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Pro wrestling isn't fake, it's 'kayfabe' — a mix of fiction and reality we all employ | CBC Radio

*Initially revealed on September 6, 2022.

Concepts53:59Maintaining Kayfabe: The Philosophy of Professional Wrestling

In April 2019, a wrestling match in New Jersey obtained out of hand. A number of minutes in, a wrestler tried to throw his opponent — his personal brother! — from a balcony. Because the referee tried to intervene, they each toppled over the bannister. The 2 rivals fell into the group beneath, sending spectators scattering and falling over backward in a heap. 

The unusual factor was each wrestlers had been invisible. Solely the referee may see them, followers had been instructed, by carrying a particular pair of sun shades.

Regardless of the invisibility of the wrestlers, followers cheered on the nice man and taunted the unhealthy man all through the match. After the wrestlers’ disastrous fall, the group burst right into a spontaneous chant: “That is wrestling! That is wrestling!”

After all, neither wrestler really existed, besides within the thoughts of the spectators. 

And it is this type of suspension of disbelief that makes skilled wrestling so related to philosophers at this time.

‘Face’ vs. ‘heel’

Except for the added aspect of invisibility, the match in New Jersey wasn’t all that completely different from a typical indie professional wrestling match. The viewers threw their assist behind a superb man, or, in wrestling lingo, a “face,” and dutifully booed the unhealthy man, often known as the “heel.”

However wrestling followers are inclined to bristle at the concept wrestling is “faux.” In response to Douglas Edwards, creator of the Philosophy Smackdown, wrestling followers see the fact of wrestling in another way from outsiders. 

“The phrase ‘faux’ is a foul phrase to make use of right here as a result of it implies one thing form of counterfeit or making an attempt to mislead,” he stated.

“And I do not assume that is what wrestling is. I feel there are layers of actuality to wrestling which make it a very fascinating phenomenon.”

Thinker and wrestling fan Doug Edwards examines the cultural spectacle of professional wrestling from a philosophical perspective in his e book, Philosophy Smackdown. (Polity Press )

Maintaining kayfabe

In Philosophy Smackdown, Edwards examines what wrestling can train us about actuality, identification and ethics. He says a phrase that wrestling insiders use to explain the fictional components of wrestling is “kayfabe.”

The origins of the phrase, which rhymes with “say babe,” are a bit murky. Wrestling insiders have a number of theories: that it is tailored from Pig Latin for “be faux;” that it is named for a legendary wrestler who by no means spoke named “Kay Fabian;” or that it was a code-word that wrestlers would shout when an outsider got here backstage, to warn one another to remain in character.

Kayfabe was taken so critically up to now that professional wrestlers typically stayed in character every time they had been in public.

“If you happen to had been a ‘heel’ or a foul man and also you went to the bar after the present, you needed to play that character nonetheless. You needed to be imply to followers who got here as much as you. If you happen to had been a ‘babyface’ or a superb man, then you definitely needed to be very nice, signing autographs and doing that stuff,” he stated. 

Even when a foul man and good man had been finest buddies, they could not act prefer it. 

Skilled wrestler André the Large tosses heavyweight contender Chuck Wepner ‘The Bayonne Bleeder’ out of the ring at Shea Stadium in New York, June 26, 1976. André the Large was a beloved babyface in skilled wrestling all through the Nineteen Seventies and early Nineteen Eighties. (The Related Press)

“You guys could not be seen socializing exterior of the reveals, to maintain kayfabe, to maintain up the looks that this was all actual,” stated Edwards.

“Through the late 80s and early 90s, the concept of kayfabe began to slide.”

Whereas skilled wrestlers not “maintain kayfabe” on a regular basis, kayfabe remains to be alive and properly in wrestling, protecting the whole lot from the characters wrestlers play to the rivalries between them.

The allegory of the ring 

Edwards’s e book got here out of his shared love of professional wrestling and philosophy.

“I feel one of many issues that fascinated me most about philosophy was the same factor to form of what stored me fascinated with wrestling: the distinction between look and actuality — that notion of issues won’t precisely map on to how issues actually are.”

An entry-level little bit of philosophy is from Plato, in The Republic, written round 375 BC. It is referred to as the allegory of the cave, and is commonly used as a metaphor for the distinction between look and actuality.

In Plato’s allegory, prisoners are locked in a cave, watching shadow puppets on a wall that they assume are actual. The present is mostly a building created by highly effective folks behind a wall — whereas the true nature of the world lies exterior the cave. (delcarmat/Shutterstock)

Plato describes most of humanity as prisoners locked in a cave, watching shadow puppets on a wall. The prisoners assume what they’re seeing is actual, although it is a building from highly effective folks behind a wall. If a prisoner ought to escape, they’d not solely see that what they thought was actuality was a building, they might see the true nature of the world. 

Edwards says the enjoyment of watching wrestling is that it is like a mini-version of Plato’s allegory. A wrestling fan enjoys the efficiency, the development of actuality, and the true nature of the wrestling trade, all on the identical time.

“You get the fact because it’s offered to you, which is a real contest. After which behind that’s two folks working collectively to placed on the looks of a contest. After which even behind that, you have obtained a 3rd layer of actuality the place — they don’t seem to be those who finally are deciding how the match goes to finish or certainly why they’re in that ring within the first place,” he stated. 

“There are different people who find themselves writing the storylines which dictate why these wrestlers are wrestling and who’s going to win and why. So that you get a number of layers of actuality once you’re watching wrestling, which make it a very fascinating factor.”

Kayfabe is all over the place

A misunderstanding of “kayfabe” is why outsiders to wrestling have typically seen wrestling followers as unsophisticated, stated CarrieLynn Reinhard, a communications professor at Dominican College in Illinois and president of the just lately shaped Professional Wrestling Research Affiliation.

“There may be undoubtedly nonetheless that notion that skilled wrestling followers are decrease class, decrease educated, extra prone to embrace racism and jingoism and sexism and transphobia, homophobia and so forth,” she stated.

“[That] thought is commonly due to kayfabe, and the sense that skilled wrestling followers should be duped into believing what they’re seeing.” 

‘Hawk’ of The Highway Warriors clotheslines ‘Public Enemy’ on the Superstars Of Wrestling Occasion, held on the Superdome in Sydney, Australia, July 30, 2000. (Getty Pictures/Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT) (Getty Pictures/Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT)

Reinhard stated everybody has components of kayfabe in their very own lives. 

“I feel kayfabe applies to any time that you just see folks engaged on their efficiency and the way they need to current themselves to different folks,” she stated.

“And that manner we carry out. It might not be genuine or real to what we take into account to be our true self, our core self. However we accomplish that identical to a wrestler.”


Company on this episode:

Justin Morissette is a Vancouver sports activities broadcaster and author, play-by-play announcer for Nation Excessive Wrestling.

Douglas Edwards is an affiliate professor of Philosophy at Utica College and creator of the e book Philosophy Smackdown.

CarrieLynn Reinhard is a professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Dominican College and President of the Professional Wrestling Research Affiliation.

Adam Ryder is a skilled wrestler, wrestling as “The Haida Heartthrob.” 

Vancouver’s Adam (The Haida Hearthrob) Ryder says among the best components of wrestling is the enjoyment that comes from enjoying with the viewers. ‘We dwell off tales in wrestling.’ (Submitted by Adam Ryder)

*This episode was produced by Matthew Lazin-Ryder.


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