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Hardtime: Use Your Illusion

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  • Hardtime: Use Your Illusion

    Note: I wrote this back in 2014. I originally was going to show it to some people who were not wrestling fans, so if it seems like I'm explaining things that you already know, you know why.

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    Hardtime: Use Your Illusion


    If you’re unfamiliar to the world of professional wrestling, it is jam-packed with larger than life characters, over the top storylines, and severe acts of violence that wrestlers miraculously recover from. When tuning in to USA Network at 8:00 pm on Mondays, you’ll see “Eater of Worlds” Bray Wyatt, a sinister, manipulative cult leader, and women quarreling to be twirled around and danced with by Fandango, a ball room dancer/wrestler. Betrayals, love triangles, sledge hammers, incompetent referees… all just another episode of WWE’s Monday Night Raw.

    But once Raw goes off the air, that sensational world ceases to exist. Fandango returns to being Curt Hussey, a video game enthusiast and Boston Red Sox fan. Heroes and villains drink beers together at local bars. When the cameras stop rolling, they’re real people like you or me.

    False advertising was the foundation of pro wrestling. Traveling carnival workers showcased grapplers battling in matches, but in reality they had the same integrity as their rigged midway games and freak show oddities. They utterly scammed the locals. You might say fans were entertained, so no harm, no foul. But pro wrestling was a lie, pure and simple. The industry’s validity soon became questioned. Ex promoter Jack Pfefer infamously exposed the industry to the press. Sports writers, preserving their own credibility, stopped reporting about the questionable matches. 20/20 tried to reveal tricks of the trade, leading to former WWE employee Dave Schultz notoriously slapping a journalist when asked “Is wrestling fake?”

    With immense pressure to sustain the lie, performers formerly lived, at least in public, as their characters. Villains acted like egotistical jerks, whether they were in the ring or in a check out line at K-Mart. In an extreme case, James Myers lived a double life for twenty years. On weekdays he was well spoken and taught gym at a Michigan high school. To supplement his salary, he traveled to New York and became George “The Animal” Steele; a mentally deficient, good hearted wild man who struggled to put a sentence together. Due to wrestling then only being broadcast locally, not nationally, James Myers’s secret was safe.

    In 2014, the industry’s been exposed a thousand times over. Twitter, podcasts, youtube videos, internet dirt sheets (websites that report backstage rumors in wrestling promotions) and WWE produced documentaries, there’s no question about wrestling being staged. James Myers’ double life would be uncovered immediately by Dave Meltzer, the leading reporter of the business’s inner workings.

    While it’s unreasonable to think the secrets would stay hidden forever, this has caused major problems for the fans. And most don’t even realize it.

    Suspension of disbelief is integral to any fictional form of entertainment. We’re aware they’re actors just playing roles, but during the show we temporarily forget that. On a tv show like Cheers, there is an imaginary fourth wall that separates the characters from the audience. We can meet Ted Danson, a real person. We can’t meet Sam Malone the bartender. He exists in a fictional universe separate from ours. We can never pull up a stool, get a beer from Woody, and chat with Frasier, Cliff and Norm. It’s an experience we can never have. We can’t give relationship advice to Ross and Rachel or do science experiments with Sheldon Cooper.

    Now WWE programming is also fictional. But unlike Sam Malone, we can interact with Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Sure, the audience is physically separated from the ringside area, just like sports fans are at stadiums. But Hulk Hogan can do his famous pose, holding his hand to his ear, asking fans to cheer him. And they cheer back. There is direct acknowledgement from the fictional characters to the real fans who don’t have a script. This is indeed an incredibly unique form of entertainment.

    And since WWE’s imaginary world comes in contact with our actual world, it requires delicate treatment. To be fully engrossed in WWE’s illusion, despite it’s outrageous nature, we need to briefly forget it’s all scripted. And for that to happen, there shouldn’t be strong, contradictory images in the media that constantly remind us it’s just a show. Seeing Windham Rotunda on facebook as a loving husband makes it harder to momentarily believe he’s the sadistic cult leader Bray Wyatt.

    Take the Undertaker for example. Always dressed in black, he has a dark, emotionless personality. Possessing demonic, supernatural powers, he regularly carries urns, wheels caskets, and teleports himself. He’s played by Mark Callaway, a good guy and family man. WWE, for the most part, won’t allow him to portray himself in the media out of character. At the annual Hall of Fame ceremony, where all wrestlers act as themselves on camera, Undertaker is never in attendance (he appeared once to honor his late manager, but did so in character). He has no tell- all autobiography or out of character documentary.

    For the most part, WWE characters are not as far a cry from regular people as Undertaker. He, like Bray Wyatt, is an extreme case. If Mark Callaway did have a tell-all autobiography where he exposed the secrets to his teleportation (he comes from under the ring while the lights go out), surviving being buried alive four times (96, 98, 03, 10), and so on, it would just be harder to believe it’s not all smoke and mirrors.

    Here is where WWE should place higher importance on protecting their illusion. Instead of how Undertaker’s character is protected being a rare instance, it should be done regularly for all aspects of their programming. It’s unreasonable to ask wrestlers to portray their outrageous characters to 7-11 gas station attendants. For the most part, they can live like normal, average people. But when the press is around or cameras are present, they shouldn’t say anything that exposes the business. Don’t discuss matches being predetermined or storylines being created by writers. Don’t negate what you see on television.

    In March of 1990, the Ultimate Warrior appeared on Arsenio Hall to promote Wrestlemania 6. Hailing from another planet, he acted in Arsenio’s studio just as he would on Saturday Night’s Main Event. Running around, ranting and raving like a lunatic. He looked ridiculous and out of place, and the audience laughed at him and didn’t take him seriously. He embarrassed both himself and pro wrestling, and he set an example for wrestlers how NOT to make media appearances.

    In the summer that same year, Ultimate Warrior made an appearance on Regis and Kathie Lee. This time he walked and talked like a human being. He explained he lives a life outside the ring and isn’t always as intense as he is when he’s beating up bad guys. It made sense, he looked normal, and he didn’t expose the industry. This experience didn’t make it any harder for fans to get caught up in Warrior’s matches. They understood why he was different talking to Regis. Today, wrestlers can act like ordinary people on Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, or any talk show. WWE has let fans understand these crazy people we see at WrestleMania do have typical lives outside the ring.

    For villains, it’s their job to be hated. As previously mentioned, they were antagonistic and mean spirited in public. Former bad guy John Bradshaw Layfield was immensely dedicated to his persona, to the point of insulting fans at airports and restaurants. This was 2004, long after the real deal about wrestling was well known. However, wrestlers are human beings too. It’s unreasonable to require them to live in this fashion.

    All the negative things the villains do should be contained to WWE programming. Bad guys would look ridiculous on David Letterman insulting him and being overly arrogant, but acting like David’s friend won’t help them professionally. In the case of the bad guys, they simply shouldn’t be featured in outside media to promote WWE. It’s comparable to tv shows protecting their brand by enforcing a code of conduct on their stars. Lucille Ball maintained a wholesome image during “I Love Lucy”; John Bradshaw Layfield, in the media, needed to maintain an antagonistic appearance.

    However, if WWE insists their villains appear on late night talk shows, they should be toned down, approachable, and give human answers to questions. But at the same time, exude a slight, villainous vibe. “Hulk Hogan inspired me to pursue wrestling. But he wasn’t the quality performer I am today. No one is.” Maintain the WWE image.

    And in extreme scenarios where you have Undertaker and Bray Wyatt, wrestlers who are far removed from reality, WWE is handling them correctly. Keep their out of character appearances in the media few and far between. Undertaker recently took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, doing so as a normal person. It looked out of place for him, but being for charity, it was an excusable exception.

    Even if WWE implements these changes, they can’t control everything. And sometimes, they use reality to their benefit. For example, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, the boss’s daughter, were married in a 1999 storyline. On camera they divorced, but in real life, they dated and had a real wedding. Word spread of their marriage, and it contradicted their tv divorced status. Finally WWE used it to their advantage, portraying them as husband and wife once again. Current WWE Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar is a former NCAA Wrestling Champion and UFC Heavyweight Champion; they promote these accomplishments to give him a special aura. Fans realize bigger, muscular wrestlers tend to be bigger stars: recently WWE did a storyline with Daniel Bryan, a relatively short, 5’8” wrestler, where management tried to hold him back because he wasn't "best for business."

    In today’s world, Pandora is long out of the box. The general public knows the truth behind pro wrestling. However, reminding us constantly won’t help anyone enjoy the show. It’s not 1950, wrestlers shouldn’t keep character at shopping malls. But if cameras are rolling, they should protect the business in a non-rediculous manner. It’s not your average drama or sitcom. When it’s marketable, use truth in storylines. Regardless, WWE should take all reasonable measures to protect their illusion.
    Last edited by RIPbossman; 04-19-2020, 07:57 PM.

  • #2
    This is really good - did you actually post it here back in 2014 or was it something you wrote solely for use elsewhere?

    Got to admit though, I was hoping for a few more Guns N Roses references when I saw the title!!
    New Column: Unfinished Business

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    • #3
      I did post this back in 2014.

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      • #4
        The title rang a bell right away, but I had to read it to fully remember what it's about. I liked it then, I like it now! I think in some cases using real life scenarios does more harm than good, and setting a clear expectation from a management level about when wrestlers should be in character is important, but by and large it helps to add little things that keep wrestling special and distinct from other forms of entertainment.

        The '92 Rumble! The Brain's Finest Hour!

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