Part of the reason that so many people are angry at the WWE is that they’ve been sold as an organization that wants to foster a family atmosphere, that gets along with everyone and brings families together through wrestling.
The other reason is that they were running a pay-per-view event on Mother’s Day. People obviously see this as being extremely insensitive, especially since the women in question have daughters and nieces who will be seeing it on TV in the days to come.
It might have been better if they had chosen a different day. Or if they had waited until after the families had left for home. If I remember correctly, Mother’s Day was about twenty years ago, when I was young enough to still get into trouble for going out on Sunday afternoon.
The WWE is not just any wrestling company. It’s the biggest in the world. It even has its own WWE Hall of Fame, with a statue for all the greats. It’s a household name, and it makes money hand over fist, and has done so for decades.
I don’t know how much money they make, but they do. They have a huge roster of superstars, but they also have managers, referees and announcers. And they have other employees too: people who run the truck that carries their gear to the arena and people who run the company’s websites. In all those categories, they are not just one of the biggest organizations in wrestling; they are as big or bigger than some of their competitors’ entire staffs.
So when Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins took to Twitter over spring break to post comments about an openly gay wrestler named Kevin Owens (who is also on the USO), this wasn’t just a couple guys having fun off-camera at work. They were doing so from management positions. They were acting in their roles as representatives of the company to which they belong: talented workers trying to please their boss—the boss who pays them—rather than as individual wrestlers. And that isn’t so different
I started writing this blog a few weeks ago when I noticed that 2014 was going to be a very bad year for the WWE.
I am not a wrestling fan. I have seen a few episodes of Wrestlemania and once it was on Pay-Per-View, but that was more than ten years ago. The only thing I have in common with the WWE audience is that I have watched the news as it unfolded this year.
I found myself thinking, “If they were in my shoes, what would they do?” This led me to start looking at what the WWE had done and why it had gotten so out of control.
The first thing I noticed is that the main TV star is Vince McMahon, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the company. His story is well known: he is a man who started with nothing and made himself into the richest person in America through hard work and talent, who now wants only to make more money for his family.
Mr. McMahon has made himself into a symbol of all that was wrong with corporate America as he has tried to force his will on everyone around him by bending them to his will through threats and lawsuits. He has also made himself into something of an enigma: if you read about him at all,
Wrestling is a stage show. The “sports entertainment” label is a joke. If you need a euphemism, call it “entertainment,” or maybe “entertaining.”
This is one reason it’s hard to understand why people are so upset when WWE makes a mistake. It’s not that wrestling is a bad sport or the job of wrestlers to entertain. The real problem is that we care about the people involved.
When you encounter somebody famous, it’s hard to think of them as a person instead of an idea, because they have become so important to us. We have been shaped by their ideas and their life stories, and we want to hear what they have to say even when they aren’t saying anything. As a result, we enjoy stories about fictional people and fictional events even more than stories about real people and real events. We can always fill in the gaps with our imagination, but if you write something like this about someone who really exists, it will be read as less interesting than something else written about them made up from whole cloth.
But wrestling is real life. In wrestling, the narrative is supposed to be what happened and how the story turned out; the characters are different people with different strengths and weaknesses and insecurities no
Wrestling is a business. But it’s not like any other business. It’s less a business than a cult. For one thing, a lot of the wrestlers are children. They’re used to being adored and having everything given to them on a silver platter. For another thing, they’re given so much money that they can’t really earn it, because you can’t spend more than you make. And I’m not just talking about the wrestlers’ salaries; I’m talking about the whole production budget for each pay-per-view event: $4 million for Wrestlemania, $5 million for Summerslam, $2 million for Survivor Series.
The wrestlers have no incentive to work hard or learn skills or improve their performances; in fact, they have incentives not to do either. Instead of earning money, they get paid simply to show up as themselves: their own best selves. The audience doesn’t care whether they work hard or learn skills or improve their performances; in fact, it has no idea what those things look like in wrestling anyway (unless you count “working hard” as being “acting like you’re working hard”). The audience cares about how the wrestlers look: who’s hot and who isn’t, who wrestles well and who wrestles
The one thing about wrestling that has always struck me as curious is how people get over the idea of it being fake. The announcers and commentators are very good at making it look real, but the moves and the matches, even the most violent ones, are all fake.
This is true, both in wrestling and in every other area of life. We can all see through a magic trick if we know what to look for. In wrestling, though, we accept it as real, because everyone else does. And even if you don’t believe that all wrestling is fake, you still have to admit that the wrestlers are trained actors who could be really good at convincing us they’re not; they’re all very good at convincing us they’re human beings. I’m certainly willing to accept it on their own word, since they seem to be in a very strong position to know whether they’re telling the truth.
But I don’t think anyone ever really believes that he’s been trained by professional wrestlers to act like a human being in a wrestling match. That’s why no one ever says “I learned how to act by watching Rocky III.” And that has led me to wonder: do wrestlers ever have any illusions about where their training comes from?