WWE's Reality Check and the Dissipation of Kayfabe
World Wrestling Entertainment has changed drastically over the past 40 years—even more so, it's fans and the product they put on television for those fans. Let's go through the past few eras of professional wrestling in WWE.
- Golden Era (1980s-Early '90s): This era saw the emergence of Hulk Hogan as its flagship star and the birth of being a "real American." Macho Man Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase and the Rock n' Express helped put wrestling on the map during a time period when America was struggling. During the Golden Era, we saw the birth of WrestleMania.
- Pre-Attitude/New Generation Era (Early '90s-1997): We finally got to see Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart grace the stage. Kayfabe was still a dominant use in wrestling, not as much as maybe as the Golden Era, but that is how the system rolls on through time.
- Attitude Era (1997-2002): I don't need to get in depth with this time period, as it was the most popular and successful of all time. Characters and kayfabe were at an all-time high. Many fans loved it because of guys like Mick Foley and The Rock. Not to mention, the wrestling was superb.
- Ruthless Aggression Era (02-07): HHH ruled this time period. With guys like Randy Orton, John Cena and Batista only debuting in 2002-03, Trips was in his prime. He was fresh off the DX gimmick throughout the Attitude Era, and the momentum he rode was outstanding. Reality was starting to set in, though, as social media would take its turn in history.
- PG Era (2007-current): A lot of people will say the times of PG are somewhat over, but I tend to disagree. At this point, it's an opinion, not fact. Since 2007, Cena has taken the ball and ran with it 1000 yards and more. However, with each day approaching, the use of kayfabe and characters are becoming more and more rare. In the WWE currently, I would say you could count on one hand the wrestlers who practice kayfabe.
As children, we watched mystically at what we saw in front of our eyes. It was almost putting us in a trance as we saw Undertaker perform acts of magic on screen or Gangrel drinking blood out of his cup. An image like that may have been bad for kids, but it kept us watching.
Why do you think fans stop watching when they are growing up? Obviously, the jaded answer will be: "We were kids, what did we know?” That's just the proper retort.
We were kids! That is why it was so much fun to watch and enjoy professional wrestling. In fact, when we were young, the Internet did not exist. Social media wasn't supposed to appear for another 10 or so years, and, as children, we didn't know everything like we do today.
The superstars didn't tweet their thoughts or feelings, and they didn't speak of storylines or kayfabe acts on television. It was much simpler, more fun and just make-believe.
For example, a character like Mankind will never come about again. Cody Rhodes attempted to do it, and he succeeded with his beautiful, then grotesque gimmick. I liked to call him current-day Mick Foley. He could pull off any character, and he did it to perfection.
What I liked most about him? He didn't tweet. Rhodes does now, because he isn't portraying any type of character.
Now, AJ Lee is a psychopath. That's clear to any fan, but on Twitter she is still April Mendez. On camera, Lee appears in front of our very eyes. Right there is a clear difference in time periods and the social stigmas of society.
We need to know everything. We need to know what the main event of WrestleMania will be in two years or the next great surprise return to the mat. You know what, why do we have to know everything? Would it kill us to not find out about Goldberg returning?
Once that happens (yes, it's inevitable), we will know the details way before everything happens, and the element of surprise is ruined.
As for arrival of The Shield, that was perfect. Nobody knew of their arrival to the main roster. It was rumored for sometime, but not one person could pinpoint the exact date. That is how a debut or return should be done. Now, there are exceptions—like the Wyatt Family. I have no complaints about their debut.
The whole point of this article was to shine the light on what it was like to be kids. Images, objects and theories were in a fantasy world along with our very young mind; it allowed us to pretend and do whatever we desired to do within our imagination. If we wanted to build a fort and defend the princess, our mind granted that wish.
It seems like a distant memory, but when Mankind won the WWE title for the very first time, it was a moment in time I'll never forget. During Raw is War on December 29, 1998, Mankind defeated The Rock and shocked the world. The aura of wrestling's history and spirit shone through, and, as a kid, that reminded us that anything is possible.
I can guarantee there is one moment in your wrestling past that felt larger than life. As a child, everything was good or bad.
Just do me a favor in the future: Don't follow the dirt sheets or social media for a week. Let the wrestling surprises come to you. Remember what it was like to not realize the match-winners before the match happened or how Daniel Bryan will "surprise" us at SummerSlam.
Pretend...it is larger than life.
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