As I sit here writing out this blog entry, Wrestlemania 32 is only a few hours away. Having looked forward to this event for nearly a month, I have taken all necessary steps to prepare for the “Superbowl of Wrestling.” The fridge holds my stock of beer, I fluffed the pillows on the couch, and I doubled up on the supply of snackies to insure I do not run out. As with most things I have passion for, I have shared my excitement with my friends. As you might imagine, if you poll a dozen people randomly, you might find two who share an interest in professional wrestling. Most, of course, do not care for it.
Once in a while, when I mention my joy in watching wrestling, someone says, “Oh, I would never watch it! I know it’s fake!” A few even look as if they expect me to act surprised at this sudden revelation. Instead, I do my best not to groan. Allow me to explain why, as I present some basic wrestling history, and the logic of enjoying wrestling!
For many decades, wrestling has been a work (i.e. a show with pre-determined story lines and endings played out to appear realistic). However, before the internet, most people in the audience did not know and believed the action to be real. Wrestlers worked very hard to maintain their personas outside the ring, when in public, in order to maintain the illusion of their character and the sport as a whole.
As the internet grew in popularity, sharing all kinds of information normally not available earlier, the truth about wrestling quickly became public knowledge. One might think that such shocking revelation would kill the industry right then and there. While it did force the producers to quickly re-evaluate a number of things, as smarter audiences demanded smarter stories, wrestling (the WWE, in particular) continued to thrive. Today, WWE continues to grow, as a dozen annual ‘pay-per-view’ events, several weekly shows, a full time on-demand network (think NetFlix) and a huge number of followers on Twitter, FB and YouTube. In fact the company expects to break their previous Wrestlemania indoor attendance record of 93,173 with this showing.
Why would I and millions of others enjoy something that, for the most part, everyone knows is fake? The simple answer eludes most people because they do not stop to think about the question logically. It only takes a moment to consider the many forms of entertainment that people have enjoyed over the centuries. From stories, to plays, to comics to movies… the vast majority of entertainment products happen to feature fictional characters and plots. Yet, despite knowing this, we happily march to the theatres and fork out our hard earned cash to watch The Avengers, a story about fictional super heroes fight fictional aliens and bad guys. Why?
We enjoy these products because, when done well, they help us to suspend our disbelief. They draw us in with great story telling, character development and wow us with perfectly timed plot resolution. For a few hours, we forget our day to day lives, and vicariously live out an impossible story through these fictional characters. Wrestling works much in the same way. When done well, you cheer with the good guys, boo loudly at the bad guys, and sit at the edge of your seat to see who will win… even if, in the back of your head, you know the ending is predetermined.
Ironically enough, professional wrestling contains more ‘real life’ elements than most forms of entertainment. Where movies and television dramas have their plots and dialogue carefully scripted, wrestlers will sometimes improvise, and even interact directly with the audience in the process. Accidents, changes in the wrestlers’ lives, and even current day events often force writers to quickly change long term plots and bookings. One of the matches today involves a match with control of Monday Night Raw, the company’s flagship show, on the line. In explaining his motives for doing so, the wrestler cited some short term performance issues in the company’s portfolio… something which viewers who keep their finger on the pulse of the business side would know about.
Even the fans play more of a role than ever. While the best stories (and titles) have always tended to go to wrestlers that fans love or hate the most, fans have more ways to interact directly with the company. And, fans have become more vocal. You never know when the writers will change direction based on that feedback.
And, for me, that is a major draw. You just never know when something will change either on the spot, or down the road, because of fan reaction or real life issues (including injuries) in the roster. In that respect, wrestling is more real life, and less fake, than most forms of entertainment out there.