Today’s word of the day is:
A few things ran past on my Twitter feed earlier that got me thinking about kayfabe (KAYFABE IS DEAD! LONG LIVE KAYFABE!) The first of which was this review of the new WWE doc on Sting, Into the Light, and the other was a quick series of tweets between Chris Jericho, The Rock, and Bubba Ray Dudley.
I love this stuff. I love behind-the-scenes things like the forthcoming Breaking Ground program on the WWE Network. I love that Twitter gives us a chance to see our favorite wrestlers interacting with one another. In a society where we are obsessed with more – more information, more images, more content, more violence, more insight – it’s grew to have a combination of well-produced and off-the-cuff things to give us a peek behind the curtain. But in an industry that is built on the separation between the real and the imaginary, what are these behind-the-scenes moments doing to the product?
In the movie world, actors are different from characters. Sure, there are actors who are synonymous with their characters, but most of us do not think those actors live inside their character all of the time (or at least I hope we don’t.) We don’t assume Christian Bale is really Batman, or Michael J Fox is really Marty McFly. Most of us know that Charlize Theron has both of her arms and Kate Winslet was actually born 63 years after the sinking of the Titanic. So why is it necessary for wrestlers to keep in character all of the time? Why can’t wrestling be fictional television?
We’ve all heard this school of thought before – the only way that WWE can compete and get out of its ratings slump is to start treating itself as in the same vein of the scripted fictional television it is aired alongside. What if we lived in a world where people didn’t call out to Seth Rollins in an airport, but rather Colby Lopez? What if wrestlers left their personas in the ring? What if, when they left the arena, they walked away from the stories the same way actors in a play leave their characters on the stage?
Sure – people might be less interested in a documentary on Steve Borden than they are on Sting. But that’s marketing and not the real meat of the issue. If you want to know about someone’s family, or their past, you’re not asking about the character. If WWE wanted to make up an origin story for their characters and do movies the same way comic book characters get whole arcs dedicated to their beginnings, that would be really cool. Randy Poffo’s story would be way different than Randy Savage’s.
If C.J. Perry was allowed to post pictures of herself on Instagram with her engagement ring in a separate account that wasn’t associated with Lana, it wouldn’t matter who her fiancé was – the stories are totally different. It wouldn’t, of course, solve all of WWE’s problems. If someone behaved in a way that was considered inappropriate (or illegal) as their own identity and not as the character, it wouldn’t matter – it would still reflect badly on the company if the person wasn’t reprimanded or punished. The person is the employee, and as an employee they portray a character. What they do in their personal life or as themselves doesn’t have to affect the storyline, but it can affect the public’s opinion of a company that would employ such a person.
One of the things that separates pro-wrestling from scripted television programming is that it does blur the lines between reality and fiction. Unfortunately, at this point, I think that fact is hurting the product more than it’s helping. It would absolutely prove difficult to create separation for people who work in the company under their own legal name (like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Paul Heyman for example) but I think working to make this possible in the future could only be helpful to the company. If the characters were truly separate from the individuals, the WWE could control everything about the characters and story lines, and possibly even protect the traditional secrets of the business by creating a new kind of veil over it.
What do you think? Is kayfabe dead – or does it just need a new definition?