My first exposure to the world of pro-wrestling was, like many others, one of the most hideously confusing moments of my young life. You see, watching pro-wrestling at any point in your life is like walking in on a weird conversation with absolutely no context whatsoever, and being too afraid or even engrossed to try and slow it down to make sense of it. pro-wrestling is the strangest and most grueling form of theatre there is, like boxing on acid. It's a larger-than-life cartoon spewed into reality by a maniacal, hedonistic billionaire man-child. I know all of this now, but at seven years old I had no idea. I was sitting on my couch, completely fascinated by how this long-haired guy was being booed so violently by thousands of people, and wondering why he looked like he was enjoying it so much.
Today is the 29th of March, 2015, and every year around this time, millions and millions of people sit on their couches in a state of either unbridled excitement or confusion. Tonight is the 31st annual Wrestlemania event being held at the Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Every year since its inception, Wrestlemania has been akin to the Superbowl of wrestling, though it's more likely much bigger than that. People from every known corner of the planet tune in on televisions and laptops to watch a host of insane and characterful men and women beat the shit out of each other on the biggest theatre stage ever erected. Pro-wrestling is, when you really think about it, the most debaucherous creation of late capitalism in the sense that a huge slice of the world shuts down and throws all of their money at one company so they can witness an undead mortician do battle with a masked psychotic inside of a 16 ft steel cage. Everything about it is insane and none of it should be popular, but it is, it's really fucking popular. It is both the worst and best thing on television at the same time.
So, one half of the world is going to be slamming back cans and "marking out" like there's no tomorrow, while the other half will be furrowing their brows, extending their bottoms lips, and wondering why police haven't been called to help the guy being attacked with cinder blocks. That's the thing about pro-wrestling, you have to give yourself to it, you've got to shut off the part of your brain that produces logic babies and just go with the flow.
For those of you who cannot shut out the voices telling you that none of this makes sense, but would like to try and enjoy the show tonight as best you can, I'd like to give you my own little rundown on what pro-wrestling is and has been for the last few decades, starting off with a favourite of mine, The Sheik.
The Sheik (1924 - 2003) was probably the perfect villain in the golden age of wrestling. He was everything your typical American wrestling fan hated; mean-spirited, underhanded, and 'foreign'. He was this insane snake-worshiping billionaire from Syria who, instead of enjoying his riches at home, decided to come to the USA to stab guys like Dusty Rhodes with forks, set them on fire, and generally piss off as many Americans as he could. You have to respect that.
Hulk Hogan Slams André the Giant
The first and most important thing you need to know about André the Giant is that he was 7 ft 4, 520 lbs. The man could, and would often, drink ten times as much alcohol as any of the other muscleheads on the WWF roster. He was a freak of nature. However, Hulk Hogan was the pro-wrestling superman at this point in time, so when people said "you can't beat André the Giant", Hogan simply responded by picking him up and nearly fucking him out of the ring, because America.
The Gobbledy Gooker
At some point before Survivor Series 1990, a giant fucking egg began appearing on WWF programming. No one knew what it was, no one knew what was in it, they just knew that it was going to hatch at Survivor Series. So when a giant mutant turkey rose from the splintered eggshell and proceeded to make its way to the ring, people knew even less about what was going on than they did when the giant egg first appeared.
Robocop Saves Sting
I'm not entirely sure why Robocop was in the building that night, but when Sting was jumped and caged by the Horsemen, the cyborg avenger decided to interject and save the Stinger. I can only assume that Robocop was hired as security for the night and took an unusually intolerant attitude towards bad guy shenanigans.
Much in the same way as The Sheik was more interested in setting people on fire than offering anything in the way of athletic prowess, so too was the outlaw Cactus Jack more concerned with setting himself on fire than executing the perfect fujiwara armbar. Cactus Jack (Mankind, Dude Love, Mick Foley) was basically a toothless psychopath who, once he was fired from brand giants WCW, wandered around the world beating the shit out of himself and others in death match tournaments. He would eventually go through an number of changes during his career in WWF/E, but he remained every bit as unhinged and masochistic.
ECW was the wrestling promotion that managed to fit everything that was wrong with American society into one television show and monthly PPV. They had inbred hillbillies, alcoholics with Singapore canes, a dancing Amish, a manic depressive cult leader, gangsters, the Italian mob, and they all beat each other up with chairs, tables, barbed wire bats, and almost any sharp or blunt object you can hold with two hands. They never bothered to address the legalities of anything that went on, and in the real world, they'd all be well behind bars. Though most of the pro-wrestling world would be anyway.
Wrestling has often been full of these really macho, greased-up muscle freaks that go around flexing and "no-homo'ing", Goldust wasn't one of them. He's a bisexual, gender-bending sociopath who literally thinks he's an Academy award bust, and his offense often included incredibly risqué moves like feeling up his opponents and grabbing their genitals. He's far more tame in his old age, but it could be a matter of time before he starts donning the wig again.
At a time in the 90s when racial tensions were high following the Los Angeles riots, The Nation of Domination came into the WWF as one of the most balls-out, angry group of POC wrestlers that have ever been featured on the program. They were basically whitey-hating Black Panthers who wanted to take over the WWF "by any means necessary" and their promos and story lines are some of the most memorable of the era, though they'll likely never be referenced today due to the sensitive matter their story dealt with. Shame, because they had the coolest theme music as well.
The Ministry of Darkness
Led by a Southern mortician turned demonic priest, The Undertaker, The Ministry of Darkness were a motley crew of weirdos all joined under the same banner to fuck over CEO Vince McMahon and his establishment. However, just like your favourite underground metal band, they eventually sold out and joined the corporation as The Corporate Ministry. Try to imagine a bunch of goths who happen to be on a corporate payroll and you've got the idea.
Goldberg was this giant man-eating Jew that went around fucking terrorizing the WCW throughout the late 90s, amassing an undefeated streak of 173-0. He would literally throw people around the ring and just mess up their shit, and he was so unhinged (I still don't know why he was so angry) that he had to be escourted to the ring by police, not for his own safety, but for the safety of others.
Basically speaking, The Undertaker is some kind of undead master of darkness (take from that what you will) that uses lightning bolts, smoke, caskets, and his innumerable hooded acolytes to scare his opponents into submission. While he used to wrestle regularly in WWF/E, whether it was for titles, to fight the powers that be, or to "school" people under his American Badass persona, he now shows up once a year at Wrestlemania to put the hammer down on whoever he thinks is worthy enough. He also has a love/hate relationship with his burn-victim/necrophiliac brother Kane...who is now a corporate businessman.
So, WWF/E were never very good at addressing the very real injuries that their talent go through, but they did give a kind of nod to the untold of amount of concussions sustained under their product by offering up Perry Saturn. Perry Saturn sustained very serious head trauma following a beatdown by the Acolytes Protection Agency and his former boss, Raven. From there on his behaviour became more and more erratic until he finally fell in love with a mop, who he named "Moppy", and then eventually returned to average brain capacity without any explanation offered whatsoever.
The ECW/WCW Alliance
By 2001, both ECW and WCW were defunct and owned by Vince McMahon, and as is tradition in most pro-wrestling circles, a lot of wrestlers were very pissed off about this. So, united under the rebellious son and daughter of Vince McMahon, both ECW and WCW invaded the WWF, half to take revenge for themselves, and half to do the bidding of the McMahon children who wanted revenge on their father. This "invasion" lasted a few months before all rebellion was quashed a Survivor Series 2001, when after countless defections and betrayals, Kurt Angle attacked the traitor Stone Cold in order to secure a victory for both The Rock and the WWF promotion. This needs far more context than I gave it, but people are still asking questions about this story to this day. I still don't entirely understand what the real endgame was supposed to be here.
The Spirit Squad
The Spirit Squad arrived on the scene when pro-wrestling was going through its most confusing period ever. We had a Boogeyman, two cowardly French dudes, Billy Gunn came out of the closet (only to go back in), we had a foot-fetishist that killed babies, Goldust had Tourette's, DX were back only much older, and everything was just generally upsetting. So the Spirit Squad were a gang of male cheerleaders who worked as Vince McMahon's personal guard and who delighted in bullying other stars less 'popular' than them. Eventually, the only member of the Squad to go on and do anything with their lives was Dolph Ziggler, who now enjoys singles success, though takes regular shitkickings at the hands of other stars.
Vince McMahon Fights God
The first thing you need to know about Vince McMahon is that Vince McMahon is the most megalomaniacal human being that doesn't hold dictatorship status. Vince McMahon made WWE the corporate behemoth it is today, but at the cost of his own sanity. Sometimes Vince pulled some ridiculous things from his arse that he thought might make him more money, but none of them quite as morally destitute as inviting God to the ring to fight him in front of an audience of highly religious Kentucky citizens. It was a brilliant move in retrospect, but also hyperbolic to levels unheard of.
John Cena is basically like Hulk Hogan 2.0 in the sense that he has been, in the past, a superman character. There was a time when he never lost a match, always saved the day, send the bad guys packing, and everyone fucking hated his guts for it. He's slightly more chilled out now and has actually been portrayed as something close to human in recent years, though is still hated worldwide. Which is strange, considering the man has the hardest job in entertainment. Four nights a week of wrestling in front of huge audiences interrupted only so he can meet dying children whose last request it was to meet him. That's heavy. I'm a bit sad now.
The Wyatt Family
Even after two years, I still have no idea why The Wyatt Family came to WWE. They never exactly made their intentions clear in any of their Manson-esc vignettes and their leader, Bray Wyatt, still goes off on crazy tangents about the WWE and society at large. The Wyatt Family were basically a swamp-dwelling redneck cult who joined the WWE initially to fuck up Kane's shit, but ended up staying to make life difficult for everyone else. There was no real rhyme or reason to anything they did, they just did it under the constant brainwashing of their leader Bray. While they've been split up for a while now, each member has retained a certain amount of crazy that keeps them wired in singles competition.
Even more bizarre than absolutely everything above is the fact that there is one date in time reserved for fans of and participants in this horseshit insane action drama to indulge themselves. Millions upon millions of dollars are put into its production, millions upon millions of people tune in, thousands upon thousands of people travel from around the globe to make it to the event, and all of this is in the name of honouring the tradition of hyperbole in theatre and making a lot of money doing it.
Tonight, people will scratch their heads, people will laugh, people will likely cry, and a jacked-up dinosaur in shorts is going to fucking kill a Samoan guy in front of thousands of dewy-eyed children. That's entertainment.