Many old-timers, Jim Cornette being one of the most vocalized ones, believe the Internet killed the wrestling business because it exposed the deepest wrestling secrets by allowing fans to figuratively see everything that went on backstage. There is no denying that kayfabe is dead, but it is a slippery-slope fallacy to say that it means that wrestling is dead as well. For one, kayfabe was dead before the Internet even arrived and, secondly, the Internet has helped wrestling in more ways progress than regress.
Frankly, I have found the real vs. fake debate perplexing. I mean the belief something real has more entertainment value than something fake is nescience and erroneous. Surely, “real” entertainment entities like sports are wonderful, but imagine if they were the only form of entertainment we had? It would be boring. Fake entertainment entities reflect something that is real. They are a form of art. Theater – one of the biggest forms of art – has been a historic form of entertainment for centuries dating back to Greek culture around 550 and 220 BC.
Wrestling is a unique form of theater. It has protagonist and antagonist interlocked in conflicts settling their difference inside a squared circle. In addition to role-play and acting, wrestlers are physical specimens too. It is a hybrid of sports and theater. Wrestling has athletes who are impersonating a real fight. That makes it theater.
Much like reality television, wrestling had flaws in its ‘realism’. Fans did not know all the secrets but had an idea something was going on. No one needs to be a genius to know an irish-whip defies physics, know that attempted murder is a crime, or figure out it is fishy when a wrestler misses a movie yet the other one still felt the effects. Simply put, fans wanted to believe it was real. It was more fun for them that way in that era.
By the 1980s, Vince McMahon opened up the fourth-wall by admitting WWF was pure entertainment. This was a market scheme to compete with the territories that all presented its product like a sport. If the Internet ruined wrestling by exploiting what there is to know about kayfabe, why did WWF not go out of business for breaking down the fourth-wall? Not much different from Saturday cartoons, WWF became a family-oriented show with over-the-top and larger-than-life characters and, albeit McMahon breaking an unwritten rule by running his shows in the other territories’ landmarks, he was the first person to make wrestling a global phenomenon. People can question the way McMahon conducted his business all they want. However, they cannot deny one thing: McMahon’s company evolved, the rest did not and thus died.
In 1997, Vince McMahon on live television admitted WWF’s product modeled other TV shows, cartoons, talk shows and so forth. He went on to explain that WWF’s product was antiquated with its one-dimensional protagonists and antagonists as well as its invincible superheroic poster children. He said that in its place will be a more inventive and contemporary program to fit into the new culture of the 90s. This new concept went on to be known as the Attitude Era, the era that more than likely saved WWF from going bankrupt.
In 1999, the Internet officially became mainstream. Despite the growth of information exposing kayfabe, WWE’s businesses showed zero effects from it. According to Gerweck, the company profited around 56 million dollars and in 2000 profited a record high of around 69 million dollars. Even 2005, it profited around 47 million dollars, around 31 million in 2006, around 52 million in 2007, around 45 million in 2008, around 50 million in 2009, and around 53 million in 2010. Since 1997, the only times WWE lost money was when they stepped out of its wheelhouse. Even in some of WWE’s best years, the company would have profited more money if not for its movies and so forth. In 2014, the company finally lost money but only because it launched the WWE Network (an idea that will pay off in the end). Overall, the recession did not affect WWE’s profits, much less the Internet exposing kayfabe.
The Internet has helped wrestling evolve in many ways. Not only does it promote mainstream companies; it also promotes smaller indie wrestling companies. It has helped smaller wrestling companies grow. ECW, for example, never had the exposure to remain in business before mainstream Internet. A company similar to ECW called Ring of Honor (ROH), though, got most of its exposure through the Internet. It has been a successful for over 12 years. ROH was also one of the first to attempt Internet PPVs. Its attempt did not go as it planned, as its feeds were not good enough, but it played a huge role in revolutionizing the PPV model. Wrestling companies now show online PPVs at an affordable cost, no longer having to deal with greedy cable networks setting ridiculous prices and asking for ridiculous lump sums.
The Internet has also formed wrestling communities where wrestling fans can talk about wrestling. Communities are good for wrestling businesses because people love engaging about shows or sports nearly as much they do watching them. People’s interest in wrestling could deteriorate if they were unable interact with others about it. The Internet also allows die-hards to become educational viewers. They can watch shoot interviews, engage with smart fans or read critics’ reviews and columns. People who often learn more about something gain more interest in it.
Contrary to popular belief, critics help the entertainment business. Some popular people dislike them because they exploit their mediocrities or shortcomings. Most wrestler that have a problem with, for example, star-ratings mostly get negative reviews. They are bitter, so they use “I know more than you because I’m in the business” flawed argument to save face. But, not all critics are all about themselves negative naysayers. Many are fair, well informed writers who avoid making the review about themselves. Anytime I review something I hope it is good. I dislike ripping something apart and wasting my time. Although I cannot prove other reviewers feel the same way as I do, I assume they feel the same. Too much negativity is unhealthy and depressing.
Anyways, critics are helpful for bring awareness to well-deserved shows. Many people, including myself, rather have someone tell them if something good before they invest time into it. It does not mean these critics are always right. It does not mean our taste will be like theirs, either. It is nevertheless an effective way to find good content and open up our horizons by watching something they may have never given a chance.