I’m waiting right past the entrance of the Javits Center. But not the real entrance. There’s a second gate to pass, for people with badges. But I don’t have one of those. Someone is being sent to emerge through the gate with my badge. I’m just standing around with a box of swag, the only guy in a dress shirt and slacks within a sea of costumed conventioneers. I’ve been standing here for five minutes and I already have a headache. Partly, because there are so many people plucked together into one place. Also partly, because it’s a very hot day and I just walked too many blocks at a brisk pace since i’m late. Also also partly, because waiting in the lobby with me is Sam Roberts, a radio personality who I was literally listening to while at work less than an hour ago. I stare at him, he stares at me staring at him. Oh shit, this is where I’m supposed to respond somehow! Do I say ‘hello?’ Do I say ‘I enjoy the state of wrestling?’
What I actually do is nod my head. Not a full nod, mind you. My nod is slower and covers less ground. Sam could just keep walking, but instead, he keeps eye contact and responds with the exact same nod. My badge carrying co-worker arrives, and gets me through security. As I weave in and out of a gaggle of Mario Kart characters, I think Sam Roberts is a pretty good dude.
I am at my first New York Comic Con. It’s not a joyous occasion though. I’m working the event, behind the booth for the publishing company I work at. We’re basically running a pop-up bookstore. There wasn’t a whole lot of prep, and suddenly I’m trying to up-sell books to people who know much more about them than I do. I haven’t had to work retail in a while. I’m rusty. I keep trying to direct people dressed as Dr.Who to our new Dr.Who paper doll book! It’s a good sell, until it becomes apparent that i’ve never actually watched more than ten seconds of Dr. Who, and boy, does it become apparent quickly.
I’m not attracting anyone to the booth, and worse, i’m driving away the people who are coming there naturally. But I’m in luck, the Mattel WWE booth is near ours.
They start to pass by; Ladies and Gentlemen in flashy robes and blonde wigs, people referring to each other as “brother” despite the lack of any shared genes, an assortment of people dressed in black t shirts supporting some ammunition-related association, and then!-
…One approaches me, wearing a bright blue shirt and a unicorn horn. I try not to move too fast as to scare him away. He’s looking at a section with a gift basket you can win by entering a raffle. He doesn’t know how to enter it, he wants to enter it, but no one on the staff is helping, no one even sees him. I go in for the kill.
Do you need any help with anything?
“No, no…I’m fine…ah”
He’s not fine. He’s just too shy to ask for help. It’s up to me to engage.
I love that Booty-Os shirt
I’ve got him.
Yeah! I’ve got the cereal box at home on my nightstand.
“Your girlfriend lets you keep that in the bedroom?”
Even better, she BOUGHT it for me.
(Insert fifteen minutes of us talking about wrestling)
Smash cut to, me helping this gentleman not only enter the contest, but also encourage him to buy two books while he’s there. Up-sell completed.
Now, you are asking how I did that? Maybe, you’re asking what the hell I was talking about with this guy?
The answer is one in the same; pro wrestling. The reason I could connect with this total stranger was a mutual interest in pro wrestling.
I understand the pressure from the outside world that prevents you from watching pro wrestling. Really, I do.
There have been a finite number of times that it has been cool to watch wrestling within the cultural zeitgeist at large.
The first was in the 80s, when Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior were all over MTV and getting in the ring with the likes of Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper. Not a joke. Vince McMahon decided to move his company, the World Wrestling Federation, away from a niche regional fanbase in favor of latching on to what young people were into. Thus, Wrestlemania was born, and we got Muhammed Ali and Bob Uecker and Liberace on the same screen as Roddy Piper and Bob Orton and Rick Steamboat. Wrestling was weird in the 80s, but it was cool. Cocaine fueled perhaps, but cool none the less.
The second time that wrestling was cool happened in the late nineties, casually referred to by wrestling historians as “The Attitude Era.” You know what else was popular at this time? Jerry Springer, and South Park, and Pamela Anderson. Don’t think for a second that wrestling didn’t follow suit and pander to such an easy-to-appease 18-35 male demographic, because it would’ve been stupid not to.
I would argue that Wrestling is currently undergoing its third period of popularity in the television era. With the mainstream crossover success of generational stars like The Rock, John Cena, and Dave Bautista, wrestling as a pathway to acting has gained a shred of credibility after Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper lowered it to Rock Bottom in the 80s. But beyond the crossovers, those who stay within the lane of wrestling are experiencing greater exposure too.
I chalk this up to a few factors, such as ESPN’s willingness to feature wrestling, the move to a streaming network, and the rise of athleticism in the performers, BUT- The splintering factions of previously broad viewer demographics is the big one.
The ratings for a “hit” television show today are not the same as ten years ago. There are more channels, more streaming options, and thus, the same number of eyeballs spread thinner across the playing field. This allows for greater ownership and passionate fandom for those who like anything. And with wrestling, the fanbase was protective already, if not secretive.
But now there’s less shame for fans, both young and older, in stating out loud that they love wrestling. Call it the geek effect if you’d like, but suddenly being into a niche/nerdy entity is reason to be invited to parties rather than reason to be beat up for your lunch money.
This is all to say, the stigma associated with wrestling fans as unsophisticated suckers is eroding quickly.
Not too long ago, I lived as a closeted fan. I wouldn’t bring up that I was into professional wrestling unless someone else brought up the topic first, even though it was something I dedicated a lot of my time to.
Now, I invite other people in to watching it with me. I’ve thrown wrestling parties with games to help the uninformed get something out of it. I’ve curated wrestling playlists to fit specific interests of new fans. I defend its status as an art form. I take something seen as less-than and present it as a socioeconomic study of shifting attitudes of what is Americana, or the last great example of Greek theatrical conventions, or as full contact ballet.
Those might seem like silly hyperbole, but I really truly believe that framed the right way, wrestling IS all of those things, and more.
Tyler Ward and I are artists at our core. We might not have any Oscars, but we have written and performed well reviewed plays. We’ve written award winning drama and created music and studied storytelling and acting conventions (We have the degrees to prove it).
We love wrestling and we love explaining why, and why you should love it too. That’s why we’re starting Much Ado About Wrestling– A podcast for wrestling newbies and diehards alike. A scholarly dive into the logic and story conventions of the world of Pro Wrestling.
We believe we are the perfect people to teach you how to appreciate wrestling like you would any film movement or music scene or prestige television series or obscure Olympic event.
Maybe you were a wrestling fan at some point of your life and were pressured out. You want to hop back in but you don’t know how. That’s great, our podcast will remind you what it was about the world that you loved to begin with.
Maybe you have a significant other who is into wrestling and you want to spend time with them in a world that’s dear to them. That’s very nice of you! Our show will teach you the language of that world- literally, every episode will start with a word of the day, and explaining its application in the wrestling world.
Maybe you just happened to enjoy GLOW, and want to know more about wrestling before diving into being a full-fledged fan. Hey, this show is for you too! We thought GLOW painted a pretty accurate picture of wrestling, but we will go a bit more in-depth in into the things they touched on.
I know this is all very charming, but I feel some of you still hesitating a bit. That’s ok! I’m going to run through a few of the more common things that prevent people from watching wrestling, and then I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t care about them.
You know wrestling is fake right?
The big hang up for most reluctant viewers- Fake is a term that I don’t think is accurate. Staged, or scripted would be better. Yes, there is a script (sometimes a very loose one) and the winners of the matches are pre-determined…but that’s how movies and plays and tv shows work too. There is a script, and you watch people act it out. Wrestling is no different. So why do you care that it’s fake?
Also, I picked that specific phrasing for a reason. Rather than asking if it is fake, it’s always someone “breaking the news” to you as if you are too stupid to not realize. We realize. We know what we’ve signed up for. We just like stories. It’s a medium for storytellers.
Isn’t that just like watching a Soap Opera for men?
I would give some validity to this complaint if it was in reference to the 90s in Pro Wrestling specifically. Then it was heavily made for a young male audience, and was very overdramatic in the storylines presented. It wasn’t too far from that more recent South Park episode where all the storylines are revolved around trailer parks and abortions. But, this was a case where South Park missed being timely by a good ten years.
Forget the soap opera comparison. The storytelling in today’s pro wrestling landscape has shifted to be more reality based. Not so much like a reality tv show, but reality meaning that the wrestlers are portraying characters that are less cartoonish and broad, but more like their normal everyday self with the volume turned up. Storylines reflect real life issues with the performers, or perceived tensions backstage with the production.
Also, I take umbrage with the “for men,” idea. There has been an emphasis on expanding wrestling to fit a kids and female demographic. That’s why we see less scantily clad women making suggestive infantile jokes, and more athletic women being featured in main events, and directly being role models for young viewers.
The acting is sooooo bad
You have to think about acting in a different sense when watching wrestling. Sure, it’s broad, but the stage is gigantic. This is a performance that is mostly in the round to an audience that at it’s furthest distance away can’t see your face, and where the climax of every story is told without words. It’s not easy, even for people we might think of as “good actors.” Just google Jeremy Piven Monday Night Raw, if you don’t believe me. When Hugh Jackman guest stared on an episode of Raw, he broke another wrestler’s nose, and he’s in plenty of action movies. I repeat, the acting of wrestling is not easy.
They’re not actually tough/good fighters/athletes
Sure, if most wrestlers were in an MMA contest they wouldn’t win (CM Punk). BUT, some of them would win (Brock Lesnar, Bobbly Lashley).
They most certainly are tough though. Contrary to popular belief, wrestling rings aren’t built much different than a boxing ring. There aren’t any special mats or trampolines that make being slammed not hurt. It hurts. It destroys bodies. Wrestlers get hurt…often. To suggest that they aren’t tough or athletic because they are performing instead of being in a real contest is insulting, and quite frankly, ignorant… which brings me to the most upsetting common reason I get for not watching wrestling…
Something about a bunch of sweaty dudes in underwear rubbing against each other… it’s all kinda gay
I bet you giggle when you see a nude person in a painting or sculpture too. Honestly, if you aren’t mature enough to accept the premise of wrestling without being homophobic, then please don’t listen to our show. Wrestling will be better without you.
Wrestling is a daunting thing to decide to get in to. It has a large back catalogue, a language all its own, and a set of rules for the universe it lives it.
But don’t let that scare you. Hell, I could’ve been talking about Dr.Who in that last sentence, and there are people diving into that world every day!
I hope you decide to join us on our journey to make wrestling more accessible to the masses. I hope you become engrossed in our exploration of wrestling’s artistic merits. I hope you develop your own favorite things about this medium, and that you don’t hide it! I hope you tell other people of your new fandom, and get them involved too.
At the very least, I hope listening to our show helps you make a sale to someone in a wrestling shirt. They’re a large audience. It pays to understand them.