The Nacho Libre Complex

I have mixed feelings about Nacho Libre, most of them tending toward general dislike. I’ve never been overly fond of Jack Black’s humor to begin with, and for that reason alone I intentionally avoided the film for several years after its 2006 release (well before I began training in lucha libre). Leave it to Hollywood to trivialize the story of Fray Tormenta, the actual priest who supported an orphanage for 23 years moonlighting as a luchador. I figured the film was simply going to be a semi-exploitative lowbrow comedy with little to no noteworthy content. I wanted nothing to do with it.

Perhaps understandably, my abhorrence of Nacho Libre worsened after I began training. If I had to guess, I would say that roughly 80% of the time when I tell someone that I am a luchadora the immediate reaction is, “Wait, like Nacho Libre?” Cue mental facepalm.

http://bit.ly/1ni6Uil

Or literal facepalm. (Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/1ni6Uil)

It gets frustrating. Lucha libre is not an easy phenomenon to explain to the uninitiated, so routinely encountering this degree of ignorance to the finer acrobatic and athletic facets of the sport sometimes makes me want to go jump into a lake. I don’t want to scare potential audience members away with the snobbish answer of “No, you fool! It’s nothing like Nacho Libre!” But on the other hand, I don’t want to sell the sport short in any respect by conceding similarities between a goofy film interpretation and the actual item.

The regularity with which I get asked the Nacho Libre question left me wondering just how inaccurate the film really was. Was I unjustly maligning these poor folks who may have actually had a half-decent frame of reference? In order to settle the matter once and for all, I decided several months ago that it was time to see for myself. With a begrudging “know your enemy” mentality I sat down with one of my buddies from the lucha gym, grabbed a beverage, and booted up Netflix.

I have to say, considering I was expecting the absolute worst (i.e. a wholly inaccurate representation of the sport of lucha libre with a large helping of cultural insensitivity thrown in for good measure), I was pleasantly surprised. While I can’t say that I liked the film, and the lucha moves present were few and far between, there was actual (and passably-executed) lucha to be seen. There were also a couple of decent one-liners, which, given my continuing general distaste for Jack Black, sort of made the film bearable to sit through. Generally not my cup of tea, but not nearly as bad as it could’ve been.

Recently I’ve begun to see a small silver lining to this “Nacho Libre Complex.”  One consequence of Nacho Libre’s mainstream popularity is that lucha libre has now entered the U.S. collective social consciousness. In the eight short years since the film’s release, the simple blue and red mask worn by the protagonist has become nearly as recognizable as those worn by superstar luchadores like El Santo and Blue Demon. This is of particular significance because, despite the fact that lucha libre is the second most popular sport in Mexico (right behind soccer), it has always been virtually nonexistent in the United States. Now, while many people in the U.S. may have only been exposed to lucha by way of Nacho Libre, they at least know the sport exists.

Given how thoroughly my life is steeped in the sport, I still have a hard time remembering that for the most part lucha libre flies under the radar in the U.S. The mental faceplam still occurs every time someone asks that dreaded question, but I am now somewhat resigned to the fact that I will never be able to escape the shadow of Nacho Libre. For better or worse, my stock answer to the inevitable, “like Nacho Libre, right?” has become something along the lines of: “Ehhh, sort of, but better”. I haven’t quite been able to condense my rant on exactly how much better real lucha libre is, so for now I shall have to be content with simply encouraging people to come see a show for themselves.

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