I’m sick and tired. I’m annoyed. I’m irritated. I’m fed up of hearing people blame the internet for the downfall of the wrestling industry or the WWE for that matter. I see one of two reasons for this. Either they’re old school and they’re disgruntled with the progression of society and the business, thus making the internet just a modern invention that it is easy to place the blame on. The other reason being they have no real grasp of the history business and don’t realize that the internet is just another natural evolution in the course of wrestling.
Before the internet you had the Observer and other magazines. Before them you had fan club magazines. Before them you had newspapers. You ever had books exposing the business over 70 years ago. Hell, in the 1860’s a court case got wide attention when a wrestler was shot for fixing a contest and conning members of a local drinking establishment out of their money.
Wrestling is no different to magic. Some people like to know every detail of the inner workings of it and then they still appreciate the artistry, the intelligence, the showmanship, and the overall presentation of how these tricks are put together. Others want to know that stuff just to try and feel apart of it in some way and it’s often those who end up still BELIEVING. Of course then there are those who do not want to know the secrets because it ruins the illusion for them, they like to have that doubt that they really just saw something real.
You see there are still people out there that BELIEVE. They really believe that Triple H is this evil guy and it’s not just contained to people who don’t read dirt sheets either, or people who really believe that John Cena is the nicest guy on the planet and is completely innocent to any kind of sordid affairs. Now, I’m not saying either point of view is necessarily wrong just that unless you know the people personally you can never actually make that judgement with any real conviction, only base it on a combination of hearsay, if you’re a ‘Smart Fan,’ or on what you see on television, if you’re someone who likes to BELIEVE.
Whether kayfabe was in place or not people still knew and circulated information about the secrets of wrestling. Those who didn’t want to ‘Be in the know,’ didn’t take part in it. There’s no doubt deep inside that almost everyone out there knows it’s not on the level, the same as with magic, just some people WANT to BELIEVE more than others, for the reasons stated above.
For a period of about 20 years there was expose, after expose in all sports, not just wrestling, but all contact sports in the late 1800’s. They all survived. Then we went through a phase where they tried very hard to keep it legitimate and promoters paid off newspapers to keep print articles that withheld that belief. Naturally there were some who did still report the hippodromes (Fixed contests) that took place.
Information would still be leaked though such as this from a newspaper in 1910:
“He explained how a bladder full of blood was caused to burst in his opponent’s mouth at a critical moment. Then the latter would roll over and assume a diving condition. This was the ruse to break up the match. ”
That is just a small excerpt of a greater expose as part of a nationwide scandal and the rest of a large gang of sports swindlers called the Mabray Gang, one of the members was J.C. (Ole) Marsh, who had been Frank Gotch’s manager. Some wrestlers came out around the same time and admitted the inner workings, others were simply caught in the act such as the legendary Stanislaus Zbyszko.
By 1925 there was a book released which alluded to the showmanship aspect of both Zbyszko and Georg Hackenschmidt by a man who managed them both, Charles B. Cochran. Just a decade later a book called the Fall Guys was released by Marcus Griffin and it completely exposed the formation of the modern style of wrestling initiated by the Gold Dust Trio, Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis, Joseph ‘Toot’s Mondt, and Billy Sandow.
They’re just some examples. In fan club magazines in the 1950’s there can be found passages that explain what a nice guy the original Sheik is away from the ring. In the territory days, yes, kayfabe was kept to the extreme. Probably more so than the early days with all honesty, on a whole anyway. Again certain fans would work out what was going on and want to look into it though and formed these fan groups that were connected by mail to discuss it all.
Yet they respected the business and the wrestlers took kayfabe seriously and so did the ‘Smart Fans’ at the time. You’d get the occasional guy who’d challenge a wrestler and normally get his rear end handed to him, but, on a whole they respected the secrecy and were happy knowing what they know then suspending it at shows. Most importantly though, they’d never tell a fan who wasn’t in the know anything about what they had learned. Fans actually kayfabed other fans.
That in my opinion is the biggest difference. A lot of fans stopped wanting to be kayfabed, they wanted to be treated as ‘Intelligent.’ Fans craved for a realistic product, situations that broke that barrier that is normally held up. They wanted to read books about it, they wanted to talk to wrestlers about it. Wrestlers started to care less about it in the 1980’s in general as the business changed too.
You could argue the business and Vince McMahon decided to go in the direction they did which led fans to wanting that, if the fans hadn’t been ready for it though, Rock ‘N’ Wrestling wouldn’t have taken off like it did. The Monday Night Wars when kayfabe really hit it’s low point, wouldn’t have been such a huge success had the fans not agreed with this evolution.
Now we’re left with a business that is kind of lost. Just like it was leading up to 1920 after all the exposes from wrestlers had come out. They had to reinvent themselves and eventually they got that formula right when television and Gorgeous George met. Who by the way was very much loved for the showman aspects of his character incorporating celebrities into his act at times, as a straight-up wrestler he had never drawn money well.
We have a generation of newer and older fans that are crying out for something more simple, something more realistic action wise and with storylines that draw you in without breaking the fourth wall, yet these are the same fans who loved the Attitude Era in the WWF and the NWO in the WCW, and the same fans the frequently read dirt sheets on the internet. Of course everything’s bloody predictable if you read the daily updates. Even if it’s not factually correct it still implants ideas into your head of what could happen.
For people who want to enjoy a more surprising product, stop reading what’s going to happen. As for the business itself. Well, there’s no stopping a revival of a modern version of kayfabe, it would just take a little bit of effort, a little planning, and utilizing the tools that are out there in our modern society. I actually think the WWE right now have realized how to do that and I think we will see more of it coming up, but, we’ll have to wait and see if they have or not.
Currently we live in a period of time when everyone knowing about stuff is very important. Whether it’s conspiracies, which celebrity slept with who, how many plastic surgeries a celebrity has had, etc. As long as that continues there’ll never be a mystique about the action inside of the ring, however, story-lines and characters can be very much manipulated in this current context.
Next time you want to complain about kayfabe not existing or the lack of creativity in story-lines or how predictable every damn-thing is…stop and ask yourself, do I read spoilers? Do I read predictions? Have I read books or listened to shoot interviews that explain the logic behind an angle? If so, really, you have no-one to blame but yourself, because again, no-one forces anybody to read the behind the scenes stuff, that is 100% your choice to click that link and read.
– By Jimmy Wheeler