WWE fans say they want kayfabe. But they’re not getting it, because kayfabe is dead. Critics outside WWE want kayfabe as well. But they’re not going to get it either. Veterans of the business would love to see kayfabe make a comeback, mostly because the lack of it is hurting the product. But they’re going to be disappointed too. Kayfabe is dead in WWE, and that’s just how it is.
Each day that passes brings more than one reminder that what fans are watching on TV is just not real. From Lana posting news of her engagement to Rusev when they’re supposedly not together, to Chris Jericho posting pics of himself with hated rival Seth Rollins, WWE Superstars continue to prove that kayfabe is indeed rotting in the ground.
Fans know Vince McMahon is to blame. He’s the one that let the cat out of the bag in the first place when he told the world that the business is not real. Pro wrestling has moved along since then, of course. WCW is dead. TNA is barely hanging on. Ring of Honor has made great strides, while Lucha Underground and New Japan are the talk of the town.
Meanwhile WWE persists on reminding its fans on a near daily basis that what they’re watching is nothing more than weekly episodic television. As a result of that, talents in all of the aforementioned companies have relaxed to the point that they too have no problem letting the world see them as something other than their characters.
Fans are smart. They know the majority of the guys in those companies are not living their day to day lives off the road in complete character. The heels are likely not causing a scene at the post office, and the babyfaces are probably not helping little old ladies across the road. Pro wrestlers are people too. They’re just doing their jobs when they’re on TV. Anyone that doesn’t believe that should just follow WWE on social media, and it becomes painfully obvious.
Social media is also to blame. Rather than trying to avoid Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, WWE decided instead to embrace them. Why avoid those platforms, when current fans and potential fans are just one click away? Was the company supposed to act as though social media just didn’t exist?
But over the years, the wrestlers that grew up as wrestling fans when Jim Crockett was king, have all but aged out. The generation of talents currently in WWE didn’t grow up on Ric Flair versus Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA versus Tully Blanchard, or The Rock & Roll Express versus The Midnight Express.
The talents now populating WWE for the most part grew up on WWE itself, and more specifically, The Attitude Era. That time is now remembered the way the territory days were once remembered. Slick video packaging, loud entrance music and explosive pyro are the foundation of what many in today’s WWE grew up believing professional wrestling was. Is it any wonder why no one can truly get over in WWE now?
How many of the Superstars in WWE’s locker room can actually lay claim to being over? How many of them can truly say they’re the reason why the arena is sold out? Is there anyone in that company other than Lesnar and John Cena who can really sell tickets and bring fans back every time the show comes around?
Telling the world that pro wrestling is a cooperative sport with predetermined outcomes is one thing. Everyone knew there was something not right about the business from day one, but no one knew for sure. The men and women in the ring believed in it, and that made the audience believe as well.
But when the talents involved chose to disregard everything that separated the business from everyday entertainment, then the point of professional wrestling was lost. Pro wrestling at its core, is the eternal struggle of good versus evil, and right versus wrong. It is modern mythology played out in a wrestling ring, and it’s a business in which convincing the spectators of its validity means everything.
The moment fans stopped believing was the moment the problems began. The moment the workers decided kayfabe no longer mattered, was the moment the fun was lost. Instead of watching a program filled with dramatic characters fighting to be the best while also battling each other in a gripping morality tale, fans now watch actors play pro wrestling on TV. What they say doesn’t matter. What they do doesn’t matter. None of it matters because the moment they get back through the curtain, they will advertise to social media that it’s all a work anyway.
Fans knew it was work, and if they didn’t, they would have figured it out eventually. But the reality now is that everyday brings more photos, more interviews, more backstage rumors, and ultimately more disappointment. Of course the men and women in the ring are real people, and of course they deserve to have lives outside the business.
But there was a time when exposing the business meant losing their spot. Protecting their characters meant protecting the business, because if the fans didn’t get emotionally connected to the product, then they wouldn’t come back. But that’s all over now.
The world that WWE has created for itself is a bizarre one indeed. Superstars are viewed as Hollywood actors playing their parts, as fans have become entitled children that get upset when a live event doesn’t go their way. Sabotaging a show has become more important than enjoying it. Storylines are only worthy of attention for the time WWE gives on the air, and after that, the drama disappears.
Fans no longer come to see their heroes try to defeat the villains; they now come to watch daredevil stunt shows. Popping the crowd has taken priority over telling a story. WWE has done to pro wrestling what MTV has done to music, and it all began when kayfabe was deemed unimportant.
When the talents don’t care to maintain appearances, the overall product is weakened. Maybe that’s why no one can get over. A simple attempt at resuscitating kayfabe could perhaps be the answer, but fans will never know. Kayfabe is dead, and that’s just how it is.
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomclarkbr