You don’t outgrow fake, you just outgrow stupid
I’ve been listening to this interview with Jack Encarnacao, where he suggests that WWE should reveal more of their creative process to viewers. He makes a lot of interesting points, but the one I can’t accept is his theory about lapsed fans. Every pro wrestling fan, Encarnacao argues, grows out of it when they realize it’s a work. The ones who hang on or come back do so because they discover the backstage political intrigue. I can confirm this is not how it works, at least not for me.
I got into the WWF about 25 years ago, months after Vince McMahon told the New Jersey Senate that it’s all “entertainment.” By that point I’d been hearing “wrestling is fake” for years, so I went in with eyes wide open. It didn’t take very long to put the pieces together. Half the performers are evil, and only fight good guys. Every week the real stars fought “generic guys” who didn’t have music and never ever won. The championships only changed hands on major shows. A guy might be invincible until he lost, and then he’d start losing all the time. And so on.
Even so, I got completely sucked into the 1990 angle where Earthquake crushed Hulk Hogan’s sternum. The WWF made it sound like Hogan’s chest cavity had collapsed or something, and everybody acted like the president had been assassinated. I considered sending him a get-well card. Knowing wrestling is fake didn’t prepare me at all for how compelling it could be.
You can really only work a fan like that a couple of times before they start to get jaded to it. That, I think, is where fans lose interest—not because they figure out it’s fiction, but because they decide it’s not terribly good fiction. Once you get a little calloused to basic wrestling melodrama, you stop taking things for granted and start noticing the bad jokes and cheesy plot devices. I wanted to get sucked into the 1994 “Undertaker dies and gets replaced by an evil double” saga, just like the Hogan/Quake feud. But I was four years older and it was fifty times dumber.
By ‘95 I was on the internet learning a little about the business, but that isn’t what kept me from becoming a lapsed fan. Rather, my interest was renewed because wrestling was trying to respect my intelligence. It’s like, disqualifications suck, so what if we just stop doing them? All those big names from five years ago are still good, so why don’t we just put ‘em all on one show? How about we just admit Diesel was a crappy champion? It was all still fake as hell, but it was fake in new, innovative ways that made you want to read about it on the internet.
To me, wrestling is like cartoons—it’s not a matter of outgrowing them, but whether you can continue to find value in them. If you just watch Street Sharks or something, then of course you’re gonna think it’s all kiddie shit and move on. But if you find decent stuff as a kid, and discover better stuff as you age, you never stop watching cartoons because you never have a reason to. Knowing Bart Simpson isn’t real is completely beside the point.