Wrestling is fake. I'll give you a minute to process that shocking piece of information that surely shook the very foundation of your reality. Breathe into a paper bag if necessary.
Ya good? Okay.
Wrestling is in a tough spot in terms of storytelling. A person goes into a scripted television show or movie with the ability to shut their brain off and allow themselves to be sucked in by the story. Somehow, this thing that we know is a work of fiction can make us laugh, cry, or even play with our sense of safety. I don't believe in ghosts or the supernatural, but I was unable to sleep after I watched Paranormal Activity, disturbed by the thought that I could wake up at any moment and my fiancé would be standing over me in a possessed daze.
Wrestling doesn't have that luxury, at least not after age 10 or so. For many of us in the age of the internet, it became more about appreciating the athleticism or the art. Instead of getting sucked in by the fictional world of WWE, we become engaged by the performance. Which would be like watching Captain America just to see how well Chris Evans performs as Steve Rogers, rather than getting swept up and hoping he kicks Red Skull's bony ass.
Granted, a lot of this stems from the fact that wrestling doesn't tell complete stories, it's all about advancing to the next thing, but it's not impossible and it's why I'm really intrigued by Wrestling Revolution. Even if wrestling did tell proper three-act tales though, it still has the big hurdle: it's fake.
Sure, all scripted entertainment is, but there's something about wrestling that sets it apart. We still go in with this notion that we're being "tricked" due to it constantly blurring the lines between reality and fiction. It's why an outdated and irrelevant term like "work" still exists. Wrestling fans have this strange refusal to let themselves get sucked in, if they did, they might become a "mark" and that would just be horrible! For whatever reason, we allow ourselves to be marks for Hollywood, but to even allow ourselves to have fun with wrestling, we have to qualify it with "marking out."
Think about how silly that term is, "marking out." It's essentially saying, "I know all this is bullshit, but for a moment I allowed myself a moment of pure joy while watching, but don't judge me because I know it's not real, alright?" No one would seriously say, "I totally marked out when Luke blew up the Death Star," you just cheer along, because it's awesome and it's okay to get swept up in a movie, TV show or book.
But I suspect that deep down, even the most jaded wrestling viewer wants that experience. I know I do, it's why I've been trying to deprogram myself and have returned to phrases like "good guys and bad guys" instead of "faces and heels." It's why I say matches I like are "fun" instead of droning on about "workrate." I want wrestling to be engaging like a movie rather than worry about the things I didn't even know about when I was a kid.
And the reaction to tonight's Raw shows I'm not alone. The rules have changed, but the game hasn't, and CM Punk proved that you can still get people to believe, even if they don't really believe. Just like worrying about ghosts after watching a horror movie, Punk made us believe, even if the premise is unbelievable.
Whether or not Punk is actually going to leave WWE is irrelevant, what's important now is he managed to make people think that he really did just run down WWE, call Stephanie McMahon and Triple H "idiots," say "Hi" to Colt Cabana and threaten to take the WWE Championship to Ring of Honor.
Again, the rules have changed, but the game is still the same.
Casual fans can sit back and watch the show like I wish I could, but it takes a different approach to get those jaded fans to feel something when watching wrestling. Am I suggesting that "worked shoots" should become the new norm? No, but it is an effective storytelling device in the right situation in the hands of the right actors.
It's no coincidence that CM Punk name-dropped Paul Heyman tonight and the fact that the best instances of this strategy have been used by people closely associated with Heyman, or even Heyman himself as seen in the above video.
Remember Joey Styles "shooting" on WWE and "quitting," only to continue working for the company for the next five years?
Wrestling fans want to be lied to, we want to be tricked, but there's some odd stigma attached to allowing yourself to get swept up in a wrestling story. CM Punk threw out the reddest of meat to internet fans tonight and the reaction was, naturally, "is it real?!"
No, but it's cute that you think it might be. It's wrestling, of course it's not real, it's okay to pretend though. Would we ask if the ending to the season premiere of True Blood was real? No, that would kill the fun. Wrestling fans need to have more fun.