The year is 2018. Professional wrestling’s flagship company, WWE, has hit an all time low, although you wouldn’t know this given the state of said premiere product. WWE’s financial numbers have never been better. Their Network has been nothing short of groundbreaking and innovative for an ever evolving industry. They’re making more money than ever before and have established themselves as their very own monopoly of the wrestling business. Additionally, FOX just handed over a billion dollars to acquire the rights to WWE’s flagship shows, RAW and SmackDown Live, which is quite impressive since the shows are literal dumpster-fires the majority of the time. Despite all this success however, the WWE’s product in terms of creativity has never been worse. It’s inconceivable that a company can produce a worse product, yet continue to rake in the cash at this magnitude. Yes, it’s inconceivable, but in this case, it’s true. It’s damn true.
Outside of WWE, their lies a number of outlaws so to speak. These are referred to as the “Independents”. Essentially, these are smaller promotions that usually consist of WWE hopefuls. Recently, these promotions have started to gain steam in the eyes of the wrestling community. With that, I do agree. Examples of these promotions are NJPW (New Japan Pro Wrestling), ROH (Ring of Honor) and others.
There are many factors to be considered when trying to explain why professional wrestling’s creativity has taken a turn for the worse. To start off, the WWE has no competition. It’s no secret that the most profitable time for professional wrestling was during the Attitude Era, when superstars embarked on what we now know as “The Monday Night War,” when WWF and WCW literally battled it out each and every week for survival, and ultimately, to keep their jobs. Competition breaded extreme creativity and at times, required extreme measures to be taken. This was great for the wrestling business and above all, the fans. Fast forward 20+ years, and the WWE has put WCW out of business and consequentially has no competition or equal. I repeat, there is NO EQUAL to WWE. There is no wrestling company in the world that poses any threat, which unfortunately means that there is no requirement for any degree of creativity whatsoever. As the WWE goes, so does professional wrestling, and the WWE has gone … S-A-W-F-T …. SAAAWWWFFFFTTTT!
Another factor that has contributed to the downfall of professional wrestling as a form of entertainment is the epidemic known as PC Culture. Because of this, the product has suffered. Storylines are gone over with a fine comb. Every word and every sentence is pre-baked to ensure that it fits a certain mold and appeals investors, decision makers and sponsors. To put it simply, what’s acceptable in wrestling or any other form of expression for that matter has now become determined by the internet mob, rather than those who are producing the product. In today’s day and age, the wrestling world could never have a Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock. Instead, they have men with nicknames who pander and play it safe around ever turn. It’s a job, I realize this. I’m not blaming them, I’m just speaking to the state of wrestling. I’m also not faulting WWE, you need to move with the times and they’ve done just that. It sucks, but it is what it is.
Despite all of the above, the last factor in this equation is what I believe is the biggest threat to professional wrestling – THE MARKS.
To put it simply, the marks are the “fans”. They’re the ones that buy the tickets. In most cases, marks are fans that are on the older side, especially given the fact that the WWE’s core target audience is probably around the ages of 8-13 years old The show itself is rated PG, which is typically a rating in which a full grown adult wouldn’t bother watching. However, wrestling is different, and despite a clear pivot from mature audiences, the marks keep coming. In fact, they’ve only become stronger, or in my opinion, more vocal and a complete parallel to modern society. Essentially what they’ve tried to do is become a part of the business without having to be IN THE BUSINESS. They want to be the show and they want to believe that it is indeed as much of a sport as baseball, football, hockey, etc… To quote Attitude Era writer Vince Russo, “a mark is someone who has convinced themselves that wrestling is real … bro.” Like him or not, he’s got a point.
In this Markisfesto I plan on explaining how the Marks are the true root of what’s wrong with professional wrestling. Beyond the lack a creativity there lies of lack of awareness. I believe it all starts with the profile of the modern day wrestling fan. You see, just like today, back in the late 90s and early 2000s professional wrestling reflected society. There was a no-holds barred approach to life that thrust itself into RAW and SmackDown on a weekly basis. People gravitated to it, but not just any people, it was what a stereotypical society would classify as “popular”. While I understand that the term “popular” is subjective, I feel that it is the most simplistic way to describe the difference between today and 20 years ago. Now, before you stereotype me, I suggest you keep reading …
If you go back and watch any wrestling event from the late 90/early 2000 time period, the one aspect that stands out above all else is the atmosphere the fans provided. Also, just by looking at those individuals you could tell who was attending these events. You had the jocks, the fraternity guys, the sorority girls and just about anyone who was looking to party on a Monday Night. Fast forward 20 years and those individuals have disappeared and been replaced with marks, kids and parents. Remember, it’s those same fraternity guys that crushed beers and pre-gamed to Stone Cold Steve Austin, that have now grown up and lost interest as the product has clearly drifted further and further from their desired form of entertainment. Occasionally they could be found attending a show, but most likely it was due to a draw of year’s past where they could relieve their childhood through nostalgia and the spectacle of something like an Undertaker entrance.
Now the cool kids have left professional wrestling and we’re left with the leftovers who have now become the vocal minority. If you’re triggered by that comment, that’s fine. We don’t all have to agree. Just like in today’s culture, there’s a clear cut attack on “common sense” and the desire to keep traditions. We’ve gone from professional wrestling being a TV Show where the goal was to shock, invoke emotion and entertain to somehow being construed as an elite display of athleticism and sport despite the fact that it’s scripted and predetermined. If you think that I’m full of shit regarding the departure of the fanbase that prefers entertainment over “flippy shit”, then I strongly suggest you look at the ratings and ask yourself, where are the other 4-8 million viewers each week? Where have they gone and why have they left?
Aiding this idea is none other than social media. It allows these marks to express their opinion in a culturally protected environment, where disagreement is viewed as hostility instead of just “expression”. Additionally, with the departure of the majority, the minority have made professional wrestling into what I believe is their very own “safe space”. This is “Vintage Mark!” as Michael Cole would say.
These marks are followers, waiting to be told what to like and why. Like most people, they want their opinion to be held in a high regard, so what they’ve done is created a narrative of what’s “good wrestling”. Naturally, in order to do this they must take a stance that is against the status quo. This is very similar to what’s occurring in 2018. Tradition is under attack. The norm is no longer acceptable. The craziest part of this is that these individuals will blindly support something just based off the name of a wrestling brand. For example, if a match takes place in New Japan Pro Wrestling, these marks will blindly praise it regardless of what occurred. They’ve been trained to simply agree that anything non-WWE is “the best in the world”. It’s become cool to hate the norm.
Beyond the fans lies the higher level of a mark. These individuals are the self-proclaimed authority on professional wrestling. They operate what we like to call dirt sheets, which is essentially a sad attempt to legitimize professional wrestling as a sport of which needs to be reported on and analyzed with a high level of seriousness.. These individuals have taken their shortsighted and selfish opinion of professional wrestling and imposed it on impressionable minds to turn a profit. Again, it’s important to remember that the people that pay for these outlandish services are handing over their money for something that is under the guise of knowledge, when it’s really just another fan’s opinion. They do not think for themselves, but instead craft their own opinions around these so-called experts. This I believe has done immense damage to the wrestling community, crippling their thought process with a false understanding of sports entertainment. I say this because it is indisputable that professional wrestling is ENTERTAINMENT, NOT SPORT. It’s very important to understand this. This is why when a dirt sheet writer like Dave Meltzer touts his “star ratings”, that it’s extremely dangerous, because fans are being manipulated into thinking that these stars somehow hold weight, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The stars are worthless, they mean nothing, have no merit and above all, have no credibility as the source of these stars has approximately ZERO professional wrestling experience.
The bigger crime here is that because of the above wrestling fans have lost the ability to think for themselves. They’re unable to have original thought. For example, in my opinion, Elias is more over than Seth Rollins. If you to bring this to the attention of a “mark” or a perceived “wrestling journalist” like Dave Meltzer, then they would immediately counter that my opinion had no legs. The primary reason they’d say this is because they view professional wrestling through the lens of sport. Seth Rollins is a very good “wrestler”, thus, he’s better than Elias. This of course is part of the trap. These fake journalist have positioned this to their consumers as a fact, rather than opinion. They use terms like “work rate” and “style” to further their points, which in turn legitimizes the topic of pro wrestling as sport vs. what it’s actually intended to be, which is entertainment. Spoiler alert, Elias is probably the best representative of sports entertainment in the WWE today.
In summation, all of the above is a direct correlation to society’s fear of confrontation and opinion. It’s a trickle effect. We have stopped following our own lead in lieu of the easier road, which is to have someone else form our opinions for us. We used to know that wrestling wasn’t real and we LOVED IT. We embraced it. In fact, it was more popular than almost all mainstream television when we all just agreed to have fun. It’s that simple, folks. Just have fun. Somewhere along the lines we forgot this. We forgot that ideas and different opinions actually create innovation and push for original thought. If you’re in the stands complaining about how much “time” two wrestlers were given without talking about the story, then you’re enabling the problem. We need to get back to stories. We need to get back to characters and gimmicks. We need to get back to laughing, being shocked, having fun and enjoy a damn TV show.
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