Friday, October 02, 2009

Roller Derby Grabs the Spotlight (and won't let go)

Today, the much-lauded and much-discussed film Whip It finally premieres in theaters across North America. The movie, which was directed by Drew Barrymore and stars Ellen Page, explores the wonderful and bizarre world of all-female roller derby. I had an opportunity to delve into this world a tiny bit last year, after attending a derby bout and then writing an article about where and how this particular breed of roller derby fits in (or doesn't) with the larger entertainment sports culture, women's pop culture, feminism, and above all play. In honour of the Whip It premiere, I've decided to repost the link to the article itself, which you can find in full over at The Escapist. Here's an excerpt to give you a sense of the general tone and topic:
Entertainment sports are often described as "spectacle sports" because they rely so much on the theatrical and stylistic elements that surround them. The hyperbolic displays of aggression, elaborate props and staged interpersonal conflicts all become part of the "bigger picture" of how viewers experience and understand the event.

The athletes (or performers) play a key role in creating the spectacle. They are the main characters in an open-ended drama, the bodies upon which the story plays out. But not all spectacle sports are as heavily staged as others. Many unfold like any other sporting competition, without a predetermined script or outcome. In these sports, players toe an incredibly fine line between athleticism and roleplay, between adhering to the game's rules and conforming to the over-arching narrative.

Roller derby exemplifies this delicate balancing act. Recently resurrected by grassroots, all-female leagues in the U.S., roller derby is an unmatched display of female aggression, parody and subversion. Beneath its hot pink "riot grrrl" exterior, however, roller derby is also a high-speed, full-contact team sport. For the women who participate, roller derby provides a unique opportunity to dress up, ham it up and play rough. Really rough.

If you're interested in finding out more about this very unique, and by all accounts incredibly fun, phenomenon, this weekend is a good time to try. Roller derby leagues everywhere are planning events to commemorate the wide release of Barrymore's film, including a free derby at Robson Square in Vancouver hosted by the Terminal City Roller Girls. (A number of similar events have been taking place all week, for e.g. in Manhattan and Montreal, as well as in Toronto during the film's TIFF screening). Since so much of the culture is already the byproduct of media depictions (the Rollergirls reality television series is an oft-cited source of inspiration for current leagues), we might want to anticipate a bit of a roller derby explosion (or more specifically Tipping Point) after this, and maybe a trickle down into younger age groups.


Shaping Youth said...

I haven't seen it yet, but Ypulse did a fun Gen X vs. Gen Y POV of it here:

And, Rachel (Simmons) raved about the 'real deal' girl authenticity, so I'm looking forward to bringing my 14 yr. old to add a coupla more generations to the mix! :-) Tx for this, may I repost m'dear?

Sara M. Grimes said...

And thanks for the link :)