Stop Calling Wrestling “Theater”
I’ve been developing this on The Intercontinental Podcast for the past couple weeks. We all do our best to justify professional wrestling in an artistic sense. Professional Wrestling is art, simply put. If it were a perfect world and people were accepting of others’ interests, we wouldn’t have to go much further than that.
Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world. Roughly ten years ago, people called WWE a male soap opera, in a bit of a derogatory sense. We as wrestling fans have done our best to redirect that and make claims that professional wrestling (I’ll just keep writing professional wrestling, however, granted, a majority of my knowledge comes from WWE) is theater in most senses. I have begun to try to change that narrative on the podcast. I’ve been calling wrestling organic theater at the least.
As I stated one week, theater is the production of performances meant to be repeated. How many times has A Midsummer Night’s Dream been performed? How many times have theater companies given us another iteration of Death of a Salesmen? That is the core of theater: what is your vision of a play? You can do whatever you want with it, but the story is always the same. Even an independent production team trying to create new works will only turn serious profit when those works are bought and done by other theater companies. That’s fine.
Professional Wrestling does not do that. Ever. Vince McMahon isn’t going to “sell the script” of Austin v. McMahon, 1997, or Bret Hart’s Anti-Canada storyline, or CM Punk v the WWE - Money in the Bank 2011. The atmosphere for those periods of time in WWE will never be recreated. People will try to recreate Stone Cold Steve Austin (Mr. Kennedy in TNA c. 2010 would be an example, or CM Punk summer of 2012), but it will not work. The players and characters will not be the same, no matter how they try. Not only that, but the crowd will not be the same. We will never see another Money in the Bank 2011, and I don’t want to. I want to see where the story goes from there.
This is the crux of my argument that if anyone tries to make the claim that WWE/professional wrestling is “theater,” the word “organic” must be placed beforehand. The way stories are built can be pushed by scriptwriters and obviously there are many recycled ideas, but the way those ideas are remembered and truly develop is incredibly reliant on the audience’s reaction to the performer and “supporting cast,” for lack of a better term. The way the crowd accepted Mick Foley as a folk hero will not be exactly the same, ever again. No matter how much they try.
If we as wrestling fans are to truly claim ownership of the fact that we aren’t embarrassed to enjoy it, then we need to stop hiding behind trying to label it as something it’s not. Professional wrestling is not theater. It is better than theater. Despite how bad the show can often be, the reality is that professional wrestling is something we own. We are responsible for making memorable characters everytime we buy a ticket or write a blog post or twitter post and laud our favorite performer, be it Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, or even an emerging talent like Kaitlyn. The way their story progresses relies on us, and that is critically different from theater.
“FOLKS LIKE STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN AND TRIPLE H AND MICK FOLEY EARNED RESPECT! Austin earned it by shoving a celebrity guest, being sacrilegious in a wrestling promo and selling t-shirts with a bunch of slogans on them about how tough he is. He didn’t have to tell you how tough he was, even though he did and had a vest with SOB on it in sparkles, because he EARNED IT! Triple H earned it by being Shawn Michaels’ friend, not bailing when the rest of the Kliq bailed and eventually marrying the daughter of the guy who owns the company so he could get his ex-girlfriend fired and spend the next 10 years being the toughest and coolest and smartest guy in the room. He didn’t TELL you he was the King Of Kings or That Damn Good, he earned it! Mick Foley became WWE Champion when Stone Cold Steve Austin ran in and beat Foley’s opponent with a chair. Then he won it again using a forklift with a camera on it. He earned it!
Think about it, Punk. All you’ve done is win the ECW Championship, the tag team championships, the Intercontinental Championship, two Money In The Bank ladder matches, three World Heavyweight Championships, last year’s Slammy Award for Superstar Of The Year and two WWE Championships, including one that changed the direction of WWE and another that you’ve held for almost an entire year. You’ve got to EARN the title of Best In The World, like John Cena did when he lost to a retired actor at WrestleMania and wore a pink shirt because ‘cancer.’”