Belles on Wheels
They all call her “puta” ‘cause no one really knows her name.
—ZZ Top, “Mexican Blackbird”
She also messed up her foot at that Jell-O wrestling, when she was on the trampoline.
—Cha Cha, Captain of the Putas Del Fuego, talking about Clownsnack, onetime Hellcat
Is this the future of Sports Entertainment? Probably not, but the Lonestar Rollergirls of the Texas Roller Derby (TXRD) offer a refreshing alternative to the punch drunk, pumped-up bloat of the WWE and its like. Produced by the team behind MTV’s Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, A&E’s Rollergirls is a look behind the scenes of the revitalized roller derby phenomenon. Will it tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I doubt it. Will it leave you wanting to know more about these hellions on wheels and their rough and rowdy spectacle of a sport? Absolutely. I’m planning my next trip to the Thunderdome as we speak.
And who wouldn’t? The modern roller derby is a punk rock mash-up of ice hockey violence, cartoon characters, and burlesque Hot Topic fashions, lovingly hand-crafted for the ironic-enthusiast in all of us. This hard-drinking, tough-talking, soft-centered, larger than life world is populated by brutal pantomime characters every bit as engaging as their names—Helena Handbasket, Blanche Davidian, Punky Bruiser, and (my favorite, from the Houston-based Psyche Ward Sirens) Ivana B. Sedated. Not to mention such total cuties as Miss Conduct (Holy Rollers) and Stoli Rocks (Cherry Bombs), whom I saw fight out a fierce no holds barred two-lap penalty duel last year. As if this wasn’t enough (and it is), the Lonestar Rollergirls play on one of only three banked tracks in the USA. Banked tracks makes for a faster, rougher game, and for more severe injuries. Woohoo!
Gary and Julie Auerbach’s Rollergirls is the show behind the show, an “unscripted drama series” that lifts the tiny plaid skirt from the angelic behind of roller derby to show us the “reality” beneath. And in this case, it’s not the “No Pain, No Jane” slogan that Sister Mary Jane (Holy Rollers) has embroidered on her winsome derriere. It’s the relationships. The relationships between the teams, between the players, and between their mild-mannered real-life identities and their superhero alter-egos. Sister Mary Jane, for example, is also Ashley Aretakis-Fredo, who teaches special education at elementary school.
Inevitably, Rollergirls’ suitably rocking soundtrack includes the all-pervading Donnas, but at least it’s “Play My Game” this time, and not “Fall Behind Me”. Getting in ahead of a much-rumored movie about the TXRD, Rollergirls has been developed to a higher, cleaner, more “artistic” standard than your average cheap and cheerless follow-cam show. The opening episode focused on rookie Venis Envy and her upcoming “virgin bout” against established star and golden girl, Lux. Venis is an art school graduate who bought an RV off eBay with her boyfriend, took to the open road, and ended up living in her RV in Austin and signing up for the Putas Del Fuego. Lux is a Rhinestone Cowgirl by night, and a pediatric nurse by day.
In addition to several sequences of genuinely thrilling track action, the first episode of Rollergirls revealed conflict, resentment, and sisterhood between and within the teams. We saw the seemingly self-destructive but highly likeable Cha Cha (captain of the Putas Del Fuego) playing at home with her daughter one moment, and peeing drunk in an alley off Sixth Street the next. We saw the Rhineys (to their friends) TP both Cha Cha’s house and her co-captain’s car. And we saw the fresh-faced ingénue worry herself silly about how she’d perform on her debut and how her mother—flying in for the event—would feel about the whole rollergirl thang. After a difficult start, Venis Envy, a.k.a. Melissa Arcado, won her competition against Lux and played to the crowd like a veteran. But, Venis says, “My mother thought it was very violent and aggressive. And my ass was hanging out the whole time, which was not planned by any means. She actually handled that really well.”
I’ve no idea if this all-female skater-owned-and-operated phenomenon is third-wave feminism or eighth-wave sexploitation, and I barely care. But I do know that the Lonestar Rollergirls are doing this for themselves, doing it well, and having one hell of a rollerball doing it. These are not the losers of Celebrity Survivor, Cops or Cheaters. They’re not on TV because they passed an audition and fit a demographic. They’re on TV because they’re doing something different, something valuable.
They’re putting us back in touch with our primitive side, one elbow to the throat at a time, and that’s something many of us need in these sedentary times. Too many of us are surrounded by television screens and computer monitors, losing our sense of self and place in a flood of pixels. While this life is wonderful in so many ways, it can also impoverish our human senses. If the boldest thing you do all week is a little unauthorised web surfing from your corporate cubicle, then you should celebrate the Lonestar Rollergirls and their refusal to renounce violence or dress appropriately. Puta Por Vida.