Today’s wrestling culture is largely based online in social media, with the Internet Wrestling Community of self-professed smart-marks.
Such fans like to think they know the ins-and-outs of the industry’s backstage politics, upcoming angles and all aspects of kayfabe.
To retain an element of unpredictability and freshness, the WWE needs to find new ways to keep their fans guessing. In light of this modern development, the WWE has turned to blurring the lines between what is reality and what is scripted.
CM Punk’s famous worked-shoot of 2011 is often credited as the catalyst for what many referred to as the “reality era” of wrestling. As Punk broke down the fourth wall, fans had no idea whether the straightedge superstar was going off script or not.
With Punk’s microphone cutting off and an abrupt end to the show, viewers were taken aback as to whether what they’d seen went precisely as planned.
Although never quite to the same effect, WWE has continued to employ similar tactics in blurring the staged with the real.
Just look at Money in the Bank earlier this week, where John Cena claimed the briefcase after the handle seemingly broke off inadvertently, and he continued to troll us all with his surprised smile.
Instantly, we were much more engrossed because of the uncertainty of whether or not that was indeed the match’s planned ending. Instead of a clean-cut victory from Cena as was widely expected, the questionable ending left Cena-haters worldwide wondering whether Cena just picked up a victory he wasn’t supposed to.
Even with apparent insider information, we will never truly know if Cena merely played his role to a tee or if he improvised a botched ending.
2012 has provided several more examples of WWE seemingly blurring the line of reality.
Prior to WrestleMania, there was a moment where Cena called The Rock out for having his promo notes written on his arm.
Does one of the greatest microphone workers in WWE history really need a cheat-sheet?
Once again we were all questioning whether it was a work or whether Cena stepped out of line to take a dig at the Rock.
Several examples can also be found in Cena’s clash with Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules.
With the WWE having lacked blood for such a long time, we were on the edge of our seats, wondering whether everything was as planned or if Lesnar had taken “legitimacy” too far.
Either way he succeeded at making an impact.
The same went for Cena’s post match promo which appeared entirely improvised. At the same time, we can never truly be sure.
There were also reports of Lesnar destroying the locker room backstage as a way of getting the internet dirt-sheets stirred up.
What was actually scripted amongst the chaos of Lesnar and Cena at Extreme Rules was almost impossible to tell.
That’s why it was so great.
Also consider Cody Rhode's victory over the Big Show at Extreme Rules, where Show appeared to slip off the apron and step through a table.
Sheamus' victory over Cena for the WWE title at TLC, back in 2009, serves as another instance. With Cena falling backwards off the top rope and through a table, no-one was certain that Sheamus was actually booked to win.
One final recent example is the suspension of Chris Jericho. It was widely known that Jericho would be leaving the WWE to tour with his band, Fozzy.
However, instead of leaving in a traditional way and satisfying the smart-marks who knew this was coming, Jericho was conveniently suspended at a Brazilian house show for disrespecting the nation’s flag.
Where is the line between reality and excellent scripting?
It makes for extremely compelling entertainment when the WWE can have us seasoned wrestling fans asking “is this supposed to be happening?”
In many ways, this can merely be seen as WWE messing with its more knowledgeable fans. Between WWE’s generally droll and repetitive angles, it is extremely refreshing when we doubt what we are seeing.
Over the last year, these shades of doubt have made for WWE’s most engrossing moments.
By continuing to blur where the script ends and where reality begins, WWE can continue to surprise even us fans who think we know it all.