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The 'F' Word: Why it's important to call wrestling fake

Pro Wrestling

The ‘F’ Word: Why it’s important to call wrestling fake

Every wrestling fan has been conditioned to hate the word ‘fake’, but embracing it may be the best way to explain the art form.

Wrestling is fake. 100%. Absolutely fake. It is not a sport, but rather an illusion of a sport. It is not a competition. Wrestling is absolutely not real.

All right, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way and unnecessarily made half of my readers mad, why do I actually say this? For wrestling’s entire history, calling wrestling fake has been a taboo. It’s a mortal sin to ‘expose the business’. To this day, anyone who calls wrestling fake often incurs the wrath of wrestling fans from all over. However, I don’t think this is a good idea. In fact, it is absolutely hurting wrestling to avoid calling it fake (in certain situations).

First off, let’s get some things straight. What exactly do I mean when I say wrestling is fake? When I say this I am not referring to the risk that wrestlers put themselves in. Of course not. Nor am I saying that the athleticism needed for wrestling is fake. Wrestling is something I myself would be unable to do at this point in my life and I respect the hell out of those who do it. 

What I am referring to is the stories, the characters, and the illusion that this is a legitimate athletic competition in the same way MMA is. To use the go-to word of all wrestling fans, I am referring to the ‘scripted’ elements. Yes there are times when real life and the story blend together, but for our purposes in this article, I am going to leave all nuance at the door and say it again: most of the story is as fake as any other piece of fiction.

Why call it fake and not scripted? Because that is the way people unfamiliar with wrestling refer to it. Those people are the ones who need to be addressed and it is that aspect I want to focus on for this article.

OK well this was obviously real. I’ll concede that.

Now, for a brief but related aside of some of my experiences: When I really got into wrestling a little over three years ago, I had at least two different friends honestly and seriously ask me, “you know it’s fake, right?” utterly flabbergasted at the idea that I would believe wrestling was real. After all I enjoyed watching it, and who could enjoy watching it when its so clearly choreographed?

Similarly, one of my old college acquaintances who was in town for a week told me one time she had been given a free ticket to go to a PPV with some friends. Not being a wrestling fan at all, she told me that she entertained herself by “trying to determine which idiots thought it was real” in the crowd among her. Meanwhile, I have had multiple conversations with my brother where despite my insistence, he still believes that at least SOME of the fans think it is actually real.

And this isn’t an issue with just my friends. Try something out really quick and bring up a private browser window so it isn’t tainted with cookies. Type into Google “is pro wrestling” and just see what the auto fills are. You can try this with things such as “is WWE” or some other similar phrase. A lot of the results are along the lines of “is wrestling fake”. Now try the same thing with “is Game of Thrones” or any other TV show, and you get none of these results. While basically everybody understands the basic idea that, say, the MCU is not a documentary and can still be enjoyed regardless, they do not understand the basic concept behind modern day wrestling and why people like it.

So what to do? How do you confront friends or acquaintances or the random guy you just met at the bar, who simply have this misconception of wrestling? First you need to ask, what do they mean when they say “wrestling is fake”? In my experience, they are first and foremost referring to the story, the plot, i.e. kayfabe. So how do you correct them? You use their language — you need to meet them on their own terms.

This means not switching terms on them. This means not shying away from the question. If someone were to ask you if Mad Max was fake, you wouldn’t say, “it’s not fake, those are actual people talking, it’s a real movie, and a lot of those are real stunts. It’s just scripted”. That would be weird. You would say “of course it’s fake, but a lot of the stunts were real and done on set”. Notice the difference? The first one sounds oddly defensive like you might actually believe it’s real, the second one sounds a lot more natural and conversational.

So when a wrestling fan gives the “not fake, just scripted” line, all they are doing is muddying the waters. After all, your friend/acquaintance may confuse your defensiveness for you actually thinking deep down that pro wrestling is a legitimate sport.

The 'F' Word: Why it's important to call wrestling fake
You absolutely do not get the same results if you type in almost any other piece of media

So say it is fake, absolutely. Make it clear you know it is. Of course, feel free to then talk about how that doesn’t make the athleticism any less impressive or the risks any less dangerous. Feel free to go into the nuances of everything. But you absolutely need to embrace the term “fake” first. You don’t need to over do it, but you just need to make it clear you, and all wrestling fans understand that The Fiend wasn’t actually burnt alive, or that Becky Lynch was actually suspended from WWE because she wouldn’t apologize.

An example of how not to do this is a 2014 quote from Seth Rollins:

Fake is like the worst word you could possibly use to describe anything, you know? What are you talking about? What is fake? It’s a television show, and a live performance. Nothing’s fake about it. We’re not telling you we’re out there fighting each other. We’re going out there to entertain you. I consider myself an athlete. I train like an athlete, I eat like an athlete, I recover and get sore just like any other athlete. We’re not lying to anybody. People just don’t understand the art form of what we do. It’s a mental and physical grind. You can’t be a dolt in this industry. On the opposite end of that, you can be the smartest guy in the world and not understand what it is to have a presence on stage. Being a character, executing a live performance, understanding what it is to connect with a crowd and elicit a specific response at a specific time using moves and body language and emotions. What we do is very complex. It’s underappreciated”

Seth Rollins

I find this quote a perfect example of being misleading. First off, he claims “We’re not telling you we’re out there fighting each other,” but they absolutely do, because what we see every day is kayfabe, the premise of the medium itself is that it is a show about people fighting each other. This alone makes an outsider even more confused about what wrestling is.

Second, Seth questions what the word “fake” is used to describe? He asks “It’s a television show, and a live performance. Nothing’s fake about it.” Except the issue is when people honestly want to know if wrestling is fake, they’re not asking if the TV show itself is fake. Of course it isn’t! It’s literally on TV — no one is asking if it’s a TV show that’s not actually on TV, whatever that would mean. It’s almost purposefully misunderstanding what is meant when someone honestly asks if it’s fake. To anyone who only thinks “pro wrestling is that fake thing,” it appears as if Seth is just dodging the question.

Although I want to make it clear, I am not necessarily criticizing Seth himself for this quote. He can’t come right out and say that wrestling is fake. Part of the appeal of wrestling is that kayfabe is maintained all of the time to a certain extent. So again, I am not actually criticizing Seth himself. Instead, my point is this is not how you, the fan, should talk about wrestling with others. Seth has to make do with what he has since he is under certain rules. You, dear reader, are not.

Granted, there are times when some non-wrestling fan is not being honest, they’re not genuinely curious, or not just simply misinformed. There are a lot of times when people are just trolling. Just look at Soulja Boy and Randy Orton’s ongoing Twitter spat. Whether or not Soulja Boy meant to troll with his first comment, he sure meant to with his later replies. Randy’s responses as a whole are just preaching to the choir. All of wrestling Twitter cheered him on, but from an outsider’s perspective it just appeared as if Soulja Boy called pro wrestling a work and a wrestler got angry at the business being exposed. Conceding “it is fake” in a situation like this would not help at all. In fact, it is best to just not engage at all.

Congressman Tim Ryan tweeted this and caused wrestling fans to go nuts. While this wasn’t a troll (at least not one directed toward wrestling fans), it also wasn’t the right time for wrestling Twitter to engage either. It was a passing remark and no one was going to be convinced by anything anyone said on Twitter in relation to Congressman Ryan’s comments (wrestling or political).

I absolutely get why people don’t like wrestling being called fake. It’s the thing you’re passionate about; it’s what you love. Hell, it’s what I love. It can feel a bit insulting when people call it fake, especially when you already know that parts of it are fake and in fact everyone does. They may not mean to be insulting, but it can come off like that.

I even more so understand why wrestlers don’t like it. To put your body at risk and to work so hard day in and day out only to have someone call all those sacrifices fake is absolutely frustrating and a slap in the face. But the vast majority of people who have that preconceived notion of “wrestling is fake, only idiots who believe it’s real watch it” just are misinformed and are not bringing it up to insult people.

So when should the “F” word be used? When you are talking to people who genuinely do not understand what wrestling is. It should be used to help explain the nature of modern wrestling to them without trying to obfuscate anything. The purpose is to make the premise behind wrestling easy to understand; after all, it’s a rather unique medium and something that someone may not internalize right away. However, any use of the word “fake” should generally also be followed up with explanations of the real life risks and athleticism, and perhaps a quick story of when the fake part of wrestling blended with the real world. The purpose of using the word “fake” is to help people understand, thereby hopefully winning over new fans. All those other trolls should just be ignored.

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