The man flew. Not too far, and not too long, but for a moment he flew, his body arcing gracefully, twisting, contorting itself into various shapes in midair until he came crashing down into the body of his victim below. A fleshy *smack* punctuated the visual as the bodies collided and then snapped apart. The prone man convulsed harder, while our recent flier grimaced in pain and dragged himself to his feet, pulling himself up using the bright red cables that surrounded their gladiatorial arena.
It’s exciting, it’s cheap, it’s colourful, it’s crass, it’s bawdy, it’s art...it’s pro wrestling and God help me I love it. I have loved it ever since I saw huge men duking it out in my grandparent’s big colour TV that had cable. I was that age when the quality of a movie was judged simply based on the number and ferocity of fight scenes in it, and here was a show that was all fight scenes! It was nirvana in a bowl and I had the spoon. Of course, my parents hated it. As did their parents. Even the framed picture of my great grandpa that hung in the hall seemed to squint a little extra-sternly since I started watching the “uncouth, vulgar celebration of violence”. Ok, it was uncouth, and vulgar, and violent, but daaaaad, that’s what made it so AWESOME!
It’s difficult to explain the appeal of pro wrestling to someone who doesn’t get it. What do I say? Its predetermined fights punctuated by badly-acted, soap-opera style skits and promos where big hosses go on about how they will pound their next opponent to dust? I mean, yeah, it’s true, but that hardly conveys the magnetic quality it has. It does not explain the appeal of the larger than life characters, like a 7-foot tall mortician with magical lightning powers, a beer-drinking, middle-finger brandishing rebel, a trio of mercenaries in combat boots and jackets who come in through the audience, destroy their opponents and leave, or a small, diminutive man with devastating kicks, whose onscreen persona and real life story melds into one to create a character that the paying audience gets behind simply because of his earnestness, and a single word that becomes a rallying cry for anyone who was told he wasn’t good enough.
The truth is, pro wrestling is an alternate reality. It’s a comic book universe where what constitutes good and evil are clearly defined, but the characters themselves slip from one role to another, brave patriot one moment, insufferable, jingoistic jerk the next. Allegiances change and brothers drift apart into enemy camps, all to fuel the fire of conflict. New rivalries are born from the ashes of old ones, and children take the mantle from their parents, creating generational conflicts that we, the audience know, will never truly be resolved, because that is the nature of the beast. But we watch anyway, because just like every other amazing road trip, it’s never really about the destination.
It taps into something primal within us, these spectacles of athleticism and human drama. Ahhh, and this is where you say “Where’s the drama? It’s all fake?” First, let’s not call it fake. Let’s call it what it is – predetermined. And yes, it’s predetermined. Because it’s predetermined, sometimes the tiny little weakling beats the big, bad champion even though it probably would never happen in real life. Because it’s predetermined, a psychotic cult leader can go toe to toe against a fighting ballroom dancer and we don’t bat an eye, but revel in the incongruity of it all. You know what else is predetermined? Movies. Books. Plays. Oh, and magic. We know there are little trapdoors and pulleys and whatnot, and that the lovely assistant hasn’t really been sliced neatly and bundled into four neat boxes, but we love it anyway. There’s a kind of magic in pro wrestling, a feeling that anything can truly happen BECAUSE it is predetermined. It’s where the favourite has a far greater chance of losing than in real life, if it takes the story forward. And we, in the audience, don’t really see the trapdoors and the pulleys and the writers adjusting the script behind the scenes. We sit there, mesmerized, as the little man climbs the turnbuckle once more, step by agonizing step, until he stands high above his much bigger, much stronger, much tougher opponent who has beaten him so badly that no man should ever have gotten up from that, but the little guy could goddammit, because he has the heart of a lion, and because he never gives up, and now he stands, the prize within reach, moments away from glory, with tens of thousands of voices egging him on, screaming his name, his catchphrase, screaming for him to destroy the big man below not just for himself, but for all of them, for anyone who felt helpless and small and tired and lonely, and the man looks around, he crouches, and in one, single, swift motion…