Why I Love Professional Wrestling
Dec. 17, 2001
This article first appeared on the website of The Pro Wrestling Torch on Dec. 14, 2001. The author retains all copyrights.
Sometimes I think Id be more comfortable admitting to a criminal conviction or a sexual deviancy. Certainly, to some minds, my dirty little secret could be put in the same category. It’s a private shame that I try to avow early in any relationship, bringing it to the forefront to be discussed and laughed about, the theory being that ad hoc truthfulness vitiates the foul deed. Yet despite my outward comfort —nay pride– in this particular deviant taste, I must confess to a daily struggle to explain to the unbelievers why, oh why, I so love the sport of professional wrestling.
The look of horror on the faces of those to whom I have offered this confession is a universal. Since wrestling’s recent explosion into the true mainstream, courtesy mostly of The Rock’s bellicose pop culture appeal, that look has become hidden behind stolid faces of straining non-judgmentalism. But it lingers still, a silent scream of disgust and pity, its unspoken (and sometimes loudly spoken) plea one of tiresome redundancy to my sighing ear: How can someone so educated and intelligent watch such crap?
Usually, I then launch into my practiced lecture about the ancient and pure nature of wrestling, its timbre resonating with that of Greek theatre, its core morality play identical to history’s finest examples of good drama. While few ever buy the argument, they are usually sufficiently impressed by my liberal use of big words to gather that I’ve at least given the issue some thought –more so, dare I say it, than do people who watch supposedly high brow television, like *cough hack* Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect or Law & Order, which are as equally exploitative but rarely vilified.
You see, I do not enjoy watching real sports. I don’t believe in glorifying the questionable accomplishments of thin-brained 20-year olds whose incomes criminally exceed the economies of many small nations. I particularly question the permissability of fighting in ice hockey, scenarios in which genuinely angry grown men try to physically harm one another. At least in wrestling, the violence is fake and the wrestlers strenuously work to avoid injuring one another.
Detractors invariably point out that the fans don’t know that it’s fake, and so wrestling shows simply stoke a public bloodthirst. To such critics, I can only sigh, their ignorance being a blight upon all good sense. I don’t think I’ll be crushing any dreams when I say here, in print, that everyone knows that wrestling outcomes are predetermined, and that everyone knows that most of the brutality is illusory. Yes, even many of the children. To my thinking, such detractors expose their own poor understanding and poor faith in the thrum of modern society.
Moreover, the “enjoyableness” of professional wrestling is not related to that of a genuine gladiatorial contest. On the whole, fans do not seek brutality as the outcome. Instead, we simply seek a well told story set in a weird world of supermen and thin egos. Therein lies the secret power of this genre. We don’t watch Monday Night Raw looking for a kind of realistic Ali-Foreman contest. No, we watch it hoping for a Rocky-Apollo Creed finale: a staged movie payoff to a well crafted preceding drama.
In the wrestling world, Evil invariably faces off against Good, with Good always coming out on top. In the interim, Evil only wins when Evil cheats, but will always get its just deserts in the end. What other form of entertainment offers such a pure and timeless theme, complete with sing-along catchphrases and comic book personas? The stories told in the modern era are wonders to behold. Brother against brother, marital betrayal, love, tragedy, returns from the dead, behind-the-scenes politicking, teams torn asunder by misunderstanding or greed —all these stories eventually lead to a physical contest inside the fabled squared circle, and all must be told simultaneously to a live audience of tens of thousands and to a television audience of millions. When Stone Cold Steve Austin drinks a beer at the end of his match, his practiced flourishes must be as well seen by those in the back row of the arena as by those watching close-up on the TV screen, testament both to Austin’s unique acting ability and to the need to keep every single audience member engaged. Unlike other TV offerings, wrestling is tweaked day to day to respond to audience reaction. Storylines are radically rewritten or abandoned in mid-stride if fans respond unfavourably. No other entertainment genre offers such interactivity and complexity of performance.
Admittedly, there are elements to this entertainment genre which are disturbing, its occasional sexism and racism being obvious examples. At present, the WWF in particular suffers not from excessive offensiveness, but simply from lackadaisical writing. I have thus questioned if the present lacklustre product has stifled my innate love for the “sport”. I have searched for an image or moment which could rekindle the flame of my fandom. I found it in a recent match between The Rock and Chris Jericho.
Jericho, a well-liked underdog, had just beaten ultimate fan-favourite The Rock for the WCW Championship, but had resorted to an illegal chair-shot to do so. In the post-match showdown, Jericho clutched his uncleanly won belt with ambiguous joy as The Rock approached him with the steel chair cocked to deliver a retributive blow. No words were spoken. Instead of delivering the expected blow, however, The Rock just handed Jericho the chair and marched out of the ring, leaving the new champion to his tainted celebration. It was the look on Jerichos face that sold the moment to me. Without speaking a word or raising a fist, he communicated that he had criminally bloodied his hands to attain his goal, commencing on a hubris-strewn path of tragedy which would eventually lead to his downfall. His shame was palpable, but subtle. It was a MacBeth moment that calls to the heart of good drama, and which encourages me to declare yet again that I am a proud fan of professional wrestling.
Ray Deonandan is an owner of The Podium. His personal website can be found at www.deonandan.com.