THE REALITY OF WRESTLING OR: WHY EVERYTHING IS FAKE

Photo via WWE.com.

Photo via WWE.com.

I believe in professional wrestling.

Like any other storytelling medium, the theater of pro-wrestling can inspire, enlighten, and unite. The transcendent power of a pro-wrestling match is best comprehended by those viewers caught in The Moment of Pop - that instant where the onlooker forgets what they're watching is staged and is inspired to rise to their feet or sink into their seat.

In that millisecond of purity, all contrivance fades.

When a moviegoer is driven to laugh or cry or scream or cheer during a well-performed scene, the barrier between their bodies and the fiction on the silver screen breaks down. You know you're watching a film, but your soul has been convinced otherwise. The combination of light and magic has made you a person of faith.

The pro-wrestling fan experiences this same imperceptible shift into the realm of conviction.

Fans react to The Undertaker's defeat at WrestleMania 30.

Fans react to The Undertaker's defeat at WrestleMania 30.

When pro-wrestling works, it creates believers. For a moment, Good does triumph over Evil or Evil does manage to blindside Good. When the ref's hand slaps the mat for a third time, the victory or defeat is as legitimate for the viewer as anything one sees on the baseball field or on the football field or on the basketball court or in the octagon or in the movie theater or reads within the pages of a good book.

This moment is pro-wrestling's transubstantiation.

The onlooker can never adequately articulate that transcendent moment where all artifice becomes real - nor should they have to. But the wrestling believer's inability to articulate The Moment of Pop is one of many reasons pro-wrestling's non-believers find it so easy to dismiss pro-wrestling as "fake".

No one has explained the significance of this moment to them.

We fans of pro-wrestling balk at the idea of calling it "fake". We fight people who label it "fake". We publicly shame people who cry "fake!" We shake our fists at the world for not seeing what we see, and our passion and our love makes it difficult to do anything else. Our faith tends to make us unconvincing in our arguments, no matter how many times we recite the laundry list of legitimate injuries pro-wrestlers endure. Try as we might, we often fail to articulate the specific and the most important way pro-wrestling is very real.

Daniel Bryan wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 30 to uproarious applause.

Daniel Bryan wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 30 to uproarious applause.

It is time to educate the uneducated.

Those who regard "It's fake" as an adequate criticism of professional wrestling are expressing a distressing degree of ignorance and hypocrisy. They're also distracting from nobler arguments against the medium. There's a great deal worth criticizing about professional wrestling, but the fact that it's "a work" (staged) is the only aspect of pro-wrestling not worth criticizing.

The Moment of Pop is ubiquitous, spanning all forms of art, regardless of whether or not a particular medium's outcome is predetermined, whether or not the action is based on our understanding of "legitimacy" or "reality", or whether or not it's even considered an art.

Those fans of legitimate sport who regard pro-wrestling as "fake" fail to recognize the contrivances of legitimate sport.

In what way is baseball "real"?

In what way is football "real"?

In what way is mixed martial arts "real"?

Each of these sports has in place a series of contrivances designed to move a viewer toward an emotional high. These contrivances do not hold true in our daily, real lives.

Current UFC Bantamweight Women's Champion Ronda Rousey

Current UFC Bantamweight Women's Champion Ronda Rousey

By design, sport operates in fiction. Every sport, regardless of the fact that the athletes are legitimately attempting to defeat one another, exists within the parameters of an agreed-upon narrative - that the symbolism of catching a ball in a particular zone or passing a ball through a particular hoop or kicking a ball into a particular net or extending one's body "out of bounds" or landing the right amount of punches in the right way at the right time all possesses some kind of unshakable meaning that contributes to the significance of these events. There is no objective meaning to chalk on grass or a fist in a face or a cage around combatants or a ball sailing toward the bleachers.

We choose to believe in the story of these designs and the story of these moments.

Our recognition of the rules of sport is no different than our recognition of the separation between our bodies and the silver screen. We see the artifice, we interpret the symbolism, and we accept it as truth.

Is there a perceptible difference between our pop at the climax of a movie and our pop for a home-run?

Is the joy we feel when Ronda Rousey punches her rival in the face more real than the joy we feel when Rocky Balboa raises the championship over his head and screams, "Yo Adrian, I did it!"?

Yes, Ronda's aches and pains resultant from her hard work and her righteous battles are legitimate.

Rocky's wounds are paint. Sylvester Stallone does not feel their pain.

But the emotion experienced by the viewer, in either case, is the same. We do not differentiate, in the exact Moment of Pop, between perceived reality and perceived fiction. We just pop. We may discern some difference after the fact. There are those who will attempt to argue that there is a difference between the emotion inspired by real-life fighters and the emotions inspired by fictional fighters. That is a fool's errand that misses the larger point, for in the moment of ecstasy we do not go to great lengths to justify our emotions or attempt to prove someone wrong no matter what inspired those emotions. We just feel, and we're unconsciously grateful to whatever inspired that feeling.

Ronda Rousey. Victorious.

Ronda Rousey. Victorious.

The emotions we feel while watching any form of contrived entertainment (be it a UFC fight or a boxing match in a film) reflect our investment in the presented narrative, our willingness to accept and believe in the rules of that particular world.

So the person who labels wrestling "fake" fails to see how ineffective such a criticism is (or even how it's an inadequate, poorly conceived reason for disliking wrestling). Put crudely, everything is "fake". That which the detractor regards as "fake" inspires the same emotional intensity as that which the detractor regards as "real" . To criticize a medium's contrivance is to pick and choose where artifice is acceptable when, in reality, artifice permeates all forms of performance (and sport is a form of performance). No one would call UFC bouts "fake" for presenting fights at scheduled times inside arenas with commentary accompaniment and carefully crafted camera angles that spotlight the action. And yet those fights, legitimate as the punches and kicks and holds are, remain unavoidably contrived. That is not a criticism against UFC in any capacity. That is a very recognizable reality that people simply don't consider.

So the one who calls wrestling "fake" is revealing their blindness not only to the beauty of wrestling, but to the beauty of the world around them (including the beauty of legitimate sport).

Derek Jeter's grace of motion exemplified the beauty of baseball.

Derek Jeter's grace of motion exemplified the beauty of baseball.

We all yearn for symbolic representations of victory and defeat. In the emotional highs and lows inspired by these representations we experience a communal catharsis and re-learn what it is to be human.

Pro-wrestling's unique brand of "fakeness" is what makes it good in the the same way UFC's unique brand of "fakeness" makes UFC good.

I contend that those who relish labeling wrestling "fake" are less responding to the fundamental conceit of the medium and its necessarily predetermined outcomes and more reacting to wrestling's sometimes silly history.

At its best, pro-wrestling is Shakespeare-sport.

At its worst, depending on the booker, it's a carnival sideshow or psychedelic cartoon that devalues the human body and disrespects the intelligence of the viewer.

Unfortunately, the latter form of pro-wrestling is what has, for the most part, shaped a general pop-culture consensus. Outside the pro-wrestling fandom, the world has been conditioned to shrug and laugh at the medium, to disregard any attempt at taking pro-wrestling seriously. The world has been permitted to go on regarding pro-wrestling as "soap operas for men" because there has yet to be an adequate, long-form argument that offers evidence to the contrary.

Even today, the medium will occasionally undermine itself by disregarding a person's desire to believe and instead strive to give people a palatable, thoughtless good time. Occasionally, the creators of pro-wrestling fail to pay their chosen medium adequate respect, continuing to operate on a sub-par level that reminds me of planned obsolescence. It's as though the medium itself occasionally fails to see how good it can really be. Given the art's history, it makes sense that it's regarded more as "sideshow" than Shakespeare, despite how often it's ascended to Shakespeare.

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Bret Hart at WrestleMania XIII in arguably the best match in pro-wrestling history.

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Bret Hart at WrestleMania XIII in arguably the best match in pro-wrestling history.

It takes time to reeducate people.

It takes time to accept inconvenient truths; this particular truth being that pro-wrestling is art.

That is a notion many are uncomfortable with, and even feel shame expressing. Pro-wrestling is a medium that demands unshakable bravado from performer and viewer alike, all the while secretly requiring depth and sensitivity. That can be a troubling, paradoxical existence where proudly proclaiming that "professional wrestling is art!" is akin to exposing a peculiar vulnerability to the world, risking reprisal from a testosterone-fueled environ.

It is possible to retain that venerable bravado and that noble sensitivity at the same time, however. We must state, with a steely expression of certainty, the truth of our beloved medium and pity those who fail to accept that truth.

The acceptance of pro-wrestling's artistic merit is one of the keys to silencing those who preach the doctrine of "fake".

Pro-wrestling is quite possibly the most brutal, demanding art human beings have ever created. Even fans of the medium dare not bring themselves to fully comprehend the daily damage wrestlers must endure. Perhaps this violence, necessitated by the medium, is the primary reason people struggle to accept it as art or as anything remotely "real". To call it "fake", to regard it as nothing more than bloated, cartoon men without sense, hurling their bodies from rope to post creates a comfortable distance from reality.

The complicated truth of pro-wrestling, when adequately considered, inspires a blend of respect and discomfort. Most people don't want to think of pro-wrestling as a collection of performance artists purposefully harming their bodies in the interest of popping a crowd.

And yet that's exactly what it is.

The wrestler commits to a lifetime of sometimes debilitating pain. They risk concussions, paralysis, chronic pain, and even death, all in the name of "your entertainment". That is difficult to believe, and even harder to understand. The wrestler, for better or worse, takes the mantra "suffering for one's art" to a literal extreme. No other medium calls upon its creators to put pain in motion, to live with that pain, to thrive in that pain, and to make people believe in that pain and cherish that pain.

Mick Foley, having just lost his ear in Munich Germany on March 17th, 1994.

Mick Foley, having just lost his ear in Munich Germany on March 17th, 1994.

To consider this sacrifice "fake" is not just ignorant or disrespectful; it's entirely inaccurate - inaccuracy being the absolute worst sin a critic can commit.

All forms of performance from stage to screen, oration to page, poetry to symphony, octagon to squared-circle are united in a common goal; tell people a good story and make them feel something.

Any medium that moves people to The Moment of Pop is one that contributes to a noble human impulse; our need to believe. That need is real, and we satiate that need in a myriad of ways.

Pro-wrestling is my way.

It has moved me to The Moment of Pop perhaps more consistently than any other art. For that, and for the women and men who break their bodies to get me there, I am forever grateful.

For that, I proudly believe in professional wrestling.

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Let me know why you love pro-wrestling in the comments! And if you have a story about a time when someone told you "pro-wreslting is fake!" email that story to wrestlingworks@gmail.com.

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