Sick Acrylics 08: On Knowing Too Much and Feeling Too Little: The Prestige of Professional Wrestling

Hey everybody! No new column this week, as I’m in the middle of a ton of personal obligations (including moving). So, I thought I’d repost an unedited version of an article I’m immensely proud of: a look at how deep engagement with our favorite hobbies can be a bit of a double-edged sword.

This is by no means a unique experience, but I hope you enjoy my personal story about trying to reclaim the magic that hooked me into professional wrestling as a child Check it:

On Knowing Too Much and Feeling Too Little: The Prestige of Professional Wrestling

Originally posted 4/16/13; Updated 12/14/15

It’s no secret that many people still don’t “get” professional wrestling, and it’s never been easy to succinctly or accurately explain it. Whenever I’m asked what I like about professional wrestling, my answer was that professional wrestling is magic.

That’s all there is to it: magic.

Admittedly, I’m dodging the question there. However, I do so for a reason and my response is honest. I really do feel that what we get from enjoying professional wrestling is an amazing combination of personal investment, emotional fulfillment, intellectual stimulation, and occasional instances of mindless shock that other art forms never fully reach. This combination is not only impressive, but it’s also unique to the world of professional wrestling.

Unfortunately, the magic can’t fully be explained without sacrificing some level of that emotional fulfillment, and often times can’t fully be enjoyed without sacrificing some level of that intellectual stimulation. This is a tense dichotomy, and as a result I choose not to fully explain my love of wrestling. Whenever possible, I choose to shut off the critical part of my mind that constantly evaluates the good/bad and how/why of it all to just say that it’s magic, and that I love it.

In that sense my response may be honest, but it’s not exactly truthful because that’s not all there is to my love of professional wrestling…I just wish it was.

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.” — Christopher Priest, The Prestige

In 2013, I attended Wrestlemania 29 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and also attended a widely praised episode of Monday Night Raw at the IZOD Center the night after. Both events were fantastic, life-changing experiences, and being there live was a great way to revel in the emotional investment I’d developed in wrestlers like Dolph Ziggler, for example.

It’s been two years and I’m still not over the moments I witnessed. I’ll never forget the moment after Jack Swagger left World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio beaten in the ring: I vividly remember grabbing my close friend (pictured on the right) as Dolph Ziggler’s music hit and muttering something about how we’d waited so many years for this moment, and so had he; I’ll never forget the spontaneous hug I gave a random stranger to my left as the referee counted three and crowned seemingly eternal underdog Dolph Ziggler the new World Heavyweight Champion.

I’ll also always remember joining 15,999 of my newest friends and family members in singing a ridiculously off-key rendition of Fandango’s theme music, waving our arms in the air in fits of laughter and telling my friend (pictured on the left) that we should work on an 8-bit cover of the track that eventually sparked an entire music project for us.

I share these personal experiences to show that these are moments where little else matters. It doesn’t matter that we loved Alberto Del Rio’s World Heavyweight Title reign or that singing Fandango’s theme music in the parking lot didn’t make a lick of sense. We purely enjoyed a professional wrestling show and fully committed to the ups and downs of that show’s events and how the rest of the crowd played into those moments. We wore overpriced t-shirts, lost our voices, and barely got any sleep those nights because we had fun seeing what we saw and it didn’t matter why at the time: we fully committed to The Pledge we’d made, and accepted the magic as such.

“The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret…but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet…” — Christopher Priest, The Prestige

In that sense, the following week’s episode of Monday Night Raw proved to be a challenging one for me, as it was the inevitable comedown after a series of emotionally charged events, and not solely because I did not attend the event live.

I love discussions, analysis and critiques of professional wrestling and I recognize how they all play into the intellectual stimulation we crave from the art form. However, I wish that continually celebrating those aspects of what we love didn’t come at the direct expense of The Turn: the excitement and suspense that I feel is most important when it comes to enjoying the product.

These are times where I feel the urge to step away from social networks and stop reading blogs on wrestling; those of you who are my friends have probably noticed me obnoxiously expressing this urge on Twitter every now and again. I feel this urge not because I dislike the online communities that have developed around wrestling (I love many of the communities, wouldn’t trade the friendships I’ve made in those communities for anything, and would like to continue writing about professional wrestling), but because it’s nearly impossible to avoid the kinds of rumors and over-analysis that chip away at my emotional enjoyment of the show.

If I knew less than I did, I wouldn’t feel the way I do about the CM Punk segment from the April 15, 2013 edition of Raw. Instead of the suspense and confusion that CM Punk’s silence and sudden departure from the show should instill in me, I found myself thinking “oh, right, the reports say that he’s going to take some time off and then return to face Brock Lesnar”. Instead of frantic curiosity and excitement over what comes next for the parties involved, I found myself hoping CM Punk’s eventual return wouldn’t be spoiled weeks in advance (which, of course, it was) because his summer plans have, apparently, already been mapped out for fans even before it’s been written.

Those thoughts are the result of wrestling rumors finding their way into my daily reading/conversations despite my efforts to avoid them, along with my own tendency to overanalyze and question every segment of every wrestling show.

Though insightful discussions of professional wrestling are not inherently bad, there is no question that I would be infinitely happier about the aforementioned edition of Monday Night Raw if all of the rumors regarding CM Punk’s vacation in 2013 didn’t make the veil so thin. Indeed, these rumors never gave me the chance to commit to The Turn, because even the possibility of these rumors being true amounts to looking for “the secret”.

I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t analyze professional wrestling; I am making the claim that the good of what we get from these questions doesn’t always outweigh the bad. I would have been shocked and excited to see CM Punk issue a challenge to Brock Lesnar upon his eventual return; instead, I was relieved that the reports were indeed true and we ended up getting a fun Brock Lesnar victory out of the deal.

We all “want to be fooled”, but don’t always afford ourselves that opportunity. We love professional wrestling too much not to learn more about it, even if we do want to revel in a very immediate and emotional moment.

When I got back into regularly watching the WWE after a brief hiatus, I returned with a lot of excitement. I was elated to see Christian win the World Heavyweight Championship and furious to see Randy Orton defeat him for the gold only a few nights later on Smackdown. Being a long time fan of Christian, I was emotionally connected to the match in a number of ways, and my enjoyment was not tempered by the immediate realization that this was the beginning of an angle. I eagerly wanted to see “One More Match” because I cared more about Christian’s struggle than with whether the series was being “booked well”. Further immersing myself in discussions on wrestling’s current events diluted this excitement with over-analysis on what every match suggested about the company’s investment in either competitor.

I think many of you understand these feelings. I want to feel my heart race when Dean Ambrose makes an entrance, and I don’t want to remind myself that Triple H is a legendary wrestler who has done great work behind the scenes for the WWE. I want to see the former succeed and I want the latter to get his justified comeuppance. Worrying about what everything they do in every moment means tempers the reaction they’ll get from me, and I doubt I’m alone in that regard.

Making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige’” — Christopher Priest, The Prestige

I realize that, just like anything else, fans develop a deeper love and appreciation for the art the more they understand the product. However, that love and appreciation moves ever closer to the strictly intellectual realm and away from the emotional realm the more one analyzes the booking practices of professional wrestling.

The balance between the two is a tricky one, and I’ve struggled to strike it over the years. Though I’m able to occasionally shut the critical mind off when one of my favorite performers wins a World Title, my excitement for the industry gets caught in the crossfire a little more than I’d like.

In an ideal world, I’d stick to external analyses that take an almost literary approach to professional wrestling and its symbiotic relationship with regional and national culture, rather than worrying about who Roman Reigns will be wrestling next week. However, news, rumors, and genuine interest in all of contemporary wrestling make it very difficult to stick to this approach.

It’s strange that not worrying about booking practices at all times or not being as educated as others is considered negative in some online wrestling communities, the domain of an “unenlightened” fan who is not a “real fan” because he or she is supposedly not as committed as others. This sentiment is strange because the “unenlightened” fan has an easier time committing to The Pledge, and as a result enjoys the magic of professional wrestling on a much more genuine level than the rest of us. If anything, that person is the “real fan”.

Let’s have deeper conversations some other time. During the show, let’s give ourselves a chance to enjoy it by embracing unenlightenment. Boo Kevin Owens out of the building because he’s a jerk! Tell Stephanie McMahon to shut up because she’s evil as hell, no matter how good she is at it. If you wanna have that deeper conversation right now, it won’t necessarily stop me from enjoying the show; I just might not be as excited about it as I used to be.

Indeed, The Prestige truly is the hardest part. We love magic even though we know that it’s a trick, and every week we try to build on that love even while being exposed to the magician’s tools. Simply loving the art of professional wrestling while being exposed to shoot interviews and news sites ”isn’t enough; you have to bring it back”. As far as I’m concerned, the “it” in this equation is the purely emotional investment and excitement one gets from the art. I suggest you bring “it” back by watching wrestling with the same earnestness and open heart you had when you first got into it. Wasn’t it more fun that way, anyway?