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Long Live Kayfabe! by Brandon Lasher

(Author’s Note: I wrote this article for my job. Yep, I had to write a short essay about language I use in my everyday life for the Senior English class I teach. I picked wrestling language because I am usually met with scoffs and the below first sentence when I mention it. But then again, it takes very little for seniors in high school to be snarky. Of course I realize all of you know the below wrestling terms, I just wanted to share the frustration we all have as wrestling fans when talking to those non-fans.)

“You know wrestling is fake, right?”

Every time in my life I have ever mentioned to anyone new that I am professional wrestling fan, it has been met with shock and some snickering. After all I am an adult with a master’s degree and couldn’t possibly watch wrestling if I knew this basic, undeniable fact. How could any full functioning adult with any true level of intelligence seriously watch a show with people named Stardust, Undertaker and Sting?

My first reaction to the original comment is usually sarcastic shock. “What? This is the first I have ever heard of this! Thank you for giving me this valuable information.” If I am in a less snarky mood I might respond with, “Movies and plays are fake too but I don’t feel the need to question its reality constantly to their fans.” I plan to yell at the actors and tell them it is fake the next time I see a local play. It is frustrating experience that people need to question your fandom and subculture simply because they don’t understand why you love it.

Don’t get me wrong. Wrestling is clearly its own subculture. We have our smarks (smart fans), our wrestling hipsters and that one fan that last showered when the Ultimate Warrior was the WWF Champion. You know back when it was 1990. The fans come from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds. To stereotype wrestling fans would be to stereotype all fandoms.

One of the easiest ways to identity the most loyal members of the culture is simply by the language we use. Heel (bad guy), babyface (good guy) or bump (wrestler falling to the ground or mat) are terms that are liberally used at the house shows (live event that isn’t televised) or a major show like WrestleMania. A quick search of wrestling lingo on Google will find you literally hundreds of unique and original words created for the wrestling culture. The question you might be asking yourself, as a potential outsider is why is any of this inside language necessary?

Professional wrestling origins date back to the traveling carnivals of the late 19th century where people would come to actually bet on the outcome of matches performed by experienced amateur wrestlers. Because the wrestlers wanted to keep the knowledge of their fake athletic contests between members of the community and keep the illusion of the show for the audience alive, kayfabe was born.

Kayfabe (which was by the way recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary) is presenting a staged presentation as real or authentic. This is why if you see a professional wrestler in person, they might still “stay in character”. It isn’t because they think their fans are idiots who can’t handle reality, they simply want to keep the illusion alive for their true fans who want to enjoy their television show without having its performers constantly bring up the staged nature of what they are seeing. It is an issue that the WWE constantly struggles with in its everyday product. Do they keep kayfabe alive in a world where everyone is in on the game? The answer should always be a resounding yes.

Wrestling fans know that what they are seeing in front of them isn’t real, we simply want to get wrapped up in the kayfabe. No one complains that Ant-Man couldn’t really happen, we are simply along for the ride when we pay for that movie ticket. It is that same notion that allows 70,000 people to enjoy a WrestleMania at an NFL Stadium each March. We know the lingo, enjoy the stories presented to us and appreciate our beloved culture when it is its peak. It is performance art. Just our performers are usually in their underwear during the show.

So if you hear a fan complaining about a botch (a mistake a wrestler makes) or an angle (wrestling storyline), you can simply simile. You will know they are simply enjoying their insider language to identify the “real” fans and members from our subculture. Pro wrestling is something my family has enjoyed for generations and I am sure will continue to do so for a long time to come. Long live kayfabe! It makes life a little more fun.

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Feel free to contact me at lasher@pacificu.edu. Additionally, I have my Twitter account, WWEBNRL as well. I would love to hear your thoughts on when you tell people you were a wrestling fan.

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