The Hot Topic: Reality Or Kayfabe?

Rob Taylor


Welcome back to THT… I want to thank the 50+ people who sent positive feedback to me regarding my last 2 articles. Out of all the feedback, there was ONE “flame” email… That person should really be pretty ashamed in light of the facts now being borne out… but… enough… I don’t plan to use the dreaded S word much in this article… First as ever, some comments on recent events…

Lashley being injured is a blessing in disguise… WWE made in hindsight, a huge mistake by pulling the ECW belt from him and then jobbing him out to Cena first time out… This way he gets to come back in a while, maybe by which time Kennedy is the champ…

WWE has a massive injury problem, cynics will have their view as to the real causes of all these injuries but what WWE needs is a quick fix… There are a few good “free agents” out there, in particular Chris Jericho… suddenly, releasing talents like Test don’t seem such a great idea..

Matt Hardy is getting SO much better in recent times… He is definitely next in line for the US belt and frankly deserves more… It’s a shame Jeff seems to blow it or have “issues” and yet is still percieved as the Hardy “most likely to, when Matt has never been anything but reliable…well the Lita thing, but who wouldn’t go a little nuts over that?

Cody Rhodes is interesting, indeed the next year or two seems to be shaping up to be the “Next Generation”. Rhodes, Harry Smith, Nattie Neidhart, Teddy Hart and now Ted DiBiase Jr. are all in the system… Animal’s son is also slated as a potential wrestler if his impressive football career goes south… It can happen, The Rock played in the famed ’91 Hurricanes, got hurt at the wrong time…lost the NFL.. lucky for us eh? I hope all the above get into the WWE main roster, I would love to see Harry leading a new Hart Foundation, if anyone is gonna blow it it will be Teddy…

I watched a classic match the other night from the past…1-2-3 Kid v Hakushi from Summerslam 1995… what a shame Hakushi never got to be the star in the US he deserved to be… he was light years ahead of his time, but only a couple of years too early…

My opinion is changing every time I see Marc Mero pop up somewhere, he was on the Sun newspaper website in the UK and the guy is starting to win me round a bit… in all the Benoit aftermath though, Chris Jericho has emerged the guy who deserves real credit for painting the business in a positive light…

This of course brings me to the Hot Topic…

Over recent years, the world has embraced reality… It started with shows like Survivor and Big Brother, then satire like the Office began to appear, then The Osbournes, for a time became the 4 most watched people in the world… Soon everyone was on the bandwagon, we had Popstars, Pop Idol, Football Icon here in the UK and even WWE got involved with Tough Enough and the Diva Search…

WWE and wrestling in general had until the late 1990’s existed in somewhat of a paralell universe… Promotions lived in their own little bubbles, achievements elsewhere counted for nothing and the illusion was only occasionally pierced. There was no net in those days and few fans understood the concept of Kayfabe, a language inititally used by the original carney promoters which had evolved into an unwritted code of practice for the wrestling business… Heels would never be seen with Faces outside of the ring… People who were feuding had to act at all times like they hated their nemesis, even if the truth was they were drinking buddies and wrestling was an exclusive club…you had to work hard and pay dues to even get to lace a pair of boots, outsiders were rarely welcomed and if they were it was with a clenched fist not open arms.

WWE first toyed with reality back in 1985 with Cyndi Lauper and Hulk Hogan’s Rock & Wrestling Connection… they used celebrities like Muhammed Ali and Liberace at Wrestlemania and later Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper and Buster Douglas. They acknowledged Jesse Ventura and Roddy Pipers fledgling movie careers… Arguably the first blurring of the lines came on the release of No Holds Barred, the WWE produced vehicle for Hulk Hogan. Soon the villain of the movie, Zeus, appeared in WWE, despite Hulk Hogan not playing himself in the movie… While the feud was mercifully brief if did prove that fans would buy into an element of reality in their shows. When Ric Flair jumped ship to WWE in 1991 still carrying the WCW World Title, the walk down “The Green Mile” for Kayfabe began. More reality based angles appeared in the following few years but it was still a Kayfabe business.

The watershed year came in 1996 with both the emergence of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the NWO finally delivering a potentially fatal knife wound to Kayfabe… but the knife was handed to them in Feburary of that year by Brian Pillman, who walked into a Respect Match with Kevin Sullivan and delivered the immortal line “I Respect You Booker Man!” and walked out of WCW weeks later…

Most fans had no concept of a shoot, a shoot was something you would do with a gun. Few knew what a Booker was… but it was clear something had changed. Pillman’s antics continued in the fledling ECW, going so far as to threaten to urinite in front of a packed house. The internet was just beginning, tapes got traded and soon Ironically enough on the same night that Austin 3:16 was born, Pillman actually uttered the “Piss” word for the first time in WWE. Austin made his blasphemous, venoumous rant and a whole 2 weeks later Hogan dropped a leg on Randy Savage… All bets were now off…

WCW embraced the reality aspect most in the following period, acknowledging WWE and even giving away pre-taped results. WWE continued on a somewhat kayfabe tack for another year, however Bret Hart & Shawn Michaels feud during 1997 started to show WWE was not scared of reality. Shawn’s infamous “Sunny Days” promo on Bret was a case in point. Indeed WWE allowed Bret’s documentary “Wrestling With Shadows” access to WWE personnell and shows, including the final death of Kayfabe as it was known… the Montreal Screwjob…

We saw the ugly side of wrestling for the first time, people had to choose sides, both in the business and as fans. Faces like Davey Boy Smith, Rick Rude all disappeared from WWE TV almost overnight… Something REAL had gone down… then just weeks later, the death of Brian Pillman, the man who had started the whole process was announced on the Badd Blood PPV. Wrestling was no longer cartoon characters…

The genesis of characters like The Rock who seemed to genuinely despise fans, legit tough guys like Ken Shamrock with outside reputations and even Mike Tyson all gave WWE the air of a reality show… Nudity began to appear with The Kat. But however real it all seemed, it all became too real the day Owen Hart fell from the rafters and died on live TV… There now was no going back, fans would not buy the old style of show having seen the death of a wrestler on a live show. Even if they didn’t see the fall, they saw the aftermath, they saw RAW is Owen, they saw the men and women who alwasys seemed unreal, crying for the loss of a friend and comrade… Owen died on May 5th 1999, if Kayfabe was hanging on in the afterlife, Owen’s death probably sent it to hell…

WWE hired known talents like the Radicalz, who were known to have fallen out with the other side… WCW took things to a further degree, making a movie, and making its star their champion and ultimately going bust…

Tough Enough emerged in 2001, WWE now had a legitemate “reality show” with “the public” having a shot at being given a contract. Cameras followed their lives and for 3 seasons the show produced some very good talents, including the man who currently holds the ECW World Title!

We then had concepts like the Diva Search, The Draft… all based on real life or other outside reality concepts…

Soon though reality in general began to get…well old… you could only watch Ozzy stumble around looking for burritos so many times… Once there was live sex in the Big Brother house, the only thing left to see was a murder/death… so people got bored. Shows like Idol became manipulated to the point voting was pointless… and Reslity began to backfire on WWE… The monday night war ended with a whimper… The Rock left to become a movie star, this had happened before except, they nearly always came back… When the Rock hit big, that was it… One pre taped interview in 2 nearly 3 years? Brock Lesnar publicly tried for the NFL, binning WWE while their “Great White Hope”… 2 of their wrestlers had a major “falling out” over a woman. WWE responded by putting “wrestlers” with legitemate or percieved “old school” qualities at the top of their shows… namely Eddy Guerrero and…Chris Benoit… Reality’s peak in WWE arguably to that point came with Shane in Panama Beach “upstaging” Vince, but the death of Eddy brought it all into sharp focus… not only was reality boring… but it was downright painful… we all wished for a bit of escapism again… Chris Benoit’s demise made us desperate for it… the irony is now there IS no going back to Kayfabe.. Congress is on WWE now…

Ironically, much of the mainstream media, particularly in the UK is concerned with things being fake… Scenes being “manipulated” in reality shows for dramitic effect. One high profile row in Britain involving a doco on the Queen getting a picture took by Annie Leibowitz, which the BBC seemed to make the Queen look like a diva in… We have faked phone in votes, faked survivalist programmes. TV is being slated for doing what Wrestling did for years… do people REALLY want reality… what is wrong with a bit of escapism… the best shows are stll the 80’s ones like the A-Team… guys who today would be tracked by sattelite survaliance shooting machine guns but never actually killing anyone… no one complained they felt cheated… Shawn Michaels smashing Marty through a window or Jake’s cobra biting Randy on the arm and it all being ok really…no one complained, we just watched and enjoyed do we need to see more MMA action in wrestling? It is a show not a sport…

I fear now they will never be able to go bring Kayfabe back nor be a legitemate sport… Wrestling has a choice to make…and it needs to be made quickly… only this time.. either reality or Kayfabe is really gonna die…

As ever, let me know what you think at robwilltaylor@hotmail.com…

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