If You See Kay(fabe), Or, The Ethics of Unmasking

Wrestling fandom is at times a arms race of disenchantment. If you went to a magic show and spoke over the act’s climactic reveal with running commentary to your date about magnets and trap doors, you’d expect people to be upset with you, or even ask you to leave. Not even the most libertarian-leaning of cinema guests would tolerate a screening of Inside Out punctuated with the scoop on Amy Poehler’s rate of pay.

Smart marks and the wrestling press at times seem bereft of boundaries in sharing space with kayfabe. There is a sort of posturing at play, a competition where your love of wrestling is demonstrated not through your appreciation of it despite it’s fakeness, but by saturating all discourse with self-aware commentary on how it’s fake and you have an intimacy and fluency in that fakeness far exceeding anyone else in the room. It manifests in aggressive chants at the indie show, drowning out performer bumps with enlightened irreverence. I was able to come to the realization of wrestling’s fakeness in my own time as a matter of development; kids who go to CHIKARA events risk being seated next to the smug live tweeter who’s happy to tell everyone around him the only reasonable outcome of the match based on who’s moving on to what promotion after the show.

We don’t, as many might lament, know too much for wrestling to be  fun and exciting anymore. We know too little in regards of when it’s appropriate to share what we know and how to gauge the benefit of its dissemination.

Sharing a leaked WWE memo advising commentators not to use the words “title belt” or “hospital” has a finite community advantage: it allows the press and fans to hold a major corporation accountable. WWE twists and pinches language to squeeze out any semblance of sport or athleticism from their identity, setting forward an industry standard in how it treats their talent. The forced march of the infirm, where wrestlers struggle to walk in their 40’s, will continue unwavered in the wake of WWE’s unchecked apathy for the business they’re actually in.

Revealing the identity of a masked wrestler—one who wrestles under that mask for a promotion aimed at children—does not carry a finite benefit to the fandom. The worth of this information is not shareable. Voices of Wrestling proves itself a little wiser, a little less in love with the business; everyone else forfeits, whether it’s Silver Ant and his privacy or the child fan violently jarred from the dream.

The scoop is defined by its context. Doxing the closeted KKK members in your neighborhood is not the same as doxing a woman who critiqued a video game or a show in a way you didn’t like and has the palpable fear of violent reprisal from a stranger. A leak is not justified just because it proves something. What does what it proves mean to us? How does knowing it allow us to make smarter decisions? How does it better our community? 

Knowledge is not, in this sense, morally or intellectually inert. Freedom of the press is a responsibility; it is up to you, the courier of information, to determine the weight of an item of information and decide if the discomfort or even damage that weight can do if dropped is vindicated by it’s contributions to the community.

No matter how great the demand for a wrestler’s real name or the address of their house or how they like their eggs, that information cannot be conveyed into discourse. A young or new fan being able to sit through an indy show without smart marks inciting chants of in-jokes and telling you how the dish was made before you’ve even tasted will prove a greater yield to the fandom than the page views and controversy you can drum up by telling me whether Hania The Huntress shaved her legs today and whether that means she’s going to Ring of Honor.

It isn’t  the promotions that suffer from this compulsive need to chew on the curtain. It’s funny to do a Braden Walker chant during Chris Harris’ matches. But it was WWE that signed off on that name and produced the segment with his terrible catchphrase—and it’s TNA that is able to prove it’s “realer” by acknowledging Harris’ failure to make it in WWE. But these chants don’t get in WWE or TNA’s heads, challenging their concentration and daring them to fuck up on TV.

Promotions are practiced enough in shitting on their talent. They don’t need help unbuttoning their pants. What power, if any, our “inside knowledge” afforded us has already been ceded to WWE, who have used The Network to overwhelm us with “behind the scenes” access where everyone casually references each other’s real names and forego the inconvenience of even a little acknowledgement of current on-screen feuds and relationships. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: you can learn more about the birthmark on his ass and how his father left him when he was a child on the new Network special coming up right after RAW.

You are not an alternative if you corroborate, or replicate. Wrestlers are already treated like living IP by promotions; we only compound that forfeiture of identity by tripping over ourselves to throw their real names back in their faces every chance we get. WWE and TNA have made camp in spoiler territory. If we want to resist an oligopoly of mediocrity, we need to start setting boundaries for where Kayfabe can be conserved, if only so young talent and young fans can participate in the sport without being heckled out of the room with our overbearing, overeducated hot takes on overness.

Wrestling took our money by insisting it was real, and now it takes the next generations’s money by cashing on our self-aware participation. If the major promotions wanna stake a claim by saying wrestling is fake, then resistance is to say “only wrestling is real”.

When wrestling tries to sell out, buy in. Preserve the magic where you can, and practice mindfulness when passing on “shoot knowledge” and who it benefits.

It’s this presence of mind and cognizance of consumption that sets us apart from those damn dirty marks.


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