An angry white guy in a buzz cut, black leather jacket, camouflage shorts and combat boots marches toward his unsuspecting opponent — a flamboyant gay man. The Napoleonic aggressor is the leader of hate-based faction Violent Majority, a growing group responsible for attacks on black, homosexual, and mentally challenged people over the past few months.
Despite his small stature, it's hard to ignore the militant leader as he spews his twisted "American values," proclaiming that he is, "A thought that speaks, a voice that yells and an action that screams, 'Dwight Power! Dwight Power! Dwight Power!'" On this night, like so many others, Power's preaching results in chaos: The gay victim, Simon Sermon, lies on the ground in agony and Timmy McClendon, a special needs black man whose vision is impaired after a previous attack by Power, is forced through an unstable wooden table by the equally unstable Jamie Holmes, the Violent Majority's newest member.
Minutes later, witnesses to this heinous act step outside for a smoke or to grab refreshments at the concession stand. This hate crime-like scene didn't play out on Atlanta's streets — it transpired just before intermission at Platinum Championship Wrestling's weekly Friday night bout at the Academy Theatre, about nine miles east of Atlanta in the otherwise idyllic Avondale Estates.
On the offensive
Pro wrestling has never been known for being politically correct, but with personalities such as Dwight Power, Simon Sermon and the thuggish and violent trio the Konkrete Gorillaz, PCW undoubtedly pushes more boundaries than most wrestling outfits. And there's a reason for that.
Industry heavyweight World Wrestling Entertainment, whose rise to dominance in the '90s is referred to as "the Attitude Era" due to a similar use of racy characters and generally offensive story lines, now opts for a more family friendly approach to the spectacle. PCW founder and indie wrestling veteran Stephen Platinum, however, maintains that "Wrestling is the ultimate in bad taste."
"It's people settling every difference with violence," says Platinum, who lives with his wife and kid in East Point and underwent rigorous wrestling training in Japan in 1993 before hitting America's indie circuit. "I always laugh when people talk about family friendly wrestling or when I see some kind of Christian wrestling group. In PCW, we are a wrestling company and we play on obvious stereotypes."
Though some of Platinum's social commentary might seem grim, there's just as much humor as hubris involved in his theatrics. Platinum, with his medium build and ever-present green warm-up jacket, is an unassuming physical presence compared to his beefed-up wrestling roster. The bushy-browed late-thirtysomething with a Belushi-like appreciation of the absurd, wants to stand apart from modern wrestling outfits by blatantly marketing PCW less as a sport than as performance art. Because really, that's what professional wrestling has always been. His goal, according to PCW's motto, is "Saving the art of professional wrestling one match at a time."
Though the crowds PCW draws are modest (even at sold-out shows) and its budget minuscule, the emotion and theatricality are larger than life.
"I always say wrestling is about triumph and tragedy," Platinum says. "You have to create a pretty bad tragedy in order for it to register, then those moments of triumph are more glorious. And with PCW, it is often strangely dark."
PCW's roster includes as many characters with in-ring backgrounds as with onstage experience. In fact, many PCW personalities, Platinum included, participated in the weekly wrestling parody show B.R.A.W.L. a few years ago at Dad's Garage, the indie theater and improv group in Inman Park. That theatrical experience has now found its way from the stage to the ring. The irony behind characters such as Dwight Power or Mason, a self-proclaimed "demigod" sporting gladiator-esque attire and backed by a group of Mormon-looking cronies known as his Witnesses, isn't lost on the audience. The PCW crowd seems to relish the tension between applauding the performances and booing the staged evil.
"It's fully integrated audience participation," says longtime Dad's Garage funnyman and B.R.A.W.L. alum Lucky Yates. "At Dad's we don't always want people screaming during the entire show, but at PCW people are encouraged to react to the characters."
Yates points out that PCW isn't just theatrics; it takes real athletic ability to pull off a piledriver or an Enzuigiri kick. And like traditional improv theater, as well as old-school wrestling, PCW is dependent on audience involvement.
"The more the audience becomes its own character in the show," Yates says, "the more it becomes embraced as part of the overall experience."
As one might expect, it's a savvier audience than the crowds typically drawn to today's pro-wrestling matches.
"These are smart fans who know what goes on when the curtain is pulled back," says Corey Nachamkin, aka "Smark Rage" of local wrestling podcast WrestleRage.com. "They know that someone like Dwight Power is a character being played and not what that guy is like in real life."
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