator wrestling matches for the curious rubes from Minnesota to gawk at. And in so doing, they actually made the myth come true. Other manufactured "traditions" employed by the Seminole tourist traps include Totem Poles, Western-tribe-style costumes, and the Seminole Doll, which has actually now morphed into a bonafide cultural tradition with the passage of time.

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