By: Mortimer Plumtree
Ever since the now ballyhooed "Attitude Era" or the "Monday Night Wars", however one would like to describe or acknowledge wrestling in the late 90's, pro wrestling and fans alike seem to be searching to define the next era, period, or even, the next few years. We've seen pro wrestling go through some unofficially coined phrases recently such as, "Ruthless Aggression" and "The Brand Extension", and of course a personal favorite of mine, "The Dark Era", describing the period of pro wrestling from 2001 to 2002 when the street of pro wrestling had one light on, the WWE.
Of course, since then, we've seen pro wrestling struggle through some growing times with TNA Wrestling and ROH alongside the growing advent and adjustment to the industry brought upon us by the internet. Today, the industry is strong, with multiple places to work once again for talent, and options for fans. Yet, there still seems to be that want, a need, a desire to capture and grasp the next era, the next big innovation, the next big bang, the next "something" in pro wrestling.
We've heard about it several times from Triple H in the WWE in trying to coin this time as the "Reality Era". And of course, there is Dixie Carter who seems to be touching base in that direction by continuously emphasizing the product's initiative to "pull back the curtain". In a world where fans know more and more abut the inner workings and the backstage happenings of the industry, accepting the product as a "work" and embracing the "real" side of things seem like the next step. After all, there are some who are more interested in being a fan of pro wrestling from the business side rather than the suspended disbelief that is pro wrestling fandom.
Yet, even in 2015, all of this talk of "reality" and "the next era", and coming up with the next big presentation-style or gimmick, or a new creative direction, seem a bit forced. At least to me it does. Quite frankly, nothing feels genuinely like "reality" during these years, and it's even more difficult to understand what "pulling back the curtain" really means.
Much of this thought spurred from two podcasts I listened to in recent weeks. The first one being the much discussed Steve Austin interview with Triple H, and Taz's interview with MVP on his Human Podcast Machine channel, the latter which I've become a big fan of.
Their acknowledgement of history and their intelligence for the business is what really gripped me. Both simply had an articulate grasp and holding knowledge of the deeper lessons and refinement of the craft that is pro wrestling. The kind of insight and hard experience none of us can pick up from our daily internet wrestling reading. And if we pretended to, we would be kidding ourselves. Only experience can breed some of the knowledge they were sharing.
Nonetheless, the idea of the fan's role in kayfabe, the possible death of it, and how we as fans today often refuse to allow stories to play out at the whim of our internet ignorance, were all topics on the table for discussion in both interviews. Often times, especially in this era - whatever you want to call it - it's us almost working "the work" with our complaints (if that makes any sense). At times, we've taken something we know is entertainment, try to attach real components to it, and hope it carries out back in the entertainment world. Oh great, EC3's team lost tonight, it's obvious he's getting buried! FREE EC3!!
After all, is it indeed possible to present reality, true reality, in an entertainment form? In logical, understanding, and entertaining ways? In plot arcs that are engaging, developing, and beneficial?
The more we as a wrestling world delve in on "reality" and "peeling back the curtains", the less understanding I have of what it truly means.
In MVP's discussion with Taz, which is truly remarkable to hear regarding his checkered past, he touches on the reason he got into pro wrestling. Japanese wrestling and eventually ECW were big hits in the prison he was locked up in, as inmates grew to appreciate and become hooked on the "believability" in the characters and the "fights". And he's absolutely right. We all know ECW's deal at this point. Even if you tried to un-suspend your belief and wanted to be a typical wrestling cynic - man this is fake! - you couldn't. You absolutely couldn't on some of ECW's best stuff.
If you watched, say a Tomohiro Ishii vs Katsuyori Shibata today, how hard is it for you to turn away? Is that the reality pro wrestling is moving towards? Is that the reality that is considered the next chapter?
Or is it a blend on reality? Say, the way TNA recently filmed MVP and Bobbly Lashley having a street fight in the front of the Manhattan Center?
How about a blend on the characters? Almost similar to what TNA did a few years ago with Reaction in getting real feedback from characters and partially allowing real and organic scenarios occurring backstage (injuries, personal life happenings, interviews, etc...) to become part of each character?
Or possibly, presentation?
From experience, I can tell you that one of the reasons my wife dislikes (she actually loathes WWE programming - I actually don't quite understand the level of hatred) is due to the backstage segments. Yes, they're cheesy, and it's the way WWE produces them. And let's be honest, it works for them. To the non-wrestling fan, I can very well see why it might be embarrassing. As my wife claims, at least other companies try to make it seem like the camera is there for a reason.
How about storylines?
Sticking with my wife, who is typically (and sadly) my
test dummy casual fan census on wrestling topics, she always tells me that wrestling never has "real-life storylines". "Wrestling tells awful love stories" she once told me. Of course, I laughed (like Ted DiBiase of course) and responded with "Everyone has a price..." I'm kidding. "Ummmm, no real wrestling fan wants to watch that. Who wants to watch people fighting over love? Give me two guys who are going to kick each other's heads in to be champion! This is pro wrestling!", I so eloquently articulated as the pro-wrestling savaant to the know-nothing, unappreciative, casual fan who ruins my genre of entertainment with their mainstream entitled opinions.
She shook her head in disgust (commonly seen towards most men in relationships). "Being champion is fine. Fighting for belts is OK. It's some of the other stuff I don't get. Millions of people would be hooked to something like a woman and her new boyfriend getting their asses kicked by the former boyfriend. Or someone cheating on someone. You can't tell me that NO ONE on the show are dating or are in relationships?! You know...people love watching personal stuff - that's why reality television sadly does so well. How many times are wrestlers going to try to take over their wrestling company?!!"
Point made. But I didn't tell her that. I refused to do the job in that argument. And yes, I have no idea why wrestling does certain stories so incredibly cheesy. Shes definitely correct.
Maybe this new era is simply about acknowledging that we as fans are aware? We no longer just sit back and accept the story and product before us, but we have a voice, and we will use it to make a change for what we want - you know, forcing "the work" - in order to be entertained.
Is that the reality pro wrestling should shoot for? Is it what Triple H referenced? Or what Dixie Carter meant?
Again, I don't know. I have no idea how "reality" fits in pro wrestling. It's intriguing, and yes, it seems like the next step, but I don't think anyone has completely defined, refined, and adapted it to their product as of yet.
Whatever it is, for this site specifically, TNA has taken small steps in this direction with the use of different camera shots, the roaming cameras backstage, and even the presentation of the product as sport with a top five rankings.
I'm all for the changes. I like them a lot. But I'm still wondering what we will call these years five years of TNA Wrestling in the future. And if this will be as "real" as this era gets.
Isn't it weird how some oddly connect no recent controversy to the company being "boring"?
Speaking of weird, how about AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Samoa Joe all being on ROH TV?
Wasn't it not too long ago they were considered TNA's future? Time flies, huh?
And isn't the feud between ROH and TNA fans kind of silly?
Aren't we at the dawn of a new era in terms of talent as far as TNA's future is concerned?
How awesome is one of those talents in Bram?
And of course from the words above, didn't you know my wife would be glued to the television for the Mickie/Bram confrontation a few weeks ago and the program moving forward? You know, the storyline involving a wife, her wrestler husband, their son, and the best friend turning his back on them all?
Maybe she has a point, because hasn't it been good stuff?
Do you also really like the BDC's theme music?
Speaking of, are you intrigued how Joe will leave the BDC? Possible replacement?
How charismatic is Spud?
Do you also love how the World Title is the main focus amid various feuds?
If we eventually get Angle vs. Lashley, how awesome do you expect that to be? Over/under on total suplexes thrown?
As always, feedback is very much welcomed and appreciated below, and over in Twitterland at @domepondering.