On a rare Monday night off last week, my friends and I gathered in my buddy’s basement for RAW.
Even though a few of us have been watching for years, I’m considered the resident expert due to single-handedly carrying a Quizzo team to 48 points during a “Pro-Wrestling Night.”
We lost the championship by one point, and I haven’t stopped drinking since.
But I digress…
As we’re groaning over John Cena’s Five Knuckle Shuffle, one of the newcomers to our crew, Jill, asks the inevitable question.
“Why do you watch it if it’s fake?”
Now I’ve been asked this more than “hot or mild;” yet, I still lack a truly satisfying answer. A part of me feels enraged that I even need an answer. You wouldn’t ask someone why they watch baseball or “Mistresses”. There is an equal amount of steroids and overly dramatic women on Smackdown, so why the interrogation?
The other part of me, my perpetually insecure ego, yearns to appease Jill and everyone else with a defense for my guilty pleasure.
Maybe it’s just a drug I haven’t been able to quit since the initial rush as a seven-year-old channel surfing in my bedroom.
This sounds like one of your grandfather’s tales, but my family didn’t have cable yet in the late 90s so we relied upon channels 3, 6, 10, 12, 29, 57, and a fuzzy 48.
Despite the picture quality, those Saturday night memories are crystal clear.
Remember “Street Sharks”? Neither does anyone else, but they were the “Jaws” version of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.
It was a pretty cool cartoon that I usually watched before sleeping except for one night when I couldn’t turn the TV off in time before this haunting image of three letters: E, C, W.
A man in a deep, grisly voice with a towel covering his face dared me to beat him if I could, and survive if he would let me.
Then the screen flashed to a rapid carousel of multi-colored images including a flaming table.
I was addicted.
Of course, that sentimental story is acceptable because most boys watched pro-wrestling. You traded action figures during recess, slammed your friends on the couch after school, and begged your parents to stay up for the Royal Rumble.
And then one day, the same classroom jerk that killed Santa, spoiled the magic.
“What do you mean it’s not real!?”
Now you’re searching for the ketchup packets and wondering why ten punches never leave a bruise.
Paranoia has invaded your psyche.
You need to start talking to girls for the 8th grade dance.
Your friends have moved on to UFC or Mumford & Sons or Breaking Bad or whatever cool kids enjoy.
And most importantly, you won’t have time to watch wrestling with this brand spanking new chin whisker to shave!
I didn’t care, I was a junkie.
I couldn’t give up my obsession.
I sacrificed the “uncool” stigma in order to sustain the rush.
When you’re a child of the Attitude Era, you hold out hope that no matter how many cage matches lack blood, the glory days will return. Plus, you can always relive the unscripted promos, unprotected chair shots, and Undertaker’s Ministry on DVDs and Youtube. Not to mention the unearthed treasure chest of matches from the past 50 years worth exploring on a rainy day.
By reading the autobiographies and navigating through the Internet Wrestling Community’s recommendations, you gain an appreciation for the men and women who have honed their craft over the years to create this illusion for their fans.
Pro-wrestling combines strength, speed, and stamina with acting, personality, and pageantry.
Although wrestlers are still depicted as phony dumb jocks in some forms of the media, and I can attest to that from enduring incessant sarcastic remarks while watching every week from KYW Newsradio’s Business Center, journalists and even politicians wish they could establish the human connection that those athletes in tights have mastered with their audience.
Imagine leaving your family every week, driving miles across the country, shredding your sleep-deprived body at a gym so you can not only appear larger-than-life for your customers but also preserve your physical condition to simply try and avoid life-threatening injuries.
Once the lights have shut off and the chants have faded, you drive to the airport for a red eye to some public relations event where the aches and exhaustion and regrets over missing your daughter’s birthday are ignored because you have to sign autographs, pose for pictures, and maintain that connection with your fans.
But it’s just fake.
So Jill, this is my answer.
I’m not defending a guilty pleasure, because I don’t feel ashamed about enjoying sports-entertainment. I’m compelled to pro-wrestling for the same reason I’m compelled to writing: I love story-telling. I value the characters, worry about their challenges, and emotionally invest in their outcomes.
Pro-wrestling is my year-round escape.
I’m not sure what that says about my happiness, but I can’t handle a Marc Maron moment right now.
I need a piledriver.
John Corrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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