Spectatorship of the Proletariat
Sports entertainment began in the United States as a wholesome family values spectacle that had branched off from circus wrestling acts. Thanks to the ruthless business acumen of Vince McMahon, sports entertainment and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) ballooned in popularity during the mid-to-late 90s and became a staple of new American culture. This ballooning was due to McMahon's recognition of a changing American culture from a wholesome Brady Bunch image that was the norm for Baby Boomers to what would become Generation X's mark on the world. The political framework of the Baby Boomer's upbringing was a sensible and moral framework for society. Baby Boomer presidents took this to be unfalteringly true and conveyed this image as the normal attitude of America and quintessential Americana, right up until cultural clout ran away from political power and overthrew it by promoting a marketably cool and fun product that had no boundaries.
Despite its excellent storytelling abilities, there is a low-status, bioleninist element present in engaging with this culture. Unlike Lenin's active low-status October Revolution, the WWE's cultural revolution was entirely passive by the low-status elements of American society; all they had to do was continue to watch it unfold. This attachment to the product of WWE and sports entertainment at large should ideally be reserved for children due to their unshakable faith in the make-belief. Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy hold as much supernatural truth and power to them in the eyes of children as someone like The Undertaker does. The combined parts of the whole product of entertainment allows the audience to be immersed enough in the story to hate the characters and look past the wrestler's real life. The beauty of kayfabe is the commitment to the role of being a character, to where it becomes a focal point of the athlete's life, to the extent that the public doesn't know that they are often good friends behind the scenes with the characters they feud with inside the ring. This article will be using the term sports entertainment as a broad term for this cultural phenomenon, but because of its popularity, WWE will be a focal point.
Contributing largely to the toppling of their 'old order', Baby Boomer ignorance was inevitably their downfall in the climb for cultural power against the youthful enthusiasm of their children, and as we can see in hindsight, was their own fault. This ignorance took the place, not as a political (racial, sexual, social, mental) ignorance, but cultural blindness as to where the future was driving towards. They were not immediately aware of the impact their baby steps had in pushing what would become steroided-up cultural expressions of Baby Boomer daring by Generation X, but how could they have known? Baby Boomers were unsuspecting of the festering, creeping change in the form of an under-the-surface and behind-closed-doors cynical edginess and nihilistic 'don't give a damn' attitude that slowly began scratching its way through the established facade.
Generation X had as much of an impact on the global course of history as their parents did and heavily helped to publicly push this new paradigm into a social setting. The Boomer's rock music warped into Gen X metal music, wrestling became sports entertainment and censorious stuffiness became boisterous raunchiness. Localism and regionalism became globalism, and as is the nature of a free market, the product of sports entertainment found new roots in different lands and grew new customer bases and markets to exploit for itself. This synthesising and outdoing process became the roots of how WWE came to exist, growing either for market power or publicity, which on many occasions tends to overlap.
WWE took this edgy trend and capitalised on it, portraying it in a fantasy-hardcore setting, thanks to many of the performers being from Generation X itself. When you think about Generation X, you think about Nirvana, but you may also see their disenfranchisement from the political workings of that era due to private corruption (something Baby Boomers never observed), which birthed their trademark cynicism, and the shrivelling of the superficial veil of wholesome family values due to unsuccessful attempts to keep this ideal alive by both generations. When you think about wrestling in the 1990s, you think about the Attitude Era, and by proxy, Generation X.
The WWE Universe is a socio-cultural creation of the writing team of World Wrestling Entertainment. The product it tries to sell its audience is the idea of a family that centres on its brand, similar to the 'Metallica family'. To engage with this creation, you need to pay an entry fee (either in buying their merch, attending shows or often unavoidably observing adverts on their online content); it is a pay to 'win' situation. The athletes of sports entertainment hold a high-status position in their field, and to an extent, in society itself, because once they climb the ladder in the wrestling world, the rest of the media landscape opens up to them with relative ease. It's their dedication and talent that puts them above the average Joe. When Joe comes home after his 9-to-5 job, he is in need of sustenance and comedic relief. Average Joes give the media and their scheduled programming power over them because he relies on it for that relief, and WWE is right there waiting. Combining the relief factor and the WWE Universe creation gives us the result of a collectivist bioleninist power structure that is artificially created by marketeers. Comparing something semi-fictional to something brutal is a fruitless endeavour because as Brock Lesnar puts it, both the WWE and UFC are selling the same product of fights, WWE just has a scripted storyline attached.
The appeal of sports entertainment is understandable, I was a big fan of WWE during its Ruthless Aggression Era until it tapered off into the PG Era and I generally lost interest with it as I became a teenager and the exit of many of my favourite superstars. The Attitude Era (1997-2002) and the Ruthless Aggression Era (2002-2008) are standouts because they signalled a time when the characters had a depth to them above the charade of being known faces and names that achieve success because they're marketable people beyond their wrestling careers, instead of characters who hold kayfabe in high esteem and don't show their true selves. The most successful product of the past handful of eras of sports entertainment is undoubtedly The Undertaker because of how committed to kayfabe and his character he was. The Undertaker is unique as he is a "horror-themed, macabre entity who employed scare tactics and held links to the supernatural". Having wrestled for the company for 30 years, The Undertaker became the face of the Attitude Era, rebranding himself slightly when it was necessary to fit in with the company's changing image but retaining his essential characteristics. His image is heavily associated with the company's flagship annual event Wrestlemania due to his infamous 21 match win streak, and his off and on teaming and feuding with his kayfabe half-brother Kane. When you watch The Undertaker and Kane's entrances, you will notice how poetic, immersive and theatrical it is; from the music, the special effects, the gimmicky actions they do, to the reactions of the other wrestlers and how they sell it, depending on who is the heel or babyface.
To its credit, WWE athletes do promote physicality and lead by example, and the importance of thinking on the spot and being creative cannot be understated. But for the audience, this may not be immediately obvious if they don't sit and think philosophically about the product and its message. For all the good a brand can do for its audience, there is always a drawback. Spectator sports are exactly as they sound: sports where people are limited to spectating and engage with one-sidedly like it's a drug. Viewing your favourite superstars become champion helps you feel more complacent with sitting and watching others achieve and better themselves because you feel connected to them and their moment. Through their actions, you live out a fantasy of success and lie to yourself instead of chasing that success yourself. Be careful with what media you ingest if its side effects aren't immediately visible!