Why professional wrestling is just as geeky as Dungeons & Dragons
Ever since I started writing professional wrestling content for the good folks here at Geek.com, there’s been a vocal minority that rushed into the comments of every article, every Facebook post, every Tweet, to offer up some variation of the following: “Why is this on Geek.com!? Wrestling isn’t geek!”
Those folks are, of course, wrong. They’re dead wrong. They’re head-shakingly, embarrassingly wrong. If comic books, blockbuster movies based on them, the most heavily anticipated film of the year and devices as ubiquitous as the iPhone all count as Geek, then professional wrestling most certainly does too.
Below are 11 of the many reasons that professional wrestling is every bit as geeky as The Avengers, Suicide Squad, Star Wars or whatever your nerdery of choice is.
A lot of the items on this list are going to be based on professional wrestling’s similarity to that urpillar of geekdom, comic books. I could go on for days about the similarities both shallow and deep (maybe a future column?) but the most important one is this: They’re both ongoing serials. Like decades long runs of comics, professional wrestling is, in a lot of ways, a single ongoing story that stretches the length of a given promotion. That means that each week of wrestling is not only a discrete piece of content for you to enjoy, but also part of an ongoing, constantly growing tapestry. Plus: Without relaunches, reboots or “jumping on points,” wrestling is actually more purely serialized than the vast majority of comics.
Closely connected to wrestling’s serialized nature is the presence of continuity. Wrestling promotions like WWE, TNA and ROH have weekly serialized episodes of their shows that go back years, and in WWE’s case, decades. Like the best comics, wrestling doesn’t tend to use continuity as an anchor, holding it down from moving forwward, but instead, picks and chooses spots to use what came before as the foundation for new storylines. Just this past weekend, Undertaker had a rematch against Brock Lesnar that has been brewing since early 2014 (or all the way back to 2010 if you count Taker confronting Lesnar at UFC 121!). And to top it all off, they competed inside Hell in a Cell, a type of match that was first seen in 1997, when Undertaker was defeated by Shawn Michaels by virtue of interference from Taker’s half-brother Kane!
Costumes and spectacle
About half a century ago, wrestling promoters realized that a reliable way to pack in crowds was to amp up the spectacle of the matches they put together. At first that meant costumes and elaborate robes, but quickly evolved to include outlandish gimmicks and personas, pulse-pounding music, flames, pyro, crowd participation and more. In the same way that Star Wars wraps up a classic, well-worn Hero’s Journey story in fantastic, scifi trappings, professional wrestling gives combat sports a colorful, explosive makeover – a kind of appetizer to the real meat of both those particular meals.
Though most often associated with Mexican lucha libre, the masked man (or woman!) is an enduring part of professional wrestling. South of the Border and in promotions like Lucha Underground, masked wrestlers are like real life superheroes, who closely guard their true identity both within the confines of a wrestling show, as well as in real life. And in American wrestling, many of the top heroes in wrestling history – Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, John Cena and more – have concealed their identity under a mask, but in a way that their fans knew exactly who they really were.
Something that has always set the DC Universe apart from their competitors is their use of legacy heroes: Jay Garrick was the original Flash, and the childhood hero of second Flash, Barry Allen, who is the uncle of third Flash Wally West, who was a kind of mentor to Allen’s grandson Bart, who became Impulse and later, Kid Flash. Similarly, wrestling is filled with notable families: The Rhodes, the Guerreros, the Harts, the Anoa’is, and of course, the McMahons. It’s another notable wrinkle in the constantly growing, shifting and changing continuity of professional wrestling.
You don’t know what’s real
It’s one of my absolute favorite things about professional wrestling: The constantly shifting, and completely murky barrier between fact and fiction. Not only does wrestling try to set up varying degrees of verisimilitude during shows, but the smartest, most successful promotions also attempt to have fact inform fiction and vice versa. Wrestling attempts to blur the lines between what’s real and isn’t, oftentimes playing off the fact that you know wrestling is scripted. Like a great magic show, a good wrestling match will make you think – even if for just a moment – “This is normally fake, but this right here? This might be real.”
Tons of history to nerd out over
It’s one thing to obsess over contemporary work being done in a particular medium or genre, but it’s next-level nerdery to start moving backward, delving deep into what came before. Wrestling offers that opportunity to a degree that many other subjects of geek devotion only wish they could. You can follow the history of WWE back to when it switched over from WWF in 2002. Then go back further to when Vince McMahon bought his father’s promotion, the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Prior to that, WWWF was actually known as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, which was co-founded by Vince’s grandfather. You can (and should!) follow wrestling’s history back through the 20th century and into the 19th, where the medium had its beginnings as carnival entertainment.
Stuff to collect
For better or for worse, consumerism, the collector’s mentality, the fetishization of objects…they’ve all become a massive part of pop culture fandom. And that trend also extends to wrestling in a very real way. The biggest professional wrestling companies have massive toy deals, putting out everything from simple action figures to outrageously detailed and heavily articulated collectibles (not to mention all the retro toys from years past!). But there are also t-shirts to buy – from the actual wrestlers if you’re going to independent shows – autographs to obtain and even one-of-a-kind memorabilia, including title belts, ring-worn gear, lucha masks, famous props and more.
Variety of flavors
Most outsiders probably think of wrestling as a very homogenized thing: It’s one big muscley dude in his underwear rolling around with another big muscley dude in his underwear. The truth though, is that there are a variety of different styles and traditions within professional wrestling. North-American, Mexican, Japanese and British wrestling all vary in ways both subtle and profound, and different promotions play those differences up to varying degrees. Furthermore, even within a specific sub-genre of wrestling, there are different types of wrestlers, everything from submission technicians, big men, high-flyers, brawlers and a million other archetypes and hybridizations.
It’s massively popular
It used to be that “geek” interests were different from those of mainstream audiences. They were the things that acted to separate people from the average baselines interests of the American public. But in 2015, when comic book movies rule the box office, a new Star Wars has the entire country freaking out and practically everyone plays video games on their handheld computers…that’s not really the case anymore. Geek interests are mainstream now, and even though certain quarters like to look down their nose at wrestling, it’s massively popular, with multiple, consistently rated cable television shows on each and every week – with no off season. And the fact that there are still people who write wrestling of as lowbrow garbage? That actually makes it more geek than something as universally accepted as superhero fiction.
At the end of the day, wrestling is storytelling. It’s storytelling through the medium of men and women pretending to fight one another, but it’s still storytelling, with dramatic hooks, character arcs, twists, turns and shocking conclusions. Like comic books or fantasy or scifi or video games, what usually draws fans to wrestling is the flashy spectacle – at least initially. But what encourages them to stick around is the hard, substantive core of dramatic storytelling that draws them in and keeps them there.
I love wrestling. When it’s good, I don’t think there’s much out there that can be better. It’s not for everyone – but neither is The Avengers, Star Wars, Destiny, learning about early television history, tabletop roleplaying games or building your own computer. If you’re into any of those things though, I think there’s a pretty good chance that there’s at least something that might appeal to you about wrestling.
Aubrey Sitterson geeks out about wrestling regularly on The World’s Smartest Rasslin Talk Show™, STRAIGHT SHOOT, available on YouTube, iTunes & Stitcher. Come yammer with him on Twitter, or find links to all of his work, as well as contact info, on his website.
Source: News – Geek.com