Why Has Wrestling Still Not Been Accepted Into Mainstream Culture?
The last decade has seen an explosion in the acceptance of nerd culture within society. The trope of 80s movies where the jock kids pick on the geeks is now no longer relevant. The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular shows of the last decade, making it cool to call yourself a scientist. Pokémon Go led to a whole generation of adults reconnecting with their childhood obsessions. The word ‘gamer’ is now considered a compliment rather than an insult. But one particular nerd niche has been left behind after the rapture; Professional Wrestling.
I was a wrestling fan for many years during my childhood. I was aware of it from about the age of four or five, playing Smackdown 2! on the PlayStation 1. From the age of 7, I began to watch it on television every week. Undertaker's raspy voice as he challenged Vince McMahon to a Buried Alive Match had me hooked. I was obsessed with wrestling, waiting every week to catch the one-hour highlights show WWE Experience on Sunday mornings at 11. My joy was further compounded when our house got Sky Sports in 2008, where I was then able to watch both Smackdown and Raw in full on a Saturday Morning. My hero was John Cena and I loved him. Everything he did was the best thing ever and I wanted him to win all the time. As we didn’t have great internet and PPV’s were on a Sunday night at 1 AM, I had to wait anxiously every month, hoping that when I switched on wrestling at the end of the week that John Cena was still the champion. I remember my older brother being very displeased when I reached the age of around 11/12, that I still enjoyed watching wrestling. “Why do you watch that fake stuff” he would say. But I didn’t care.
Another passion of mine was video games. I would play loads of hours of every game I could find, but especially wrestling games. Even when my love of other things like playing sports began to wane, I never grew tired of booting up my console for a few hours. Then around 2009 something clicked in my brain with regards my love of wrestling. I remember getting Wrestlemania 25 on Sky Box Office; my first ever PPV in full. I remember seeing John Cena win the World Heavyweight Championship and feeling meh about it. Just meh. Years of loving Cena and hanging on his every match had worn-off. I suddenly didn’t care about my biggest hero in wrestling. That following year I drifted in and out of watching wrestling. Weekends once filled with watching were largely gone. When Wrestlemania came around again I decided to order it. John Cena won again, and again I didn’t care. When Shawn Michaels lost and retired at the end of the night, I thought to myself “All the big stars are going, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels are gone, Undertaker is barely wrestling anymore, I don’t like John Cena anymore…maybe I’m too old to be watching wrestling”. And so, I stopped. Completely. But I never stopped playing video games, why?
Apart from the odd remark to not play as much video games, there was never a stigma attached to playing. I was lucky in that as I grew up, activities like video games were beginning to be acceptable to be played by adults. With the advent of the PS3 and Xbox 360, it was now completely normal for older teenagers and adults to still play video games. But no one admitted to watching wrestling. From the time I stopped watching in 2010 to the time I resumed around Wrestlemania 30, I heard or saw no mention of anyone anywhere watching or liking wrestling. I never even gave wrestling a passing thought. Until I switched on Sky Sports on a Monday evening and a replay of Raw was on, where I saw the crowd going crazy for a wrestler called Daniel Bryan in a cage match against Bray Wyatt. I thought it was the coolest thing and I was interested in wrestling again. But I kept it basically quiet from everyone. Why? Because it was weird to be almost an adult and still watch wrestling.
But why is this? It wasn’t weird to play video games, it wasn’t weird to wander the country trying to catch cartoon characters, but it was weird to watch two guys have a scripted fight. I have a theory on this. A lot of people when they’re younger are wrestling fans. My older brother and sister were before me as well. But then there comes a point where they find out that wrestling isn’t real and two possible things can happen; 1) They are so outraged that they have been ‘fooled’ this whole time and instantly hate wrestling and stop watching or 2) They realise “Oh, I guess it’s just like all the other tv shows I watch" and continue watching. Group number 1, having stopped watching wrestling when they found out, then assume that anyone who still watches must think its real otherwise why on earth would they be watching? This then leads to a culture of mocking wrestling fans and seeing them as idiots who don’t realise their favourite kid's show is ‘fake’.
As a result, wrestling has, unfortunately, been lost in the recent tidal wave of geek niche acceptance. Recently, I have become much more open about my love of wrestling, but it still doesn’t mean its not still a bit awkward. When seeing other figures in the media discuss their enjoyment of wrestling, it’s always disheartening to hear them always preface their comments with "I know its fake". Being a fan would be so much easier if this preface was already accepted. I don’t need to preface me watching The Longest Yard with “I know the football isn’t real”. It is a shame that as so much of nerd culture is now accepted to a point beyond ridicule, wrestling has been left behind.
But what is there to do about it. Wrestling itself certainly has to share some of the blame. Though it has changed drastically now, the protected nature of wrestling from times past where they did not allow any doubt or questioning of its realness has led a lot of people into assuming that wrestling still pretends to be legitimate. Here in Europe, the fact that WWE programming is on Sky Sports is also unhelpful. Yes, the PPV system with Sky Box Office makes it more sensible for WWE to be on a sports channel but with the advent of the WWE Network, perhaps this is no longer needed. Even minor things like the lack of credits at the end of the shows do a disservice to convincing people that the fans realise it is just another TV show with actors playing roles.
As I get older I care less and less about people’s opinion about what I choose to do in my free time, and so the continued mockery of wrestling doesn’t affect me too greatly. However, I do think its important that young kids feel ok with watching wrestling because there is nothing wrong with enjoying it. Hopefully, in a few years, shows like GLOW on Netflix can be the Big Bang Theory that wrestling needs to pull it out of chasm of unwanted embarrassment into accepted geek love. Rise above the hate.
© 2018 Paul Barrett