When I was a wee lad I enjoyed many things the 90s had to offer: Power Rangers, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and most importantly the WWF. Leave it to Freakshow to get me back into professional wrestling full-force with a free trial to the WWE Network.
So back in the late 90s, early 2000s I loved the WWE. At the time, I thought it was real and had the characters I’d root for (normally characters most rooted for) and was pretty obsessed with the whole thing. Upon learning it wasn’t real I almost felt ashamed for believing the facade and the social stigma of still liking it (you know how cruel 10 year olds can be). I eventually fell out of following it sometime around 2003-2005, can’t recall exactly when. I remember some events from that time although I think most of it was through my younger cousin telling me.
Anyways, fast forward roughly 10 years later and my good friend Luke and I were playing Magic with some friends. He mentions off-hand turning on the TV to maybe have some background noise. He offers up Monday Night Raw and mentions how he’s excited to be attending Wrestlemania this year. I laugh because at this point in time I was still a mildly cynical pretentious douche-knob (hard to believe, I know). I don’t recall the conversation but we had it on in the background and I witnessed some jabroni named Daniel Bryan chanting “Yes!” all the time and just sort of wrote it off. Deep down I certainly enjoyed what I had watched, but I still held that shame.
This brings us to this year. The Chronicles of AWE started and Freakshow has been discussing the olden days of wrestling, something I am very familiar with, and the nostalgia had me smiling and enjoying our conversations. After telling him I was really enjoying the Chronicles, he convinces me to install TEW to book my own wrestling company just like he was doing and it basically snowballed from there. I now am recording Raw, Smackdown, and Lucha Underground (if you haven’t watched this one, what are you doing with your life?!) and also have a subscription to WWE Network enjoying NXT while spending some free time watching the Raw archives from the late 90s to fulfill that nostalgia I just mentioned.
I give you this background and detail so you can hopefully put yourself in my shoes (or just jump on board like I did) because the self shame I have still rears its ugly head. I tell it to know its role and shut its mouth, with the mindset that professional wrestling is just like watching Game of Thrones or the Marvel movies. Let me explain.
This past week I finally got around to starting Season 7 of Game of Thrones and made a comment to my girlfriend that I had enjoyed Little Finger in the beginning while not liking Sir Varys. Sometime around the 3rd or 4th season, though, the tides turned and I now enjoy Varys much more than Little Finger. She then made the comment “I feel like that is intentional, like they wrote it that way.” You might see the parallel I’m going to make here.
My favorite argument against the whole “professional wrestling is fake” is this: “You’re right, but so is every TV show you watch that isn’t a documentary or a reality show. And let’s be honest reality TV isn’t 100% real. Either way, professional wrestling is written but performed without stunt doubles or multiple takes (usually). You got guys jumping around risking injury for the love of it and the love of entertaining the fans.”
You could chalk the “haters” up to jealousy or just disdain for other people’s happiness, but I find the more “evidence” you can present, the better. Let’s look at some characters in Game of Thrones, shall we?
Little Finger started in Game of Thrones as a character who had speech wars with Sir Varys and ultimately these were two characters who would use manipulation and spies to achieve their end goals. At first Little Finger had great dialogue and I enjoyed him, but over time he became one-dimensional only ever wanting Lady Catelyn or Sansa and not much else (although he swears he wants the Iron Throne). Varys became a huge player and I ultimately enjoyed just about every scene he was involved in (I leave this vague description so I don’t spoil things).
If me disliking Little Finger was the writer’s intention, they succeeded. If me liking Varys was the writer’s intention, they succeeded.
How this applies to wrestling is literally the same story: they choose who to push on the crowd and in what way. Should a character be a bad guy? A good guy? Should he be a force to be reckoned with? A coward? A manipulator? What ways will he win or lose his matches? These are all storytelling mechanics.
So how does Varys intimidate others? With information, usually private information. He has others do his work so he can keep his hands relatively clean. He also uses this information to gain trust from others, and can often break this trust if he deems appropriate. Sure the man is a eunich who probably has never been taught to fight, but he’s still a powerful force using his strengths to the maximum while minimizing his weaknesses.
Another example is Sandor Clegane, otherwise known as the Hound. He starts off as a knight who you should not fuck with and seems desensitized to killing regardless of who he’s killing. I’ll admit I didn’t like him but over time he’s become a little more human and likeable all while still being a badass you don’t wanna fight against. He went from antagonist to protagonist over the course of a few seasons.
Professional wrestling is just another medium to tell a story. Characters are involved in storylines and have their alignments. Whether or not the crowd likes them is mostly based on their alignment, storyline, and performance (i.e. how well they wrestle and deliver their promos). Interestingly enough, these grades of performance are exactly the same when you evaluate a character in a TV show or movie. The only difference is they most likely shot the scene you’re seeing multiple times until they got it right.