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Kayfabe... what is it and when was it broken for you?


Petey
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Saw this posted on another site and thought it could be a fun discussion here.

 

First thing's first... what is kayfabe? Can one still believe in kayfabe but know the matches are predetermined? Or does kayfabe only exist for people who don't know the show is scripted?

 

And what was the moment that you smartened up and said, "okay... this definitely isn't real"? Or was it stumbling across interweb stuffs that exposed the biz for you?

 

I've been watching the professional wrestling since I was a young pup. My parents always told me it wasn't real and everyone performing the maneuvers were professionals and didn't actually hurt their opponents (tell that to Road Warriors or Vader opponents)... probably so that I wouldn't decide to drop the leg on some kid in school that I didn't like. I didn't get the internet until I was 10 (1997) and at first I didn't stumble across anything... until Halloween Havoc '97. My dad used to watch rasslin' with me and he worked with a guy who also watched with his son (the kid was 2 or 3 years older than me) and the 4 of us got together to watch HH '97. It was on that night that kayfabe died once and for all for me. See, this kid told me that all the matches were pre-determined and that the results were online before the events would take place. Now, that wasn't 100% accurate because he told me this applied for PPV's but there was no reddit guy back in 1997 but the damage was done. Wrestling was staged and now there was physical proof. This news led to me searching the World Wide Web for upcoming results which then led me to looking for breaking news about what was gonna happen and all that. Afterwards I really started noticing patterns like, "oh this guy isn't gonna lose because it's clear the company is building him up" or "this result won't stick". Stuff like that.

 

That freggin' kid. Ruined Christmas.

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I came to the realization that wrestling wasn't real for the wrong reasons.

I was eight and saw the SummerSlam '92 results in the local newspaper before it aired (the long-running head sports writer is a fan and used to occaisionally include snippets about ProWres in his columns).

I assumed all PPVs had to be live (to be fair, a safe assumption) and didn't understand the concept of time zones, so I took the results showing up in the paper to mean that the script was leaked, and sadly what my parents and older sisters had been trying to tell me was true. WWF wasn't real.

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I knew wrestling was fake, but I never saw an exposed business until Meltzer's column appeared in The National, spoiling the IC tournament that Mr. Perfect was going to win.

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It took a while for me. I remember people saying it was fake but I didn't believe them until I got a little older and it just clicked. It was either Hogan hulking up in WCW or something with The Undertaker. I can't remember which. I was watching and it just hit me.. "what the hell was that?"

 

I stopped watching shortly after until the nWo started up. That brought me back and I've been a fan ever since.

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I kinda figured out from a pretty young age that wrestling is pre determined. I have always hated people calling it fake or saying it's not real, however. I guess because I've wanted to be a wrestler since a young age, and I know the athleticism and inherent danger involved. My usual response is to tell people they should go jump off a 20 foot ladder through a table and let me know how fake it feels.

 

Anyway, back on topic, I grew up in a family that watched wrestling. One of the moments that cemented wanting to be a pro wrestler for me was seeing Jericho debut in WWE. He was a smaller guy that really solidified the fact, at least in my mind, that it was something I could do. He made it obtainable to me. From there on out, a bunch of research into the history of American wrestling[the only kind I knew about at that point], led me to pretty much figure out kayfabe for myself. It wasn't that anyone was keeping it a secret, I just let myself get lost in the story.

 

As for it still existing, I think it would be fair to say it does. If a wrestler is good enough in ring or in a promo to let you suspend your disbelief and truly buy into what he's saying, I think it can take you back to when you thought it was real. At least that's how it feels for me. When I'm watching a show, live or on TV, I know it's staged, but I can suspend my disbelief and pretend it's all happening in the moment, which is one of the really special things about wrestling as entertainment for me. I can't do that with movies or TV shows. When I saw The Scorpion King, I didn't believe the Rock was his character, I couldn't suspend my disbelief. But on the mic at a WWE show, I could pretend he was The Rock, even though I knew he was Dwayne Johnson.

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I kind of went in reverse.  As a kid I was the one who insisted it was fake, and in some way thought it was way easier to do than it actually is...like a bunch of blood capsules and not actually hitting each other.  I cheered the heels because I was annoyed at how easily manipulated I thought my classmates were.  A real snob.

 

Like most of what I talked about was all the tricks I thought they were using, and we came up with some bizarre ideas for how they did things.  It never occurred to us that they actually just took bumps. We all thought there was some secret and that it was all super easy.

 

It was only when I came back to it as an adult during the internet era that I realized how "real" it was in terms of athletic display and complicated improvisation.

 

I do remember I had a high school teacher who always used to say that wrestlers were the greatest athletes because a 300 pound man jumping off the top rope onto someone and not hurting either one of them is incredibly hard, and I was just like "Whatever, it's fake."  I just didn't get it.

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WrestleWar 1991 when the cameramen zoomed in on Rick Steiner talking shit out with Sid Vicious in the corner. WCW had just the worst fucking cameramen. I still can't watch that PPV, 22 years later, it makes me so mad. 

 

I stopped watching wrestling for a good 3 years because of that. Didn't stop me from becoming a stupid indy worker, though.

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My old man made sure I knew pretty much right way. 

 

I have hard differentiating between if I just grew out of something or if a decline in quality changed my opinion. I like to believe that the reason wrestling titles don't mean as much to me now isn't that the booking is bad now. I would rather think I just reached an age where caring about a wrestling title would be ridiculous. 

 

I was being exposed to Meltzer around the same time I was reaching adulthood. So did Meltzer kill kayfabe for me or did I reach an age where taking wrestling angles seriously would, once again, be ridiculous? I prefer to think the latter is true. I can still be entertained. I can even being emotionally invested in brief moments where the performances are good enough to transcend the setting and circumstances. By that I mean watching 2 guys, wearing what almost amounts to underwear, rolling around pretending to fight. That some people can find a way to tell a good story in those conditions is really remarkable. That they can tell that story well enough to elicit an emotional response at times is a real talent. If anything I appreciate it more now for that reason.

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My dad made sure to squash kayfabe for me after a couple weeks of watching wrestling. I think he just didn't want me trying to do moves with my friends or on my then 4yo brother. It didn't hinder my enjoyment (or me trying to do moves), though.

 

As for if you can still believe it with knowing results are predetermined, the answer is a resounding, 2012-Daniel-Bryan-esque NO. 

 

You'd have to some serial-killer level cognitive dissonance going on to think the results were predetermined but everything leading up to the rigged match and/or the moves being applied during the rigged match were real. I'd assume anyone on a dedicated pro-wrestling message board like this one who claimed to still buy into kayfabe was either trying to make wrestling feel like it was when they were a kid or trying to avoid getting a reputation of being "too smarky." Only the youngest/newest fans can truly experience kayfabe, and even then it's not usually for very long. Really, pretty much everyone (including non-net savvy fans), watches wrestling like a movie or any other tv series. We don't need to see it as real, we just need to be entertained.

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Kayfabe is bigger to me than just knowing that wrestling isn't a legitimate athletic contest. That is certainly part of it, and one of the oldest parts of keeping it, but I think the term applies to more of an epistemology of pro wrestling. Kayfabe, as a concept, represents things about the business that outsiders either don't know, don't need to know, or that-in knowing-get them unnecessarily close to the show. And while I would argue that it also encapsulates pro wrestling's traditions and codes of respect and conduct, I don't think I have to make that claim to still maintain that Kayfabe certainly still exists.

 

In the internet age, Kayfabe just moved. As internet savvy fans, we like to think we know how things work, but we still only understand things on a cursory level. I have no idea how a match is called in the ring. And while I'm pretty sure on my ideas about how this could and should work, it's still a mystery. Even the workers on the board can still admit to not understanding the WWE's brand of Kayfabe, it's interpretations of the pro wrestling business. There are still many mysteries and secrets operating to keep the show exciting and, more importantly, keep us buying tickets. While Meltzer and those like him provide a lot of insight from the access they're granted, they still get things wrong, can get worked, and are inherently getting things second hand.

 

I understand how a car engine works for the most part. But I am not a mechanic. And I am certainly not an engineer. So while I may know the basics, there are levels to knowledge that apply to all sorts of topics. Instead of degrees or titles, pro wrestling has Kayfabe and I would argue it very much still exists on many different levels. It has to; if an audience knew how every aspect of a big touring concert or a Vegas magician's show worked and operated, there would be no business. All of the spectacle would be gone. Mystery is an aspect of spectacle, and Kayfabe works to preserve at least part of the mystery to varying degrees in order to preserve the spectacle and to keep us paying to witness it.

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When I was in first or second grade I randomly saw a photo of Hulk Hogan (ripping his shirt off) and had no clue who he was or what he did but was curious about it so I asked my dad if he knew who that guy was (Hogan's name was under the photo so I had remembered it) and my dad told me that he's professional wrestler. "Professional wrestling? What is that," I asked, to which my father replied with "It's fake fighting". And that was the end of that. I started watching wrestling a couple of years after that, being fully aware that it's predetermined but still kind of hoping that it wasn't and that my father was wrong. Then I got on the internet in '98 and the little doubt I had left was completely erased.

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I was nine and the news story broke of Duggan and the Sheik busted together with coke, among other things. Why were they driving together? Was this a ploy by Slick to defame the much beloved Hacksaw? Were they trying to resolve their issues post WrestleMania 3? Nope, they just both liked cocaine.

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I was nine and the news story broke of Duggan and the Sheik busted together with coke, among other things. Why were they driving together? Was this a ploy by Slick to defame the much beloved Hacksaw? Were they trying to resolve their issues post WrestleMania 3? Nope, they just both liked cocaine.

To be fair , Sheik had a lit joint and the cops found blow in Sheik's mustache kit
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I was nine and the news story broke of Duggan and the Sheik busted together with coke, among other things. Why were they driving together? Was this a ploy by Slick to defame the much beloved Hacksaw? Were they trying to resolve their issues post WrestleMania 3? Nope, they just both liked cocaine.

 

The mark mags did their damnedest trying to spin that one. Good ole Hacksaw was driving somewhere, saw Sheik on the side of the road next to his broken down car and put all of his hatred aside to give his archenemy a lift to the gas station, bless his dear heart...

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As a kid my Mom and Uncle would constantly tell me it's fake and point out when a guy whiffed on a punch.  I used to get infuriated and didn't believe them.  Some of the kids at school would say it was fake too. 

 

There wasn't a real clear moment of realization for me that it wasn't on the up and up.  I think it was just the combination of being told it was fake early on and then growing up and starting to notice things that wouldn't make sense in a real fight.  When I was eight I believed it was real, by the time I was ten I had some serious doubts but would still say I thought it was real, by the time I was 11 or 12 I knew for sure.

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The first real moment was when I saw Nikita Koloff hit his opponent with the Russian Sickle clothesline... and by "hit" I mean "missed by several inches." On the replay there was enough daylight to permanently convert the US to solar power. My buddy Seddu and I looked at each other and we laughed and laughed and laughed.

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I was 8 or 9 when I saw Tony Garea and Rick Martel get into the same car as the Moondogs in the back of the Zembo Mosque...about a half hour after they had just wrestled on the card that night.  Called bullshit right there, but I never let that lessen my love for prowres.

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Title matches were always a big deal from what I remember when I was a kid.  You just never saw the title change hands on a regular weekly event on TV, it was always one of the big shows where the champion would lose so that was always really cool to me to see someone new win the belt.  WCW came when I was a kid and I remember Ric Flair was the champ and he was wrestling Sting in the main event.  It wasn't a televised show or anything.  But Sting won and got the belt.  Then a couple days later Ric Flair was on TV with the belt.  I was so pissed.  

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I realized wrestling was fake when I DDT'd my friend in the backyard in 1989 and he was not instantly knocked unconscious.  As far a wrestlers ruining the aura of wrestling I have a good Lance Storm story and a Jerry the King story.  I saw Lance Storm outside of an ECW show when he and Credible were making a run for the tag titles.  I told him I was a big fan and was hoping they took the belts soon.  He was like You should be hoping I get paid more......then literally complained about what a bad week he was having, all the travel etc.  It was the weirdest shit,  and when Lance came out for the show I felt like it was my neighbor who talks to much so I try to avoid him out there.  My friend and I saw Jerry the King at an autograph signing.  He was heeling it up for little kids, but my friend was a huge fan and Jerry was so nice to him.  It was before the signing and he talked to us for a good 20 minutes.  He was really cool and down to earth.  Later in the day he saw us again when he was leaving and actually came over and said it was nice to talk to us earlier. This is when he was a heel color guy around 1997, so even though I kenw wrestling was fake it still freaked me out. 

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I think it was when I was 5 years old and the Undertaker showed up. Before that I don't recall any gimmicks that couldn't be kayfabed to some degree. Terry Taylor really might have thought having a rooster-themed gimmick would get him noticed, Luke and Butch really might be backwoods New Zealanders that greet people by licking each side of their face, Tugboat really might be a fun loving fat dude that just really likes boats and the water (and renamed himself TYPHOON when he turned - dude loves water no matter what), etc etc etc. But why is this zombie dude wrestling? Why is he controlled by a magical urn? What is their motivation? And then Papa Shango showed up and it just got kind of out there for awhile. Still entertaining to watch but kayfabe was dead to me at that point.

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I didn't watch wrestling as a kid; never saw it, never thought about it.  It was just "that fake crap" that I paid less than zero attention to.  The VERY few times I ever remember seeing a wrestling clip, the fakeness practically stood up and slapped me in the face: for my entire life, I've always had a "how could anyone ever believe this bullshit was a real fight?" attitude towards the whole thing.  (Not counting your average Ishikawa/Ikeda match, anyway.)  Even long before UFC taught us all what real pro fights really look like, it was incredibly obvious to me that these guys were just actors/stuntment with every single whiffed-punch-with-stomp they threw.  Shit, Garfield cartoons used to make a running joke out of wrestling being fake (including digs about the wrestlers memorizing scripts, long before that actually happened).  So I've never really understood how anyone but a really young kid could possibly believe this shit.  

 

 

HOWever:

 

As for if you can still believe it with knowing results are predetermined, the answer is a resounding, 2012-Daniel-Bryan-esque NO. 

 

You'd have to some serial-killer level cognitive dissonance going on to think the results were predetermined but everything leading up to the rigged match and/or the moves being applied during the rigged match were real.

 

THEY EXIST.  Adults.  REAL people who are REALLY old and REALLY think that wrestling is REALLY REAL.  (Or that everything before the finish is real, or that only the title matches are real, or that only certain wrestlers have real matches.)  I've met far, far too many of these morons and psychopaths at indy shows.  Most of the smarks think that idiots like that are hilarious and try to troll them into fanboy rages, but I always found such people to be incredibly creepy and wanted to avoid them at all costs.  

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