What’s it all about then? I mean, this wrestling business, what’s it all about? Millions of people, every week, sit and watch wrestling shows either live or on the television or the internet. People pay for T-Shirts and DVD’s, masks and, well, tea-towels with John Cena-isms on them. People blog about it, write about it, tweet and update Facebook statuses. They sit and watch old matches either on said DVD’s or, if it’s WWE, via the Network. People go on gossip sites and fuel internet rumour-mills. Also, people, both the wrestling community and the fans, can be both wonderfully funny and terribly vicious to each other. It can make an otherwise normal person froth at the mouth when their personal favourite is slighted. Also, some people are happy to walk around in their ‘Real American’ T-Shirt whereas, for some, wrestling is their dirty little secret.
So, to repeat, what’s it all about then? This pre-determined, often badly written business we call pro-wrestling? Why do we love it so? Often we threaten to stop watching, to never return, only to tune in again the week after. Let’s be honest, it’s all fun and games. It’s like a soap opera, or box-set TV drama, that we need to keep up-to-date with. I remember, back in the day, religiously watching ‘Twin Peaks’, desperate to know who killed Laura Palmer. The burgeoning weirdness didn’t put me off, nor the bizarre plot-twists that pulled us further away from the main story. I accepted all of it because I was a fan. Even when the series bumbled on before cancellation, I still watched constantly. Even after it felt like a bit of a slap in the face that we’d never know what really happened to Agent Cooper and ‘Bob’.
Why do we bother with things which can often break our hearts? Supporting a team through relegations or bankruptcy and yet still standing tall wearing the club shirt? Watching a programme called ‘How I Met Your Mother’ for nine years only to discover it should have been called ‘How I Met Your Aunt’. Buying a band’s albums even though they haven’t made a good one for a decade in the hope that this is the one? It’s a conundrum and not one easily solved.
Wrestling often feels like a slap around the face, not to everyone, but to different groups. Take earlier this year for the most obvious, and most recent, example. Daniel Bryan, contrary to popular opinion, was not everyone’s favourite wrestler. There are too many Cena fans and too many Lesnar fans, for example, for that. For those who were fans though, we’d seen him be humiliated and dropped down the card no matter how hard he battled on with the non-appearance during the Rumble match the last straw. People took to message boards, tweeted Triple H, vented their anger at the treatment of poor Daniel. Fans who paid good money for the product felt they weren’t being listened too. Then, then came the ‘Miracle of Bourbon Street’ as Bryan defeated HHH before then taking on Orton and Batista to take home the title amongst ticker-tape and tears. Fans finally got their ‘Rocky’ story and it felt like, for many, the best WrestleMania in years.
From there, though, has been a fall for Daniel which was started with a lacklustre feud with Kane before a series of deeply unfortunate personal events which now mean we might not see Bryan in a ring until 2015. The Kane story aside, this is not wrestling’s fault per se (but the injury is perhaps a whole other discussion) but still we kept with him and supported him throughout the lows.
It is the same with the companies. There are people out there who will watch TNA through think and increasingly thin. Maybe they genuinely like the product, and let’s be honest, there are some cracking wrestlers on their roster. Maybe it’s because they despise the WWE and the way it can treat individuals. Maybe, and probably, it’s because they will stick with their team through thick and thin through highs and lows and maybe a financial descent they won’t find their way out of.
The thing is though, it’s just wrestling. It’s made up. It’s for kids. It’s not even very good a lot of the time. Chances are, you won’t convince anyone ‘normal’ to watch it because it’s so stupid. Aside from the oiled up hunks and the tired sexism, it has nonsensical plots. It has stupid characters like bulls and leprechauns. It even has the same plot used again and again, just like a tired old soap opera. It shouldn’t work these days because quite often you’ll find better acting in a video game and more sense in a self-published Kindle book.
Here’s the thing though. And whisper it quietly because the naysayers and cool kids might not like it....
It makes us happy.
People tune in every week and look forward to it. Was the episode the week before poor? Maybe, but after watching a Wade Barrett versus Dolph Ziggler twenty minute match with near-fall after near-fall, who cares about last week? It’s how we feel now that matters. Yes, sometimes the comedy segments fall flat but when they work, they’re magic. Whether it’s The Rock in his promo hey-day or Team Hell-No in therapy, it’s brilliant and makes us laugh.
Think of your favourite moments and I guarantee you will smile when you remember them. Undertaker versus Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25? Kurt Angle going for the ankle lock on Eddie Guerrero only for the boot to come off in his hand? Heck, even Alex Riley’s turn on The Miz got a huge pop at the time. Whatever they are, they are your moments. Yes, there are the lows. The Anonymous General Manager is one for me but then again, we still had Edge’s brilliant promo which ended with the computer being smashed to bits, because Edge simply said what we were all feeling.
Also, along with making us happy, when the bad times come, quite often all the arguing and snarky comments fall away too and wrestling does feel like one big community. When Eddie passed away, the comment-boards on WWE.com and beyond were full of people shocked. The 9/11 show when wrestling, not WWE, but wrestling, decided that no-one was going to stop people being strong and our right to, yes, be happy. Even moments like the Benoit incident brings the wrestling community together as we defend the thing that makes us happy.
Let’s not forget too those moments that bring a tear to our eye for all the right reasons. Shawn and Bret embracing in the ring after years of acrimony. Daniel Bryan finally getting the title and crying in the ring. Eddie Guerrero embracing his family after defeating Brock Lesnar. Again, moments when sub-sections of fans can all come together, because we all have our own teams, our own favourites.
Wrestling is something that makes us happy because when it clicks, it is the best movie. It is the best box-set. It is the best book. We are so thoroughly invested in those men and women that go into that ring every day for us that when it works we are standing right there with them. Then, then, it doesn’t matter. We forget the lows, the poor matches, the bad episodes because now, in this moment, we are standing up and applauding them with smiles on our faces. It’s like the band we’ve followed through all of the bad albums because when they release that good one again, it takes us back to that summer when you bought their first record and partied all summer and didn’t have a care in the world.
Wrestling is constantly made up of memories like this. It is a very self-aware business hence why the legends and the documentaries are such an important part of the product. CM Punk might be gone but, for the fans, he’s not gone. We can watch old promos, pipe-bombs or not, and smile. Re-watch ‘Money in the Bank’ and cheer as he blows Vince McMahon a kiss. Remember when The Big Show ripped off his mask to display his bald head to the world. These are the moments that sum up why we watch.
So, for this made-up silly past-time, there are so many reasons why we watch. To see our heroes succeed, or our favourite villain humiliate the good guy. We watch for the great matches and the brilliant promos. We watch because, at the end of the day, we feel like a part of something bigger. We’re part of a community which has many strands between companies, brands and individual wrestlers but we’re all ‘wrestling fans’. We argue and bicker constantly but when it really matters we come together to support each other. Wrestling is something we look forward to and, quite often, stick with even when it’s going through a lull.
Finally, the proof that wrestling can make people happy can be found below. You’ve probably seen it before but it shows how this silly thing we call wrestling can really touch people, both children and adults and maybe one of the best things in wrestling is that sons and daughters can go with their parents and cheer and boo just like they did years before. I’m not going to say anything about the video because I don’t feel I have any right to discuss it simply because it’s all there. One thing is sure though, wrestling made him very happy and that’s something we can all understand because it makes us all happy.
I also write at www.whatculture.com
(This is my archive of columns http://whatculture.com/author/hugh-firth )