“I was playing ‘bad guy wrestler’ it was a role I was playing.” -Andy Kaufman
If “Pro Wrestling” as we know it was invented today, the very notion of “Kayfabe" within the industry would have probably never existed. That’s a pretty broad statement that could lead down a couple of wildly argumentative roads. The debate as to why kayfabe needs to be more strictly adhered to or done away with all together is a discussion that NO ONE is having when it should really be one of the bigger topics of conversation today. Instead, we let some polysyllabic, glorified summarizer brand this as the “Reality Era” like the curtain is never going to be pulled back like this again and we just sit at our keyboards and take it.
That’s NOT what I’m here to talk about, though. What kind of a hypocritical douche bag with a platform and an audience brings up a meaty topic like that and then chooses to ignore it? A hypocritical douchebag who is easily distracted, that’s who.
(*Author’s note: At this point, the article was supposed to take a pithy turn towards talking about how on TV live action characters never wear the same thing twice, animated characters never wear anything different, and how wrestlers always fall somewhere in the middle. I started that article and then after not touching the Word document for a few days I read back these first two paragraphs and realized what a hypocritical douchebag move that really was. So fuck it, here we go.*)
Kayfabe is an outdated concept that I almost feel is kept around partially for the sake of keeping that connection to the roots of pro wrestling, and partially because the last living carnies still have some power and try to instill its faux worth on the younger generations. Because of that, for the last couple of decades, we’ve been in this weird reality limbo where sometimes the powers that be decide to let some backstage dirt air on-air, and other times they’ll fire and hire a guy right back because of the occasional choking of Justin Roberts but never tell you that that was the real reason he was gone.
The wrestling industry needs to shit or get off the pot when it comes to how it is going to deal with kayfabe in the future. For too many years, the industry has been wading in this noncommittal hot tub, picking and choosing its spots for when it is appropriate to uphold it and when to crush it. And maybe not the whole industry has to have one solid policy, but even every company establishing a stance one way or the other would be a huge step in at least some direction. On every level in wrestling, the state of kayfabe in 2012 is losing any relevance it may have had. On the highest level in WWE, these Superstars are so high-profile, it’s nearly impossible to keep anything consistent outside of the ring; down to the indies, anybody following those companies and going to those shows already know every real-life thing there is to know about who they’re watching. And with social media ballooning to places we haven’t even thought of yet, that’s going to leave wrestling with just two places to go if they want the fans to receive maximum enjoyment.
Commit to kayfabe 100% at all times under any and all circumstances. Or abandon kayfabe altogether, and finally make that clear distinction between entertainment and real life.
Personally, I think a world with contractual 100% kayfabe adherence clauses would be an amazing one to live in. Just imagine if the WWE was in your town for a show and earlier in the day Brodus Clay had to go to Wal-Mart to pick up some toothpaste. The whole time, he has funky ass music blasting behind him and he’s dancing up and down the isles, screaming out to the other customers, “Should I get Crest? SHEEEEEE!” Or eating late night at a Perkin's, turning your head around and hearing half of the most interesting conversation you’ve ever heard between Delirious and Jay Briscoe. The best/worst moment could come at Disney’s Hollywood Studios when you strap into your seat on the Tower of Terror and the lift makes its way up, you feel someone’s warm breath on your neck. You turn around to see the long stringy weave, leathery red mask, and maniacal smile of Kane just as you reach the top of the tower. Kane raises his arms, the doors slide open, Kane brings his arms down shooting flames and sending the elevator down the shaft to hell… and then through the gift shop (get ready to hear Kane’s name a lot through this.)
On the flip side, eliminating kayfabe would eliminate a lot of the guesswork a wrestler has to put into themselves outside of the ring as far as what they can and cannot do in their personal lives. I’m confident David Otunga is a kind soul and that making him and the rest of the original Nexus wear their armbands and refuse to sign autographs does the person that is David Otunga a disservice. Who knows what could have come of Jim Duggan if he had never gotten caught smoking pot in that car with The Iron Sheik (Sheiky’s path remained unchanged). Here we are 25 years after the fact, and the point of that story to this day isn’t “Don’t Do Drugs,” but “Don’t Break Kayfabe.” If what happened to Serena Deeb happened in any other entertainment venue, be it TV, film or stage, SAG or Actors Equity would have been up that employer’s ass with lawsuits of wrongful termination without conversation.
It would also eliminate annoying stunts by companies. That means no more playing up their owner’s death in an official corporate press release. And no more wearing arm braces in meetings to sell storyline injuries.
One scenario legitimately makes the world a magical place. The other is better for the personal lives of the men and women that are on the road 50 weeks a year and/or grinding it out on the indie circuit.
To wrestling fans, though, eventually none of this will be of much consequence. Yes, this is where the article goes exactly where you think it is going… THE INTERWEBZ!
Right now, there’s a 10-year-old fat kid (probably this one) who, instead of going to WWE.com like he normally does, decides to Google “wrestling.” Depending on his filter bubble, he will end up on any array of dirtsheet and scoops sites. After a few hours of tumbling down the rabbit hole, stumbling across this forever shatters that kid’s wrestling innocence:
What was just described above is only going to happen with more and more frequency. This is just the byproduct of seeking out wrestling on the Internet. Everybody’s everything is everywhere on it and that is not a bad thing. There is a difference between telling your kids that Santa isn’t real and that the guy that plays Kane used to be a substitute English teacher. Or maybe we can just ask Kane how he feels directly when WWE forces him to get his own official Twitter account. That way, we will have a place where Kane can tell us why Daniel Bryan is going to lose at SummerSlam and where Glenn Jacob’s favorite place for a hot dog in Montgomery, Ala., is.
I love Twitter. That wasn’t always the case. Once I figured out that Twitter has a variety of different ways one can utilize it, and which one was best for me, I was in love. The wrestling industry loves Twitter as well only because they think they’ve figured out how it best works for them. Only it hasn’t totally blown up in their face yet. There’s a duality to a pro wrestler using a single Twitter account that doesn’t have the natural balance between reality and the entertainment product. For someone that doesn’t keep up with backstage news, and follows Daniel Bryan, AJ Lee, and The Bella Twins as recently as a few months ago, they would be prone to terrible bouts of confusion. Why is Brie saying that Daniel is her boyfriend and not AJ’s? AJ just tweeted about her wedding registry, but why is Daniel going biking with a Bella? OMG, does AJ know about these pictures?
A separation between person and character would be beneficial for all parties involved. @CMPunkWWE could post about how little respect he’s getting from the @WWEUniverse to his 1,000,000+ followers and a minute later for all the people that care about Punk’s real life, @CMPunk could tweet to @SamoaJoe about that one time @ColtCabana did that one thing with a taquito. I’m not saying that this exact example is the solution, but something like this gives fans a choice and the ability to control how much they learn about a wrestler as well as not chain wrestlers down to just one outlet. When Punk made his turn at Raw 1000 and went Twitter silent, how likely do you think it is that a day or two later he had just read a comic book that was so amazing it blew the doors off of his tour bus and he wanted to tell the world about it right away? Oops. Can’t. Sorry.
Interesting anecdote about how much wrestlers care about kayfabe and the lengths to which they're willing to take it. A large group of us went to Wrestlemania XXVIII, and one of the events we went to that weekend was the third Live $5 Wrestling. Before the show, The Swoggle Squad was walking around and scoping out the room (Augie was unknowingly handing New Jack a Podswoggle flier) and noticed that El Generico was in his mask and speaking to all of the fans in his signiture broken English, staying 100% in character. A few minutes later, a couple of our attractive lady friends were wondering around the room when they ran into Generico and complimented him on his ROH match with Kevin Steen the night before. They were replied to by Rami Sebei in his Canadian-ass accent. Coincidence? As a fake journalist, I'm not allowed to believe in coincidence. But that's the line today? A couple pretty ladies compliment you and you respond like you are not wearing a luchador mask with red tassels streaming out of the back. Shit, I would have done the same exact thing and so would you.
The one element of kayfabe that will never go away is wrestlers being referred to by their stage names by their peers. It isn’t always the case, but the large majority of wrestlers in the business get referred to by their character names in and out of the ring in everything from promos to shoot interviews to just hanging out. I don’t know if it’s force of habit or what, but fans not only do this, we also take it to an even higher, weirder level. Whenever a wrestler changes companies or gets called up from developmental, it is often accompanied by a name change. It may take a week, or it may happen right away, but eventually everybody that once knew someone by one name, is without hesitation referring to them by their new name. I cannot for the life of me remember the last time I called Daniel Bryan by Bryan Danielson. Even in reference to his personal life, the words “Daniel Bryan” come out of my mouth, and I can’t even stop myself. Regardless, it’s still just a name and, as functioning human beings, we are able to differentiate between a person’s on-screen persona and that same person’s personal life.
On a similar train of thought, if there ever was a clean break of kayfabe for reality and entertainment, it would not be completely off-limits to bring in elements of one’s real life if appropriate to the story at hand. The character of CM Punk had to be straight edge for the likes of Chris Jericho, JBL, and Raven to attack his values and lifestyle and it make sense. You can say that those storylines and characters were inspired by real life. Actors bring unique elements of their real lives into the characters they play all the time. Aside from method acting and drawing on past experiences, there are the more overt examples such as Jim Carrey showing his actually chipped tooth in Dumb and Dumber and Ed Helms’ real missing tooth was an entire plot point in The Hangover (I’m sure there are better examples than two tooth-related stories, but they just happened to be the first two I could recall.) Again, if it’s appropriate, knock yourself out. I still don’t know what being vegan has to do with Daniel Bryan’s character other than someone thought it would make him out to be more of a nerd (when a babyface) or it would draw more heat (when a heel).
A potential positive social side effect that could come from any sort of kayfabe ban would be how the rest of the world views wrestling, as well as its fans. We’ve all had to deal with those annoying jack-offs ever so politely asking us if we are aware that professional wrestling is “fake.” The industry publicly decreeing and adhering to the fact that anything produced under their company’s name has no relation to anything that happens outside of that production would nip that annoying inquisition in the bud.
No matter what anyone does, yes, there will always be people unable to separate the real world from what they see on their picture box. Those people will also have that problem no matter what they watch. Villainous or heroic, actors have been getting harassed in public about the characters they portray and the choices those characters make for decades. So have pro wrestlers. The only difference is, one industry doesn’t encourage this to happen.
I realize that I opened many cans of worms from a discussion point-of-view. I do not expect you to agree with some of this. Hell, I’m anticipating most of you to disagree with most of this. But as long as we, as a community, actually start talking about this, than we’re on the right track.
Or maybe conversation would be pointless. Maybe it could all be as simple as before showing this:
They preface it with this:
Rich Camillucci isn't usually this loudmouthed and brazen, but when he is, he at least tries to be solution oriented. Reach him on Twitter @RichCami to really give him a piece of your mind.