Edit: I'm leaving this as the only wrestling post on this blog, but I've started a new wrestling blog at BestOfThreeFalls.com.
I wrote this letter to a newspaper columnist last April, just after WrestleMania 23. The reasons for writing it are no longer as important, to me, as the actual letter itself:
Someone posted a link to your recent story about professional wrestling on a message board you visit; I'm sure other wrestling fans have weighed in with their thoughts already. I hope you have the time to read mine.
I've CCed this message to Dan Shaw, who commented on your story on the News Notes blog -- his defense of your column may accurately reflect your opinions, but I'm not swayed: criticizing professional wrestling for not being a true competition isn't a fair criticism, as it isn't a competition and hasn't been for decades, if it ever was!
Saying something like "there are not upsets in professional wrestling" borders on the ludicrous -- using that logic, there are no "upsets" or "surprises" in the television drama 24 either. At least wrestling, generally, is broadcast live -- mistakes and all! -- unlike a typical television series, which is carefully produced from dozens of take; the plot, dialogue, and ending all determined well in advance.
24 is not an accurate picture on the "war on terror," but no announcer or voice-over appears out of nowhere to remind us that Jack Bauer isn't really defeating the terrorists. Similarly, the announcers on Monday Night RAW aren't going to tell us, mid-match, that it's "all fake" and not to worry, because "they're all going to shake hands after the show and drive back to the hotel together."
However, most WWE programming and DVDs include a "Don't Try This at Home" video package, pointing out that their athletes are highly trained at what they do. While I don't believe we should mollycoddle youth and keep them indoors without physical activity, I can't help but wonder if a similar warning should air before football games -- surely playing football in the backyard is dangerous, especially if young people replicate the cheap shots and eye gouging.
Speaking of football, how about Friday Night Lights? A novel, TV series, and movie ... based on a football team. Are fans all fools for watching or reading a fictional series based around a real sport? Maybe they should just watch Monday Night Football instead. It's real, so it's automatically better, right?
Maybe not. Maybe people are happy with "fake" entertainment -- because aside from sports, most entertainment is "fake." Jurassic Park was fake. CSI is fake. World of Warcraft is fake. Michael Jackson's Thriller was fake. All of them were or are entertaining and popular.
I'm sure you can point to a brilliant novel, a wonderful television series, or a song that made you think the artist was singing words from your own heart. And of course, you can point out sporting moments that will be etched in your mind forever. I can do the same.
I can also tell you exactly what I was doing when I first saw wrestling. It was early 1988, and my father worked at the Hostess Potato Chips factory in town. He came home one evening with a few bags of chips, as he often did. We sat around watching TV, talking, and snacking on the chips. Inside the bags were stickers of WWF wrestlers. I drew Randy "Macho Man" Savage out of my bag. He was muscular, looked a little wild in the eyes, and was carrying a beautiful woman, Miss Elizabeth, on his shoulder. I was instantly intrigued, and began flipping channels on the TV, looking for wrestling.
I don't believe in fate, but in the limited-channel universe of a blue collar family in the 80s, one of the channels had WWF wrestling on at that very moment. Andre the Giant was in the ring with Hulk Hogan. They weren't wrestling, but signing a contract, inside the ring. Highlights played of Andre's treacherous actions from a recent event -- as part of an alliance with the evil "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase, he hoodwinked Hogan out of the WWF title and then sold the title to Ted Dibiase. WWF president Jack Tunney ruled that the title could not be sold, and ordered a tournament to crown a new champion; Hogan and Andre were signing the contract to enter the tournament and wrestle each again. I was hooked. It was larger than life, over the top, and it took my imagination and ran wild with it. I was soon watching it weekly, talking to my parents and friends about it, buying magazines to read about events around the world, and writing stories about fictional dream matches and feuds, inventing colorful characters and stories of my own.
I've been watching ever since, and I've been to live events -- from WWE shows with thousands in an arena, to local organizations with 100 people in a local college's rec hall. I've been to concerts and sporting events in those exact same venues, too. The common ground in all those events, and in most entertainment, is losing yourself in something that isn't quite normal -- real or fake, sports or entertainment -- with family and friends to enjoy it with.
That quality time is never "fake."