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By Ciaran-James @TheCiaranJames
Kayfabe is a shorthand or slang term used to describe the fact that professional wrestling is a staged, scripted event and not a competitive sport but presented as legitimate. Initially “Kayfabe” was a term used by people “in the business” (either wrestlers or working behind the scenes) as a code between those in the wrestling profession, discussing matters in public without revealing the scripted nature. Kayfabe covers both the fact that matches are scripted and that wrestlers portray characters for their shows. Unlike actors who only portray their characters when on set or on stage professional wrestlers often stay “in character” outside of the shows, especially when interacting with fans, trying to preserve the illusion of professional wrestling. Another term for “Kayfabe” is the word “work”, or “worked”, which also refers to the staged nature of professional wrestling. In contrast, something that’s not “Kayfabe” but legitimate, be it a fight or a statement, is referred to as a “shoot”
The wrestling business was always going to evolve, that fact is inevitable, and like every business change occurs with the times. Wrestling was at its most popular in the late 70’s, throughout the 80’s and late 90’s, this was because the business was protected by those working within it. During the boom periods of professional wrestling every fan over the age of 18 knew it was a staged sport, just like attending the cinema or the theatre the audience knew what they were watching. The wrestlers akin to the actors on the big screen or on stage played their roles as if they were that character, that in turn bred believability, in the 1980’s the audience actually believed Ric Flair hated Dusty Rhodes. That the audience live in attendance or watching at home believed it was real was paramount to the wrestling companies, it created profit, like a boxing match, if the audience believed the animosity between the two fighters was real then they will pay to see the finale. What made it even more believable was the fact that after the show ended, Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes would leave separately and avoid each other, what they wouldn’t do was show up on social media in a selfie or congratulate each other on twitter.
You could argue that Kayfabe was never going to last, with the evolution of the business, social media, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Podcasting it was always going to be hard to keep the act up. But there is an argument that WWE and the wrestlers should have tried harder to protect the business, for example: Bray Wyatt is promoted and pushed as a malevolent force, we are meant to believe in his character and buy into the fact of how villainous he is, however in 2016 he posted for a selfie with Stephanie McMahon and Renee Young after an episode of RAW. That one photo literally eradicated all the hostility Bray shows on screen, how are we meant to tune in every week and believe Bray is this perceived bad guy when he himself doesn’t carry himself that way?
Most recently WWE broadcasted after RAW the heartfelt Finn Balor WWE 24 documentary chronicling his injury, return to fitness, friendships etc……As always WWE excel with these documentaries and they are very often some of the WWE Networks best content. During the programming we witnessed Finn Balor side by side with the man this injured him, Seth Rollins. Once again WWE, Balor and Seth completely disregarded the fact of what happened several months prior, on top of that Finn tagged with Rollins following his return from injury. Now if someone powerbombed me into a security barrier, which required an operation and rehab, I would be slightly vengeful, Finn however was all smiles. WWE treat their audience with little to no respect, WWE themselves obviously believe that we don’t remember certain periods of time.
One more example of WWE and their talents complete disregard of the believability factor was, Jinder Mahal’s appearance on Chris Jericho’s infamous podcast. Over the course of his conversation with Y2J, Jinder broke down his heel character and the problems he faces. How on earth is the self-proclaimed Maharaja and WWE now meant to portray Mahal as this evil character when he’s let everyone know the problems he faces getting over? It makes a mockery of the wrestling business, it destroys the credibility of the characters and in turn fans don’t buy in to what WWE are selling. The curtain covering WWE has literally been ripped of the rail, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts are open for the world to see. WWE superstars routinely wish each other happy birthday after sending a story line inspired tweet of how they detest that person, you might as well take a huge eraser and wipe out the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, because in 2017 they don’t matter.
Many fans will long for the eras of yesteryear, but they had their time. The thread that ran through every era was kayfabe, the protection of the business and the believability factor. It makes sense, now, then and in the future, if the audience don’t believe in the characters or the fact that there is real ‘heat’ between superstars then business won’t flourish. With viewing figures diminishing yearly and WWE attempting to break into more international markets, it is clear they are searching for new fresh to expose their business too. If the wrestlers wish for themselves to be taken seriously in the future then they have to do something about it, Dean Ambrose is a good example of someone who plays his cards close to his chest. Dean never breaks character on social media, therefore people buy into his character, it’s simple, and its kayfabe.