Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Sunday’s post on sumo has me thinking about bodies, size, and the twin obsessions with thinness and excess weight we have in the United States. The emcee managed to avoid using the word fat, and I stood there thinking she was smart to craft her patter for neophytes.
As I listened to her, my love of sumo made me think that surely at least a few people were there to learn about an ancient culture’s time-honored athletic contest. That conversation would go like this:
Bob: “Hey, sumo, I wonder what that’s like?”
Mary: “Yeah, I mean wow, what is the history is behind that?”
Bob: “Hm. That might be interesting.”
Mary: “Okay, let’s go check it out. And then we can head over to the ikebana hall.”
But I knew that the majority of the audience must have been there for the shock value, gross-out factor, what-have-you, of seeing fat guys wrestle. And that conversation would go like this:
Bob: “Oh wow, sumo! Fat guys wrestling!”
Mary: “Yeah, in diapers! Let’s go see that.”
I will admit that the biggest guy there (I think the emcee said he was 300-ish pounds) was not necessarily pleasant to look at. His legs reminded me of a baby’s, with the excess flesh drooping down and rubbing against itself. The emcee stressed several times that these guys have regular checkups, and tend to be in better shape than you would think.
Beyond the visual impact, there’s the stubbornly solid smack of massive bodies making contact at high speed. It’s a bit like the sound of a belly flop, but more substantive, with a wider range; it was also loud enough to shock me, and I was at least 30 yards away from the stage.
I wish I’d talked with a few audience members to find out why they were there, and whether their perceptions of sumo changed after learning about it and watching it. The conditions for that kind of change were good. The emcee stressed the cultural significance of the sport, the high place of honor reserved for champions, and the gorgeous women they subsequently date and marry. The rikishi were gracious with the kids they brought onstage, and gracefully powerful in their bouts. The bouts were interesting, with a variety of moves, holds and unexpected outcomes.
So if you were there, tell me: What did you think?