WWE: How the Internet Has Caused Kayfabe and Pro Wrestling to Evolve
Here's an interesting tidbit for my readers. For a short five months, I was in training to become a professional wrestler. Yeah, it only took me five months to realize I'd rather just be a fan than a worker, but I'm proud to say I tried, and I think I did a pretty good job.
Anyway, I don't know if any of you may have heard of John Rambo, but I attended his school in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Rambo is very old school. He teaches old school wrestling, and a lot of his students have an old school appreciation for wrestling. For example, when one of his premier students saw I was writing articles for Bleacher Report—because I plaster them all over the Facebook news feed—he said to me, "You know the Internet ruined wrestling, right?"
"It's ruined a lot, yeah, but it's going to have to evolve."
Professional wrestling is not what it used to be. That's not saying it isn't as good as it used to be. It's just different—and in this day and age, it absolutely needs to be different.
Pro wrestling has always been evolving. In its initial boom in the 1980s, the then-WWF was all about colorful, larger-than-life characters. Characters like Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Ultimate Warrior.
Characters who were nothing short of real-life superheroes to the kids in the crowd.
In the 1990s, when Stone Cold Steve Austin, in all his beer-guzzling, hell-raising, mud hole-stomping glory, ushered in the oft-missed Attitude Era, pro wrestling became more gritty.
It was more about "reality" and less so about caricatures. After all, wrestlers like Stone Cold, The Rock, and even Chris Jericho were only playing exaggerated versions of themselves. It was still gimmicky, but not to the extent that it had been in decades previous.
Even so, wrestlers of the Attitude Era still had a superhero-esque mystique about them. The Rock was Superman, and we didn't know his Clark Kent—we didn't know Dwayne Johnson.
That's the magic of kayfabe—that's its entire purpose. To keep up the "Superman" front and not allow fans to see "Clark Kent."
I guess I was late to join the Twitter train. I didn't join until earlier this year, and the whole reason I did was just to see that picture The Miz tweeted of John Cena with his face smashed against the steel cage.
In hindsight, I probably could have seen the picture without joining Twitter, but it's too late. I follow close to 100 wrestlers, and none of them tweet in kayfabe.
Well, they do, but it's only to talk smack about whoever they're feuding with at the time. The other 99.9 percent of the time, it's just them being them.
It's just Clark Kent.
That's why my friend thinks the Internet ruined wrestling—because it's tarnished the "Superman" front kayfabe tries to uphold.
But in this informational age, that front is impossible to uphold.
Two prime examples of this fact are The Undertaker and Kane. They don't use Twitter, because it really wouldn't make sense for their characters.
But even without Twitter, the Internet has still managed to ruin their characters.
We've all seen the picture from 'Taker and Michelle McCool's wedding and the recent picture of Kane hanging out with Edge—the very same guy who made him "kill" his own "father."
But those aren't pictures of Undertaker and Kane—those are pictures of Mark and Glenn. For characters like them, the Internet certainly hasn't done them any favors.
But characters like Undertaker and Kane are a dying breed in WWE.
Today, wrestlers are more and more accessible to fans, and as a result, the characters are becoming more and more reality-based.
Some of today's most popular wrestlers are the ones we have the most access to, the ones who we feel connected to because they are not above us but are one of us.
They're fans, too. They just happen to also be under contract with WWE.
The obvious poster child for this movement is Zack Ryder. Before he started up his Z! True Long Island Story YouTube show, he was irrelevant in the eyes of the fans and WWE management and on the brink of being "future endeavored."
Now, "We want Ryder" chants are breaking out all over the place, and everyone is chomping at the bit for him to take the U.S. Title away from Dolph Ziggler.
Then there's CM Punk. I couldn't possibly write about the Reality Era without mentioning the man who brought it on.
CM Punk is without a doubt the most popular wrestler in the entire world right now, and he's the top merchandise seller in WWE.
Why did he overtake John Cena? Because John Cena has grown stale with many fans.
And why has John Cena grown stale?
Because the fans don't want Superman anymore. They want reality, and CM Punk is reality with a capital "R."
I don't think CM Punk can be called a gimmick. CM Punk isn't even an exaggerated version of Phil Brooks. Phil Brooks is CM Punk and vice versa. He's not afraid to point out everyone's flaws.
Everyone inside the ring, backstage and all the way up to WWE corporate know exactly what he and the fans are thinking. He's real, and we want real.
I'm not saying John Cena isn't real. I honestly think he really is the upstanding, respectful, hardworking, righteous guy he plays on TV.
But "SuperCena" isn't real. He needs to show us Clark Kent, because we know that no one can win all the time.
Lately, Vince McMahon has been on a Twitter high, going as far as to incorporate wrestlers' Twitter names into their entrance graphics. He's obviously seen that we like having access to the wrestlers and is encouraging us to follow them.
He's also realizing that the Internet, Twitter and YouTube are very effective tools to advance feuds and story lines.
In the PG era, WWE's primary targets are children. Kids these days are extremely tech savvy, so using the Internet as a promotional tool is a smart move. And in order to make that move helpful rather than harmful, wrestling's "characters" must be more real.
Obviously, there can and will still be gimmicks, but they will have to be based in reality. Zack Ryder's character is a gimmick, but it's not that far off from who he really is.
If we see pictures of him on the Internet partying it up on Long Island, it's not a big deal, because that's who he is on and off the screen.
Even Cody Rhodes's mask gimmick was based in reality. With the way he was disgusted by his looks after being "disfigured" by Rey Mysterio, it could be argued he was suffering from some type of Dysmorphic disorder.
And as a boost to his anti-social tendencies, he doesn't have a Twitter account.
In these cases, having or not having Twitter can most certainly help to further a gimmick.
Of course, there are always going to be aspects of pro wrestling the Internet takes away from. It is unavoidable.
But I wouldn't go as far as to say the Internet ruined wrestling. What it did was force it to evolve to better fit the world we live in today—a world where it's nearly impossible to fool anyone into thinking you're someone you're really not.
I, personally, am excited with the direction WWE is going, incorporating Twitter and using YouTube for promos. The world is becoming more centered around technology and the Internet, and in order to keep up WWE is going to have to do the same.
And I think they're doing a good job of it thus far.
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