Becoming a fan of professional wrestling and WWE is quite a memorable event for most in the WWE Universe. Much of the time, fans can remember when they first watched WWE.
A fan’s first exposure to WWE is the foundation for all future viewing. Subsequently, all future viewing becomes compared to those first exposures as well.
Usually, when someone is first exposed to WWE, they are intrigued by the characters, physicality, outrageous interviews, and larger-than-life personalities involved. The “awe” factor of WWE is all of these aspects rolled into one dysfunctional smorgasbord.
Initially, we are all “marks” when we first are exposed to WWE, and to remain a “mark” is truly a special thing.
There are many definitions out there for what a pro-wrestling mark is. Fundamentally, a mark is most likely any fan of pro-wrestling. A more nuanced definition would be someone that believes all of what goes on in pro-wrestling promotion is “real.”
For example, Wade Barrett really hates Kofi Kingston, or The Shield really is trying to bring justice to WWE through their attacks. The majority of pro-wrestling fans are marks to some degree.
Yes, we come to learn that WWE superstars rarely hate each other or have real heat with each other but on occasion this really happens. Also, as we remain fans for a number of years, we learn how storylines or feuds might be recycled or used again for a new generation of fans.
I became a pro-wrestling fan in the mid-1980s as a child. Of course, dirt sheets were around and slowly becoming more popular, but I had no idea what those were as a child. My formative years as a pro-wrestling fan bore witness to Hulkamania taking down different “bad guys” one by one.
Truly, my imagination ran wild as a young WWE fan. I used to pretend to be Hulk Hogan, Mr. Perfect, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and more. All the while, I would “perfect” my pro-wrestling moves on my favorite toy, My Pet Monster (remember those?).
My friends and I even had our own pro-wrestling matches while watching WWE Superstars and Challenge on the weekends. We would wrestle for a foam WWE tag-team title. Yes, we treated a tag-team title as a singles championship because that is all we had.
I had no idea what terms like “face,” “heel,” “jobber,” or “heat” was. We said “good guy,” “bad guy,” “wimpy guy,” (they were the best), and “Wow, they really hate each other!” None of us had insider knowledge, and we had no reason to suspend our disbelief, because we really enjoyed what we were watching and did not know any better.
As the Internet boom took over, my family had a dial-up connection put in, and my knowledge of pro-wrestling changed forever. With an Internet connection in 1995, a whole new world opened to me.
I instantly became intrigued with finding out the real names of pro-wrestlers, reading taped show results in advance, and reading rumors. It was amazing to know what was going to happen in advance, and the mark in me changed to what would be best described as a “smark.”
Yes, I was “smartened” to certain aspects of pro-wrestling, but I had no experience of my own in the business. My excitement towards WWE, WCW, and ECW was stronger than ever, but the suspension of disbelief was losing out quickly.
Over the next few years, I criticized story lines that I saw on the air, read rumors every day, checked results early, and became a different type of fan.
The initial fun that I discovered while watching pro-wrestling gave way to me becoming a negative critic towards the genre that I loved. Although I became a walking and talking encyclopedia of pro-wrestling, I did not have the same enjoyment of surprise towards it that I had earlier.
Being a smark, reading results early, and judging every moment of a pro-wrestling show became everything to me. Pro wrestling changed in the mid to late-1990s because of the Internet, and I changed too. Unfortunately, it took a reversal in how I viewed being a fan to really enjoy the genre again.
Being a high school English teacher now, I am able to interact with many different people. In my classroom, I have a Smackdown poster on my wall; many times students will ask me who my favorite pro-wrestler is, and they go on to tell me their favorites.
Most of the time the best memories that these students have of WWE is from when they were little kids (most are not fans anymore by high school, currently). What I have discovered is how excited they are talking about their favorites (usually Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero) even though they are not fans currently.
Many kids stop liking pro wrestling after they are “smartened” to it not being “real.” This differed from my own experience, because I did not find any problem with the “real vs. fake” issue. The parallel between their experiences and mine is that WWE and pro-wrestling was at its most exciting when we, as fans, believed in what we were watching.
My favorite era is the mid-1980s to early-1990s when I first started watching. For my 18-year-old students, their favorite era is the early to mid-2000s when they were children. With this realization, I went about trying to become a mark again (to the best of my ability).
A few years ago, I did an experiment. I consciously avoided reading spoilers for any shows or reading rumors that could spoil future story lines. Also, as a viewer, I adjusted my viewing to be more of a fan, rather than a “smart fan.” I stopped looking for points of criticism and started to enjoy the story lines presented.
If I disagreed with anything, it would usually be with what would be happening to a superstar that I liked. I stopped caring about the real names of pro-wrestlers (most of them were using their real ones anyways), and I cared more about enjoying the show.
When I attend a WWE show, I go to cheer the “good guys” and boo the “bad guys.” Being a mark again has led me to enjoy this current era of WWE as much as I enjoyed my first exposures to it.
I have been around so many different types of pro wrestling fans, movie fans, video game fans, and comic book fans. A troubling aspect that all of these fans have in common is that a certain segment of the “hardcore” fan seems to have a vehement hate towards what they love.
I have heard pro-wrestling fans complain about how much they hate Vince McMahon and WWE yet never miss watching a WWE-produced television show. Similarly, I have friends who are movie buffs that complain more about movies than talk about what they like about them. Why watch?
Pro wrestling, like other entertainment genres, is best enjoyed when liking it for what it is—entertainment. I proudly call myself a mark, and I try to enjoy pro wrestling as a mark (I even find myself quietly chanting “USA, USA, USA” to myself whenever Antonio Cesaro is in the ring). Go ahead, be a mark, I am a born-again one.