Wrestling God presents: Smarky Mark
Meet Daryl. He is a 13 year old boy in the church care group that I helm, and he is an avid wrestling fan as you can tell from the letter above. Written as an assignment when he was 10, this letter captures the essence of a young, impressionable wrestling fan. Like many of the younger audience in the WWE Universe, Daryl was entirely mesmerized by the charm of a superman-like hero in John Cena. This is the wonder of wrestling. It has the ability to evoke a deep rooted sense of admiration and idolization in young fans. That was how I was hooked on wrestling when I was a boy. The suspension of disbelief was effortless, and just like Daryl, I had my fair share of idols, simply based on how they were portrayed on TV.
I started at 6 years old. My dad would sit silently with me in front of the TV, transfixed on everything unfolding on the screen. My dad did not know English, and the only stories we knew were the ones painted in the ring. I fondly remember the colors of Doink the clown; the sinister walk of the Undertaker with the corpse-like Paul Bearer in tow; the bright pink that blazed with Bret Hart; the swagger of Shawn Michaels. I miss that wondrous feeling of cheering for the good and crying when they lost - such was the magic that accompanied me until my dad passed away from cancer 2 years after. I no longer had someone to wrestle in bed with me anymore. So I drifted away....
Until the famous Attitude era arrived with style. I was 14, and I see everyone doing swear words and invoking their best impressions of the Rock and Austin - hardly the best role models. At the peak of it, I watch my first PPV in many years and it was Wrestlemania 17. I don’t care what others say but Austin aligning with Vince at WM17 and using the chair repeatedly on the Rock was my favorite heel turn ever. I seriously marked out hard when The Rock kicked out of 5 chair shots, AND a stunner. It made zero sense but it was one moment I never ever forget, which makes it the best in my eyes. The inVasion story-line that followed the next few months was so incredible for 14 year old JWG. I experienced the intense water cooler talk in school about the detestable WCW and ECW stars and how they all sucked. I never had any hesitation about the story-line being the best ever.
The question is, what has changed to make wrestling worse since those marvelous days?
The Worst - The Lost of Wonder
I grew up, and the entertainment world becomes an open book. Which is to say, the audience understands that there is another intriguing world projected on the 4th wall —one that tells a far better story: the subtext of what is told on screen. By “subtext,” I mean the extra-text in our consumption of entertainment today: everything from news, to posters, to teasers, to trailers, to casting speculation, to backstage exposé, to exclusive photos, to tweets, to Instagram posts, to Snapchat stories, and on and on and you get the point — all the side show muck that has rendered the stars and shows themselves almost incidental to our experience of them. And in pro-wrestling we divide the reality and the show with a thin line of kayfabe.
I was caught in the whole experience when I started reading backstage news and insightful columns and learning about the real business of wrestling. Around 2009, I started to actively debate my wrestling friends about John Cena’s monopoly and often felt exasperated by the “obvious incapability” of WWE’s booking team. The sense of wonder I had when I was younger was snuffed out, replaced by a cold, almost mean-spirited sense of arrogance. Of course I am right! I am a pro-wrestling expert after reading 300 columns. Look at my resume! I write columns in my free time! I am the expert here!
Needless to say, such an approach slowly zapped the enthusiasm out of watching WWE matches and instead of enjoying the wizardry of wrestling, I often analyse a match by whether the guy sold the move correctly, or whether there were too many kick-outs, or whether the right guy got over. It’s all a game of observation instead of immersive enjoyment. I often took story-lines and dissected them based on the “subtext” of what is happening backstage, not what I see on screen.
Roman Reigns, in particular, was a victim of the “subtext”, which condemned him as the chosen one over fan favorite Daniel Bryan. The fans (including yours truly) who booed Reigns weren’t exactly hating on Reigns - they were upset with the management, the situations surrounding Reigns and the WWE’s reluctance to push Daniel Bryan. Roman just happened to be the biggest scapegoat caught in the shit storm, despite doing pretty decent as a singles wrestler. What a shame.
As time went on, I became jaded and this resulted in me getting really pissed by WWE story-lines, to the point of exasperation. Here are the biggest examples:
-The infamous 18 seconds match at Wrestlemania 28 between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus that had me crossing my arms for the duration of the entire PPV, putting on the “Angry Miz Girl” face.
- The CM Punk championship loss to Alberto Del Rio at Night of Champions in 2011 that had me cursing and swearing
- The really terrible Royal Rumble in 2014 when Rey Mysterio came out at number 30 instead of Daniel Bryan, and Batista won to no one’s surprise.
- The 2015 Royal Rumble when Kane and Big Show dumped out all the smarks’ favorites, setting the lamest ending for Roman Reigns to be booed throughout 2015 and beyond.
The thing is, young Darryl enjoyed every moment of what transpired above. He believed in Reigns, laughed at Daniel losing to the Brogue Kick, and was rooting for Rey to win the Royal Rumble. Even in instances where his favorites such as Punk lost, Darryl picked himself up and continued to immerse in the journey. It’s the adults who moan and bitch about “backstage rumours”, “#buriedByTripleH” and all that crap. I do wonder if I can turn back time and become the mark I was when I was younger.
TL;DR? Here a summary:
The Best - A Mature Appreciation
After the venomous critique I wrote, I shifted my attention to what makes pro-wrestling better today. The question is, what do I enjoy the most about wrestling today, compared to when I was younger? I wrestled for a while before I realized the very thing I pinned down as the worst part of wrestling (the lost of wonder) actually gives rise to what I call “a mature appreciation”.
As I know more about the wrestling business behind the curtain and lose my childlike wonder, I gain more knowledge that helps me enjoy other aspects which I missed out when I was younger. I began to recognize good ring work of heels whereas in the past I would just root for the face; I noticed the production value of the arena and video packages a lot more than before; I see positives in having heels win at times whereas in the past I would have been mad when the bad guys won.
Most importantly, I gain tremendous enjoyment when WWE is willing to harness that extra subtext of reality and mix it up with the primary text. In doing so, blurring the lines of reality and made-believe, WWE created stories that would last forever.
The WWE is no stranger to the concept of the 4th wall. The “subtext” has always been a feature in wrestling since the beginning, and the most famous was the Montreal Screwjob. But given the advances of social media and the openness of the internet, there is no better opportunity than in the 2010s for WWE to make a concerted effort in creating the Reality Era. Some of the best story-lines came from the concept of reality. The CM Punk pipebomb, leading to MITB 2011. The promos between the Rock and Cena leading to WM28. The love triangle of Matt, Lita and Edge. The rise of B+ wrestler Daniel Bryan. Every one of these stories were told with conviction, a masterful blend of reality and fiction, and it take a grown up, jaded smark to truly enjoy and savor the subtext that runs through the backbone of these stories.
A Balance of the Best and the Worst
It dawned on me that there is a seemingly contradiction and conflict between having a sense of wonder and developing a mature appreciation of pro-wrestling. While both qualities are needed to enjoy wrestling, both are antithesis of each other:
As I grew older, I lost the wonder, and lost the enjoyment. On the flip side, I gain a mature appreciation which helps me gain enjoyment. It’s a balancing act for a wrestling fan to never lose sight of the wonder of wrestling while gaining more appreciation for the business.
I came to a simple conclusion. Growing up as a wrestling fan, it’s impossible to ignore the subtext. Only children will retain the magic, and as they grow up, there’s no way to curb the knowledge of the 4th wall when social media and the internet rampantly reveal the workings behind the scenes. WWE knows this and manages to create shows on the Network that interview the superstars, and show us the training and emotional aspects of a career through documentaries and other mediums. Prior history of wrestlers such as Finn Balor, Nakamura and Asuka are no longer cast aside as though they’re unimportant. This is the best way to grow with the times, and as an adult fan, it’s refreshing to see WWE no longer live in a bubble world that ignore other promotions, but rather a truly global company that takes a wrestler’s subtext outside of WWE and educate the audience.
Put it this way. When I was younger, believing in Santa Claus is absolutely exciting and magical. I looked forward to Christmas mornings, knowing that wonderful gifts would appear under the Christmas tree from a divine being. It’s the sense of wonder that kept the festival memorable as a kid. Fast forward to today, I no longer believes in Santa. However, I grew a sense of appreciation every Christmas morning as I woke up to the beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree, knowing full well that someone took the time, money and effort to send me a gift. It’s what I call a mature appreciation for the love of those around you, your family and friends.
That same warm fuzzy feeling is how I feel about wrestling today. I may not believe in the invincibility of my heroes like I did when I was young, but I sure believe in the hard-work and perseverance put in by our wrestlers and bookers just to entertain me every week. That, I think, is what being an adult fan today truly is: the lost of wonder balanced by a maturing appreciation.
TL;DR? Here a summary:
This was exceptional in terms of material. Possibly the best of the round imo. The comparison to Santa Claus and Christmas to wrestling in terms of matured appreciation was perfect. And it encapsulated a column that truly built up and formed a very strong belief, highly intelligent in craft.
I think you can even hit a point of looking at wrestling through new eyes again when you have a child, or have children close to you. Seeing my Niece and Nephews react to wrestling the way they did not only ressurrected me as a fan, but it gave me an entirely new perspective. And I think a level of cut off from dirt is necessary- though that is easier said than done. We are truly addicts. I look forward to the creativity that hits you once you become father. It was a wellspring for me- like opening a crypt. I think you will be a fantastic dad, and will still produce some amazing columns in the future.
The negatives: The grammar and picture hurt. The picture was the opening crux that built the foundation, without it was noticeable. Parts of the grammar were like reverting backwards for you- 1 particular line stated you wouldnt be able to wrestle your grandpa in bed anymore- that was not how you intended it, but it hung me up a lot early on. That last sincere proof would have pushed that out.
Having said that the material itself was possibly unmatched for me- and considering how busy you are irl, impressed doesnt even cover the thoughtfulness in the material, and use of topic. Overall very good column here JW. And good luck for this and everything else!
The issue I have with the point you are arguing here is that I don’t think knowledge and critique has to be the death of authentic enjoyment. I’m glad you covered this to some extent in your final point, but I do wonder if you are too quick to blame the fans in general. You are happy to praise WWE for incorporating “reality” into their storyline, but by doing so they are inviting the fans to seek even more inside knowledge and tailor their actions accordingly. WWE played a huge role in changing the way the fans view the business and react to storylines, they essentially asked for this in their haste to bring a temporary feeling of “reality” into their product. To be sure, a child will always view things through the eyes of a child, but it’s not fair to expect everyone to view through those same eyes. Again this is something you address partially with your final point, but I still struggle to fully accept your argument. Is there no time in which a valid complaint can be brought against a wrestling promotion? Surely they are not infallible? I agree there are some fans who complain as a knee jerk and keep watching something they have nothing but bad things to say about, but I also think there is a large subsection of fans who simply want to express their authentic feelings, and since WWE have heavily encouraged these fans to become “part of the show” they are quick to voice their feelings in the arena and while talking with other fans.
That said, even though I do not fully agree with your assessment I do think this is quite a good piece. The way you drew on personal experience to illustrate your viewpoint was impressive. I admit even I was a bit triggered when you mentioned your young friend laughing at Bryan when he lost to Sheamus, and realizing that I had that feeling made me look at myself a bit more closely. The fact that I can be upset about a kid laughing at something is a bracing one. Then again, is my emotional gut reaction any less valid than his, just because he’s still a child? There’s a lot that could be unpacked just from that, so kudos for including it. Also, as always your little pictures and diagrams add a lot, breaking up the text and providing amusing asides. I could probably debate you all day about your conclusion, which I’m still not convinced you adequately supported, but putting that aside I did have a good time reading this, well done.
Kleck: if u mean the first picture, that was a letter written by a boy who was from my church. The grammar mistakes on it were not mine. I appreciate your enjoyment of the column and I know I didn't proof as well as I should as I didn't have enough time. Also it was my dad who passed away, not my grandpa. Thanks!
Mizfan: I am quite surprised by your conclusion. I think u were looking for an argument but I am rather stating things from a personal capacity and stating more of a natural occurrence than to say who is at fault. I didn't attribute any blame to fans, indeed I often stated that the fact is that subtext off screen has indeed become more pronounced in the entertainment world, regardless of whether we want it to be or not. So to say that I rid WWE of blame and cast the blame on fans surprises me as in the first place I was talking more about the lost of wonder being the culprit of my loss of enjoyment in wrestling. I don't think fans or management is to blame for this progression of the 4th wall being exposed.
If u felt unhappy at Darryl laughing at Bryan losing at WM, then it proves the point. Darryl was enjoying wrestling from a view point of wonder and he finds it funny that the bad guy gets his ass kicked. From a smark pov it was abysmal because of booking and we like heels etc. These are the 2 perspectives that often clashed. I didn't belittle the opinion of the adults - in fact I went at length to say these were moments I personally hated as I lost my sense of wonder.
The second part then talks about how I realised that the same lost of wonder became the very thing that grew my love of wrestling. The whole contention u have about blaming a promotion for the 4th wall breaking bad etc is never my point because, why should I blame any promotion for this when I realised I actually welcome and enjoy the 4th wall breaking as a fan? So the whole blame game was never the intention of the column. I know this sounds defensive but it baffles me enough to reply as such. I also came to the exact same conclusion as Degen that I am talking about something that is both the BEST and THE WORST. Perhaps the column lacks the clarity or perhaps different readers have different emphasis that appears more readily as they read a column.
Thanks for commenting it's all good and I enjoyed writing about this topic.
Last edited by JacobWrestledGod; 09-19-2016 at 10:38 PM.
Can anyone else see the image? That's what my feedback was about- I see no images in this column... maybe it's a weird issue on my phone?
Kleck, I can see the images no problem but I didn't try with a phone, so that might be the issue.
Jacob, I think you did give off the impression that you put the onus on the fans whether you meant to or not. Look at your drawings, they are basically instructions to fans that say you should act this way, not this way. Fans should not question the booking, fans should not complain, fans should not be "smarks", or at least one version of what a smark is. Granted, it's the fans who are most likely to be reading your column, so maybe that's why you focused on advice to them, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb here. Maybe it's just my own impression but it's definitely the one I got!
Also, this is not really key to the argument but I do want to say a little more on the whole Sheamus/Bryan thing. To be sure, the big negative reaction was based primarily off the booking of the situation, but even in context of the story I find that moment problematic. Basically a big hulking guy takes a cheap shot at a guy half his size, so who is really the bully in this situation?? Sure, Bryan was being a bit cheeky, but come on. In all seriousness though, I wonder if the tendency for WWE to sometimes book faces in the role of bully is part of what turns away the more attentive fans. I remember that was particularly a problem for Sheamus during that time, at least in terms of perception.
I as the most pissed off at Bryan losing. i was so pissed, I couldnt even enjoy Triple H vs Taker in HIAC and Cena vs The Rock. I am still bitter until today hahah. But y friends, even adult friends, were cheering and telling me how great the moment was. it actually means that Bryan and AJ played the heel roles too damn well that casual fans ate it all up.
Got to admit the pictures gave a very different impression of the column, and I admit it. Truly i just wanted to play around with the meme and didnt realized how it frames my argument wrongly. i take responsibility for that.
Kleck - u didnt see the photos? I did a graph and also some memes. Pretty sure u will love them.
Last edited by JacobWrestledGod; 09-19-2016 at 11:25 PM.
And Jacob wrestled with God.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, after all! So maybe your regular words just got outnumbered?
That sucks! I dont get why I cant see them! Anyone else using a cell phone have this problem? The weird thing is I see pictures in other columns...
Besides grammar that was the only thing I thought was missing here. And apologies on saying Grandpa, the line was about your dad, and regardless, sorry for your loss even if it was years ago. That's not an easy situation, my heart goes out to you.
Ugh. I want to see this column with the pictures lol!
P.s. I can see what Miz is saying even without the pictures based on the title of the column. It is a little snarky. I didnt think it was too bad though.
i share the parallels with my dad starting me out with wrestling too. but i dont think you should automatically lose wonder once you find out the realities vs the myth. like xmas, i had my doubts about santa even as a young kid, i was just always about the mood and time of year and the spirit of it all. to this day i love the thanksgiving xmas season, and all that it brings.
i like the charts.
romans reigns aint so bad.
good job dude
This was an interesting take on this topic. Seeing that letter, it makes me appreciate more that when I began watching wrestling it was during the time period of the whole Rock n' Wrestling deal. Having simpler storylines and clear-cut babyface characters like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior along with their counterparts in The Million Dollar Man and Randy "Macho King" Savage made it easy on me. It's probably similar to what Daryl feels with John Cena now.
I enjoyed the point on losing one's wonder being the converse of gaining an appreciation as you age. The analogy with Christmas was a good way to drive this point home. Sadly, it feels like a lot of people don't gain that appreciation. Of course, it's up to everyone to reach that conclusion eventually. You and I seem to be on the same page when it comes to this since it's similar to what I wrote in my own column.
The only minor nitpick I would have here is that there are people who love being like Smark. I think it's not fair to make it seem that it's a bad thing if they're like that. It's probably just a different way of appreciation, weird as it sounds, and we can choose whether or not to interact with them. But that's really a small thing - nothing that really takes away from your point in this column.
Great work here, I liked how this was structured and how it directly relates to your own experience. Best of luck in this round!
I think it's up to us to pull back and allow that sense of wonder to creep back in, as much as possible. You can still watch with a mature appreciation while maintaining that sense of wonder. Granted, it's harder to do that with WWE, but it is possible, and if it's not, watch some NJPW you will be amazed all over again. I promise.