Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lie to Me

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 It's why an outdated and irrelevant term like "work" still exists.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.


  1. The best fiction is often rooted in either the truth or at least what the intended audience believes to be the truth.

    Tonight CM Punk said a lot of things that I am sure a lot of wrestling fans secretly or not so secretly believe.

  2. I agree completely. I just watched the Paul Heyman video back to back with the Joey Styles clip you linked to, and the CM Punk one more time. And there are some key similarities. You almost forget that a lot of these stories get recycled.

    But the biggest similarity of all is the sentiment. Even if it is all part of a story, you actually believe they hate WWE for ruining the wrestling business by making it the 'sports entertainment' business. By muscling out the competitors, so they're the 'only' game in town. By phasing out the athletics, and ignoring the moves, in favor of more stories. By using the performers as money machines to push their crap.

    Is it all fake? Yes it is. Do they really feel that way? Maybe. Maybe not. But the sentiment is there. And we want to believe it's true, because deep down, we all feel that way too.

  3. *claps slowly, with approval*

    Bravo, sir. Bra-freaking-vo.

  4. This angle reminds me of how much I hate the elitist distinctions made between the so-called "smarks" and "marks". It's more than a little ironic that some of those who believe themselves to be "smarter" than the lowly, pitiful, "casual" fans are the ones who are actually being fooled into thinking Punk's worked shoot was actually real.

    I don't always agree with some of the things WWE does to play around with certain sections of its audience, but, judging by the initial reaction, this is a great way of providing compelling television whilst further highlighting the idiocy of the most ardent and self-absorbed of the "smart" fans.

  5. You make some great points, Razor.

    Wrestling fans are weird in the sense that they almost seem to shy away from allowing themselves to be fans. It's like they fear being judged by the fans they communicate with or even the people in the business.

    Being a "mark" seems to be something people are villified for nowadays, rather than something they embrace - because that's what we are deep down.

    I remember watching the Raw where Jerry Lawler fought Miz (during my internet sabatical) in a TLC match. I couldn't have been more behind Jerry, not in a "watch the smarks heads explode!" kinda way. I just was genuinely pulling for Lawler.

    Also, at Royal Rumble this year (also during my internet sabatical), the end, where Santino nearly eliminated Alberto del Rio had me jumping out of my chair. I couldn't believe what I thought was about to happen.

    You pin-pointed exactly what I've been feeling for a long time. Wrestling fans need to put their hyper-critical, "we know stuff so can't enjoy the show as a viewer" brain to bed and just be fans.

  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vswZ73WETpc

    In case the stupid editing of the above version irked you as well.