“Do you actually believe Pro-Wrestling is real?”
How many years have we, as wrestling fans, been asked this question? I know that when I first started watching at the age of about 9, it was a regularly (condescendingly) asked question by both Friends and Family Members, alike. How do we, as fans, answer that question? Well, that depends on what type of “Fan” you are.
The “Casual” fan will probably say, “Of course it’s real!” because the Casual-Fan is just that, “Casual.” A fan who does little more than tune into the products, week-in and week-out, and simply appreciates the product for exactly what it is: Entertaining. But in this age we’re in now–an age where EVERYTHING is readily available, talked about and often-times, EXPOSED on the internet–The “Casual Fan-Base” isn’t what it used to be back in the “Gold Age” of Professional Wrestling.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with exactly what the Golden Age of Wrestling was, or when it was, let me offer some clarity: During the Early to Mid 90’s is generally, widely considered to be the beginning of the “Golden Age” in Professional Wrestling; You had the infamous “Monday Night War” raging between the then “WWF” and the now-defunct WCW. It was an age where all of the greatest, biggest names in Wrestling from the mid-to-late 80’s were either at their Prime, or were just beginning their decline.
WCW’s roster featured names such as: Sting, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Chris Jericho and of course, the infamous Bill Goldberg. While at the other end of the spectrum, in the WWF, younger talents who would, later, become iconic Wrestling-Names in their own rights, were just beginning to make names for themselves, while working along-side a host of several veteran-names in the industry.
The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Bret Hart (who would later jump to WCW) and Triple H, just to name a few. And in a smaller-capacity at the time, there was also the ECW organization, under the leadership of Paul E. Heyman, whose revolutionary ideas would later be adopted and imitated in the WWF (arguably, helping to ultimately contribute to the WWF’s eventual victory in the Monday Night War over WCW).
During this era, which spanned from about 1996 to 2002-2003, all three of these companies, in their own rights, experienced great success and achieved mile-stones in both Audience-Attendance and Cable-Television Ratings that had rarely been seen, before. But this in Wrestling held one, DRASTIC difference from the era that we now reside in.
That difference, more-so than any other, was The Internet, itself.
“Is Wrestling Real?” This question was one that was posed by critics, fans, analysts and Media-Outlets, alike, and for the Professional Wrestlers, there was an adamant “code” to be adhered to: “Do NOT reveal the secret.”
Much like the Magician’s unwritten-law that is upheld and respected in their professions, “A magician never reveals his secrets” professional Wrestlers, no matter the organization they were in, adhered to the “one cardinal rule.” “Never tell them it’s ‘fake’*.” And before the age of the Internet truly reached it’s stride, this was a question that could never truly be answered.
Critics and skeptics would say, “It’s all fake,” but no matter their beliefs, there was no way for them to prove it was “fake”. And this, perhaps more than any other, was the chief protest and defense of the Casual Fan: “You don’t KNOW that, and you can’t PROVE that.” This, however, all changed when the Internet stopped being a “Nerd’s pass-time” and became a staple of Main-stream Media and Pop-Culture.
As two Wrestling Analysts and Columnists, and friends of mine over at WZROnline.com can attest to, the amount of Wrestling Fans who browse “Dirt Sheets” and “Insider-Articles” is a very large portion of the fan-base. Often referred to as “Smarks*” by insiders of the industry (not to be confused with “Marks*”), these are the fans who, probably like yourself, involve themselves in the more “Political” and “Behind the Scenes” aspects of the Professional Wrestling industry.
From the Who’s-Who’s of which Superstar’s are Popular with the Company, to the “Who’s dating who?” Aspects of male and female Wrestlers, all the way to the detailed scripting and which superstar’s will be Heel* and Babyface*, or who will be Pushed* and who will be Buried*, these fans diligently and tenaciously search for and share information with their fellow fans and “Smarks.”
Arguably, the “Smarks” population hit it’s true stride when the age of the Internet truly became popular. Information was able to be exchanged and published over a National and Global scale, from the “dirty secrets” to the “surprise returns,” the where-and-when’s and the why-and-how’s; all of the “truths” that the Wrestling Industry wanted–and STILL wants–to keep hidden from the fans, were suddenly available in such a huge, easily-accessible capacity, that the veil of “is it real or scripted” became forcefully ripped away.
But surely, this was a good thing, right? I mean, article-writers like myself, and Dirt-Sheet Writers, and Fans alike were all able to expand into a new venue of information-exchange, and it was easier than ever for Wrestling Fans to gather and communicate; everyone from the Smarks, to the Critics, to the Casual-Fans to the New-Comers. So where could be the down-side to all of this?
Well, believe it or not, all of those “Good things” I’ve just listed, were what you might call “Double-edged swords.” If you were to review the Ratings Records for the WWE from 1998 through 2004, you would note a literal WORLD of difference from what they achieved then, to what they average on a weekly basis, now… And, my personal opinion and speculation, is that this is due in-large-part to the existence of the Internet.
Even back in the early stages of News Sites popping up on the internet, and Chat-Rooms being the main means of communication between people on the Internet, the foundations for it’s decline were being laid. Why? Well, it’s simple, really. You had the Casual Fans, the “Marks” of the Industry, mingling and chatting with people who were NOT “casual fans,” like themselves. For the fan who believed that Wrestling was “Real,” and watched it with such a passion because of that belief, the product used to hold a certain feeling to it, an element of Charm, almost describable as “Magic.”
Like a child watching in wonder at the Circus, Wrestling Fans, for decades before, were in awe at the larger-than-life spectacles that they beheld, week-in and week-out. From Hulk hogan body-slamming Andre the Giant, and “over coming all odds” to win at Wrestlemania 3, to Sting and Hulk Hogan battling it out in “brutal wars,” and the nWo “taking over/invading” WCW, the stories that they watched unfolding every week were incredible to watch, because you believed they were real.