After the Super Bowl, I remember wondering aloud to someone about what I was going to fill my time with. I am ridiculously susceptible to phases, from cricket to Judaism in general, and I was aware that something was going to have to fill up the time I spent watching games, interviews and analysis, reading blogs and making predictions, especially with the (still unresolved) labour dispute between owners and players pending.
I predicted skateboarding. I did get into skateboarding (as a spectator sport entirely based on the internet), and even went so far as to write an introductory piece for Totally Dublin about it. But the thing that makes me stay up late when I have to be up early, which created another ten bookmarks to bounce through daily, which causes me to tweet unintelligible nonsense and occasionally try to sincerely explain a particularly arresting development to a glazed-eyed human being in real life is… professional wrestling.
You don’t like it and you think it’s stupid. It’s for kids, and it’s fake anyway.
Fair enough. It is, to a large degree, for kids. The thing is, though, it’s not like I’m not aware that it’s not actually a competitive sporting contest. I could not possibly have less interest in watching actual wrestling. Nobody condescendingly smiles at their mother as she watches Coronation Street and says “you do realise it’s fake?”
If you’re 7, you might genuinely believe that Rey Mysterio consistently gets beaten down because he’s small but then, due to his resilience and the support of the crowd, comes back to claim victory. But if you’re 23 (as I am now, since Monday) and you’re not overcome with grumpiness at the idea of being asked to believe something that proposes itself to be true but is not actually true (hello Odd Future haters), it’s not that difficult to accept that as a necessary, sometimes compelling story.
Kayfabe was broken in the 90s. The Kliq (a real-life group of mates consisting of Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, X-Pac, and Triple H) hugged in Madison Square Garden despite being kayfabe adversaries and since then it’s apparently grand to write shoot autobiographies and do interviews for shitty DVD magazines and stuff.
Kayfabe alone isn’t what makes wrestling good. Kayfabe was gone when you were really into wrestling too, so stop looking smug. Obvious storyline can be fun, but the point where the VU meter goes nuts and you’re standing on top of your couch going “NO FUCKING WAY” is the point where the writers see you at home with your smarky little head on you, pull you one way and then hit you with something completely different.
They do it surprisingly well and surprisingly often, and it usually works BECAUSE of smarks. Oh, smarks are pro wrestling fans who know what the craic is with pro wrestling, sorry. It works because of smarks, because if it was just kids and idiots, it’d just be monster bad guys attacking valiant good guys and eventually being beaten forever. There is an element of that with John Cena, whose gimmick was once being a rapper with a Boston accent but is now literally based on getting kids to try hard and be respectful.
Cena is annoying to smarks because he is clearly for kids and – as a result of the fact that kids will buy any type of crap – wins all the time in the exact same way, both in terms of set-up (he’s mauled and then gets a second wind) and execution (which are called the Five Moves of Doom by the internet – shoulder block, shoulder block, ducked clothesline to back suplex/spin out powerbomb, Five Knuckle Shuffle, Attitude Adjustment).
But you can hate Cena as much as you like, as far as the business is concerned. So long as you give a shit about Cena in any way shape or form, writers can manipulate your emotions and keep you watching. If you love him, hey, hope he wins. If you hate him? Well, you’ve probably been waiting on CM Punk.
Wrestling’s true unique selling point right now is the fact that it acknowledges that it’s scripted. Far from killing it, this means that there are now a million different ways to exploit the fact that people are constantly looking for continuity errors or examples of people going off script. One of them, and probably the best one, is to actually let someone go off script.
This is CM Punk’s worked shoot. You might have heard about it, you might not. But when this happened a few weeks ago. (and I was sitting there watching it live at 4.15am, obviously), it caused ructions. CM Punk is a straight edge dude. He is also the kind of heel that smarks go nuts for – he is good in the ring (in the sense that he makes matches look good/real), he is unbelievable at put-downs and he came up through the independent circuit.
This caused trouble. Smarks in the crowd (who tend to be neckbearded dudes wearing NJPW t-shirts) were chanting for Punk as he feuded with Cena. Every week it was “CM PUNK!” “LET’S GO CENA!” and gradually the CM Punk chants got louder, because smarks are men have naturally louder voices than 10 year old children. This is an issue, because Cena is Super Cena and doesn’t make sense if people don’t love him.
Punk’s contract is up. He wants to win the belt and leave with it. This is obviously story.
But then Punk cuts that promo. The show ends six minutes early with no warning, as if the feed had been cut intentionally by the WWE.
Here is a list of things he should not, if keeping strict kayfabe, have said, bold for important ones:
Talking about how he feels about Cena as a person, “in the back”.
Mentioning Hulk Hogan, who works for TNA, the rival promotion since WCW collapsed.
Calling The Rock Dwayne.
Talking about breaking the fourth wall, which is basically him raising a flag that says “this is a shoot promo, it is not scripted”
Referring to Hogan and The Rock as “asskissers” when it’s rumoured to have been true.
Saying the word “wrestler”.
Referring to Paul Heyman, a former booker who no longer works for the company.
Alluding to the talent development process by referring to himself as a “Paul Heyman guy”.
Mentioning Brock Lesnar, who’s also gone.
Referring to the fact that he is not “pushed” enough by the company.
Mentioning the (synergy-inspired) wrestler cameos on other USA Network shows and calling them crap.
Being pissed off that The Rock’s in the main event at next year’s Wrestlemania (against Cena) because he doesn’t, by hard-work-pays-off standards, deserve it.
Mentioning New Japan Pro Wrestling, another company.
Mentioning Ring of Honor, another company.
Mentioning Colt Cabana, who was fired by the WWE and is now back at Ring of Honor.
Complaining about the executives in WWE who aren’t actually onscreen characters.
Mentioning John Laurinaitis, Vice President of Talent Relations specifically as one of them [bonus fact: his son is James Laurinaitis, St. Louis Rams middle linebacker and my favourite NFL player]
Saying the company will be better when Vince McMahon’s dead.
Insulting Vince McMahon’s family.
Attempting to tell a personal story about Vince McMahon being a bully that undermines WWE’s real world current anti-bullying campaign.
This is what they called a worked shoot. Obviously Punk never gets a microphone if he’s not scripted to get one. But it’s also obviously meant to be received as real. The relationship between kayfabe and real is incredibly blurry. No-one will ever know how much of that he was legitimately allowed to say – it might be all of it, it might be pretty much none, but it was live TV so what else can they do?
They cut the show with six minutes left and suspended Punk. He wasn’t on the next week’s show.
Watch the promo again because it’s great:
Now, when was the last time Steve McDonald complained that writers weren’t giving him enough of a push, or the Simpsons would be better when Matt Groening’s dead? The worked shoot, in its varying guises, is the greatest thing about wrestling, because only wrestling can do it the way it does. And, apart from the Montreal Screwjob (look it up if you don’t know it), this is the best worked shoot ever.
Then Cena jumps on board. He’s no Punk (partially because he’s clearly the golden boy, regardless of what happens in story), but he can carry a worked shoot.
The next week again, 11th July, they set up a ‘live contract renegotiation’. Cue more god-tier worked shooting from Punk, including getting Vince McMahon to apologise to Punk’s real life wrestler friends he’d fired/mistreated. Won’t recap all the shooty bits again, just watch.
That’s how the pay per view Money In The Bank is set up. It happened on Sunday. Torrent it, watch it, and then let’s be friends who talk about wrestling. And one last thing… if you’re the most cynical person alive and you still think the whole thing is 100% scripted, here’s a parable from a CM Punk promo in Ring of Honor before he ever got to the WWE.
There was once an old man, walking home from work. He was walking in the snow, and he stumbled upon a snake frozen in the ice. He took that snake, and he brought it home, and he took care of it, and he thawed it out, and he nursed it back to health. And as soon as that snake was well enough, it bit the old man. And as the old man lay there dying he asked the snake, “Why? I took care of you. I loved you. I saved your life.” And that snake looked that man right in the eye and said, “You stupid old man. I’m a snake.” The greatest thing the devil ever did was make you people believe he didn’t exist. You’re looking at him right now. I am the devil himself.”
The promo was taken off YouTube I’m pretty sure. You need more education if you need the relevance of that in this context explained to you.
Once more, the longer the post, the less coherent a point there is.
tl;dr wrestling’s good now