No one is in the mood for WrestleMania.
How can we be? An invisible dread is forcing us to stay indoors and apart from our loved ones. Our healthcare system is close to capacity and is bracing itself for calamity. The nation’s economy is plunging toward a depression. No one can predict how long this chapter in our history will last, and WrestleMania, bafflingly, is this weekend.
We tried to get in the spirit here at AIPT. After all, it’s wrestling Christmas and, with a promotion we called WrestleMonth, we’ve busted out all the decorations and fixings. We’ve got WrestleMania-themed playlists, pieces recapping storylines that have brought us to the event, retrospectives on prior Manias, and whatever else you need to get pumped for the Show of Shows.
But we’re not here to plug all that. We want to address the elephant in the room. We felt it was time to ask you our dear readers: “Should WrestleMania even be happening?”
You might be asking yourself if this is the time. The media brings us stories and anecdotes of doctors fighting to save an overwhelming number of patients before contracting the illness themselves due to a lack of proper protective equipment. Major news outlets post counters that constantly track the number of infected and deceased around the world. Academia is desperately searching for an understanding of our enemy to fight it. All the while, our “powers that be” cannot coordinate an effective response in this war we are fighting. No matter how long we waited for it, Edge’s return just doesn’t feel all that important in the context what’s going on in the world.
You might then ask if this is even feasible. Schools and non-essential businesses have closed. Many organizations have now shifted to a virtual office model that allows their employees to work from their homes in accordance with the World Health Organization’s prescribed “social distancing” practices. WWE, likewise, has shifted all its shows to an in-house studio at their training center without an audience. Raw, SmackDown, and NXT have all emanated from this studio for the past several weeks, and though they have all relied on a skeleton crew of performers and producers and have leaned on replays of old matches, they have all been functional. More so, it has already been done as it has been all but confirmed that WrestleMania has already been recorded. However, the somber sight of a wrestling show without an audience will assuredly cast its shadow on Drew McIntyre as he, probably, will pose with the WWE Championship after above a fallen Brock Lesnar.
There is then ethics and responsibility to consider. Social distancing is the strongest weapon we have right now. If we as a society can slow the spread of the infection, we buy our healthcare system time to adequately prepare to treat infected patients by gathering ventilation machines and protective equipment, hopefully decrease the overall number of people infected, and protect ourselves, and more so, our loved ones. Local governments, to this end, have heavily discouraged all public gatherings, with many opting to disperse — and even arrest — those who do not comply.
WWE has seemingly taken appropriate measures to keep their employees safe. The company is having their wrestlers perform on a volunteer basis only and has assured them that they would suffer no negative ramifications if they were uncomfortable traveling to or working the show. Only the minimum personnel are allowed in the studio at any given time to record the proceedings. Anyone entering the building is immediately subject to a fever check to help prevent an infected individual from exacerbating their condition and spreading it to the others. In fact, Roman Reigns, WWE’s top star who was scheduled to perform in the main event, has elected to withdraw from the event and WWE has sent home many of their performers after realizing that they were ill.
What are we to make of all this? Should WWE continue to produce weekly television knowing that all of Hollywood has shut down production of movies and television? Should WWE allow their wrestlers to practice their close quarters craft knowing that the NBA, NCAA, NHL, and even Vince McMahon’s own XFL have all suspended or canceled their seasons? Should the WWE continue with WrestleMania?
Personally, I would have canceled WrestleMania. I, speaking only for myself, could not and cannot see past the danger. I am sure WWE has done all it can to limit the amount of personnel needed to produce the event and did all that it could to ensure the safety of their staff but, so much of the nature of the virus is still unknown and it has been well documented that asymptomatic individuals can be infectious. Also, it is important to note that many entertainment industries have adapted ways to provide content safely — singers will be holding virtual concerts, movies studios will be holding virtual screenings — however, none of these industries feature their performers physically grappling one another, the exact opposite of social distancing.
Furthermore, WWE does not provide medical care, does not dispense food or groceries, nor do they provide fuel or repair automobiles for the public good. Thus, WWE does not produce an essential good or service and on this basis I would have elected to cancel WrestleMania if it had been my decision.
However, I also recognize that just because a good or service is not essential does not imply that the aforementioned good or service is not important. Normalcy is very expensive right now in our society. Uncertainty and fear are in vogue and will be in season indefinitely. We need some normal. We need something that can quiet those demons and frankly, professional wrestling can do that.
Professional wrestling is many things to many people and for some, it’s comforting sedation. It features the good, the bad, and the Otis acting out simple parables. Its stories are told by means of pseudo-competitive yet fantastically athletic competitions that are underscored by themes of heroes triumphing over adversity, the weak finding the strength to become mighty, and shadows cowering to light. Yes, these stories often completely ignore logic, gleefully venture into absurdity, and features crass characters (I mean, Shayna Baszler straight up bit Becky Lynch), but when consumed correctly, professional wrestling can be a live-action sedative that dulls and soothes your neurons to help you get you through some bad times. I think we could all use the image of Otis riding off into the sunset with Mandy Rose after wrecking Dolph Ziggler right now.
Again, I would have canceled WrestleMania. I would have been unwilling to accept the dangers that came with its production but, WrestleMania is coming despite my qualms and a part of me is relieved. I’m relieved that for three hours on Saturday and Sunday I’ll be able to turn away from talks of death, despair, and the politics underneath it all. I’m relieved that social media will be filled with posts about The Undertaker’s mid-life crisis and whatever other chicanery that unfolds instead of whatever darkness looms outside. More than anything, I’m relieved I’ll get a chance to do something normal and watch some f*cking wrestling.
WrestleMania is this weekend, and it may be exactly what we need right now.
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