Have you ever been caught up in a good movie? The time, the place, the atmosphere and most importantly the film itself all act upon you so forcefully that you forget that what you’re watching is a work of fiction. It’s possible to be so caught up in a film that it’s nearly impossible to separate your reality with the fictional reality presented on the screen. This defines a successful movie in my terms. It is the act of forgetting; forgetting your reality and being engrossed in the reality created on screen. For me, successful wrestling works in much the same way.
Professional wrestling has long since abandoned kayfabe behind the scenes and the notion that it is “real” in the sense that it isn’t pre-determined. Yet at the same time, with some exceptions, it still presents itself as being “real” to its audience. I have pondered why I watch wrestling and what draws me to it. What makes great wrestling great? For me, it is being able to lose myself in the fictional aspects of wrestling and it becoming real.
“Successful” wrestling (in my terms, this could vary among the individual) takes a number of parts to make up the whole. Look back historically, I’ve found my favorite programs have presented characters in which I can relate to on a personal level. There must be something about the wrestler, good or bad, that I as the viewer can understand personally. This is the first crucial step that leads me down the path of forgetting.
Real human drama many times makes for the best storylines. While many “over the top” storylines have been successful, it is the ones that I can relate to on a deeper level that draw me in. Taking realistic characters, and then placing them in a realistic drama then allows me to become involved in a storyline and eventually share in the excitement of the climactic battle as the opponents meet in the ring.
With these two elements I can place myself in the situation that’s being played out in front of me. A perfect example is Benoit’s push toward the title in early 2004 leading up to his Wrestlemania XX victory. His characteristics can be related to in many ways. Striving toward a goal, perseverance, overcoming huge obstacles; these are all things that we can realistically connect with and in the end it allows us to more fully appreciate and be emotionally involved in his title win. I sat in Madison Square Garden live that night, and I forgot that what I was watching was in actuality a pre-determined set of events reaching its climax but instead got caught up in the very real human drama of what was unfolding around me.
I think this example also shows something else that is crucial for professional wrestling. Wrestling blurs the line between fantasy and reality to a greater extent than does a movie. Successful wrestling many times blends real life struggle and events with the fantasy they create. Benoit truly did struggle for nearly twenty years to become World Champion. As this is then incorporated into a storyline and played out in the ring, his real life story becomes blended with the fictional aspects of wrestling. There are many other examples we could point to that fit this same formula. One that sticks out in my mind is Shawn Michaels return to the ring in late 2002, climaxing in his World Championship win at Survivor Series. It was the real life issues that he faced which made his return to the top all the more engrossing for the fan.
By blending reality with fantasy, it is all the easier to be caught up and pulled into what we are watching. Wrestling does this in another way by presenting itself as being real. Events are held in front of thousands of fans live, allowing them to interact and get caught up in the moment. Because of this, when successful situations and storylines are placed in front of us, we can become more personally attached to what is going on.
Furthermore, it has been said numerous times that the most successful wrestlers take their real life personalities and “amp them up” a few notches. It becomes easy to forget that we are watching a “character” when they are acting so true to themselves. Stone Cold Steve Austin has spoken out before saying that his character in the WWE was himself with the “volume turned up.” Kurt Angle is another great example. They have taken his real life accomplishments as an Olympic Gold Medalist and incorporated that into his character, making him all the more believable.
When I walk away from a good movie, it doesn’t walk away from me. It stays with me. I return to it again and again. Wrestling is the same way. It is the reason I write this now and I suspect the reason you are reading this right now. We have each had a sort of emotional connection with professional wrestling at one point and time. This connection may have been different for all of us. For me it was a personal connection, allowing me to forget the fictional aspects of what unfolds before my eyes and instead embrace what becomes reality. It may be different for you, but we are all in common in the sense that something about wrestling pulls us in. It has us hooked and isn’t letting go.