A few weeks ago I sat across a good friend of mine at a local taco joint on a mid Sunday afternoon. Despite being one of my favorite days of the year, it was a pretty typical conversation between us. We talked about the upcoming release of the Kick-Ass movie, talked some video games, reminisced about the old Marvel trading cards we had as a kid (pretty sure I still have my Ghost Rider rookie card!), and when the meal was through my good friend asked me, “So what are you up to tonight?” And I replied simply, “Wrestlemania, baby.” He looked at me somewhat confused for a moment, and then gave me the inevitable “You watch wrestling?!” There was shock and disgust in his voice. Now, I give him credit for not saying “You know it’s fake, right?” (which is quite possibly the most insulting thing you can ever say to an adult wrestling fan). But, regardless, it got me thinking…
Why do some folks who read comics, love movies, and dig action and sci fi love the idea of a “hero” and have an appreciation for nearly every sort of art and performance (much like my friend) disrespect pro wrestling so much? Isn’t wrestling just a combination of EVERYTHING that they love?
Pro wrestling is like nothing else in the world. When you break it down to simplest description, pro wrestling is live theater with live stunts (performed often impromptu). It’s a demonstration of athletic and acrobatic ability. There is Drama, Comedy, Action, and sometimes Science Fiction. Stories of underdogs, love, glory and triumph. Respect. Passion. Good Pro Wrestling encompasses all of it.
So why all the hate? How come a guy with an exact replica of the Starship Enterprise rolls his eyes at me when I show praise for The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels? Well, I think the answer is simple: The ’80s.
In the 1980’s, Vincent Kennedy McMahon took the reins from his father and combined the many regionally run wrestling circuits to see a greater potential. He created The World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) and, instead of marketing the show as an actual sporting competition between mostly personality-less men (which is what it had been for the years prior), he decided to sell it as what it truly was — an exhibition — and with that he was able to create larger-than-life characters that drew the attention of the world.
Pro wrestling was everywhere. This boom is single-handedly responsible for what we now know as “Sports Entertainment” today, and in my opinion, it’s also responsible for why wrestling gets such a bad rap. The wrestling boom was new, innovative, and in its time it was fun… but compared to today’s standards, it was EXTREMELY cheesy. And despite the world loving it, a LOT of the common viewers did not continue to watch once the industry began to “figure things out.” There’s no doubt that the ’80s were important to the business but unfortunately when a lot of folks think of pro wrestling they immediately imagine the campiness of figures like Hulk Hogan “hulking up” and Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s ridiculous boa. Now, I’m not saying those thoughts aren’t GREAT to pro wrestling fans for the sake of nostalgia. But a lot of the problem was that people just didn’t “get it.”
Real and fake. I don’t want to get into semantics about how it does hurt quite a bit getting suplexed off the top rope, but the “REAL” argument is a thorn in wrestling’s giant side. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to explain to someone how pro wrestling isn’t, and hasn’t been, selling itself as a legitimate contest for three decades, I’d have at least 17 dollars. Are the winners predetermined? Yes. Are larger spots in the match thought out in advance? Yes. There are writers just like ANY other television show, EVER. And that’s WHY it’s fun. A lot of my friends say wrestling is lame compared to MMA. Well, I personally (and I know I can only speak for myself here) don’t WANT to see a human being ACTUALLY get his arm broken by another for entertainment. If Saving Private Ryan were actual footage of soldiers getting killed on the beach of Normandy… I’m passing.
In the late nineties, aka “The Attitude Era,” pro wrestling was a battle of who could be more violent and sexually charged. The shows became more about blood and sex and less about stories and showmanship. This was definitely a hiccup for the industry because parents starting pulling younger viewers away. Despite helping to gain a few more adult viewers, luckily that time has passed and the current WWE is a perfect blend of classic wrestling themes that pay respect and homage to the wrestling of yesteryear as well maintaining a constant evolution of storytelling and excitement that caters to every age. Nowadays, pro wrestling (the WWE in particular) puts out SIX HOURS of original content a week. These shows are filmed LIVE in front of enormous packed stadiums. That’s six hours of original live theater, weekly (what if Avenue Q had to write a completely new continuation of its story EVERY time they took the stage?).
Today’s WWE has something for everyone. There are serious dramatic themes (that are significantly better acted than the days of The Ultimate Warrior) that sometimes blur the lines between their scripted storylines and actual behind the scenes events and confrontations, and often hilarious comedy. There is incredible athleticism you would marvel at that rivals the likes of Cirque du Soleil shows and triumphant stories that can go toe to toe with those being told in most of today’s cinema. I would also say that I’m personally more emotionally invested in a lot of the weekly wrestling tales than most dramatic hour long television series!
There is nothing like today’s pro wrestler. Are there some bad ones? Yes, absolutely. But just because Uwe Boll exists doesn’t mean you’re not going to give Christopher Nolan a chance to entertain you. Today’s pro wrestlers not only bring a whole new brand of moves and innovative exciting techniques to the ring, but they do so while properly selling a character, a personality that you love or love to hate. Some are heroes, some are villains, and some walk the line in between, just like most comic books. Are there a few characters that might be a bit over the top? Of course. Are some pathetically two-dimensional? Sure. But there are none that are any less interesting than Colonel Miles Quaritch… the primary villain of the highest grossing movie of all time, Avatar. I’d like to see him vs. The Undertaker any day.
In closing, this is my request as a lifelong wrestling fan: don’t discount it so quickly. I know it’s not for everyone, but “it’s fake” or “it’s cheesy” are definitely words of someone who doesn’t truly know what modern pro wrestling is. And if you think it’s not something you’d be into because you think it’s too “simple,” ask yourself this. Would you go see a stunt show at Universal Studios in which the fights are choreographed down to every single movement and only look good because you’re sitting 200 yards away? Would you not watch LOST if was performed as a recorded play in front of an audience every week? Do you not enjoy marveling at the acrobatic and athletic prowess of Las Vegas variety performers?
Well, what if they all came in one small package? (Pun intended.)
I’m a nerd. I love comic books. I love action and science fiction movies and television. I love video games. And I love pro wrestling.