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Posted in: Oliver's Twist
Oliver's Twist: The Reality Era And The Blurred Lines Of Kayfabe
By Oliver
Feb 5, 2014 - 11:00:00 AM

Hello again, LordsofPain.net reader, and welcome to Oliver’s Twist! It’s been an interesting time to be a wrestling fan over the past ten days, and for once it feels like nothing is actually definite in the world of WWE. Whether it’s the disaffection caused by the Royal Rumble, CM Punk taking his Pepsi and walking off into the sunset or the mass rewrites of the biggest show of the year that are being rumoured, the landscape that we see before us is shifting. In fact, it doesn’t feel like the Royal Rumble has truly signalled the start of the road to WrestleMania but more the road to Elimination Chamber, when the Mania plans will be secured and any of the changes planned will slot into place. In the midst of it all stands The Authority – an on screen version of the people that truly hold all the power in WWE. So it begs the question, is this the true reality era of WWE?

June 27th, 2011. CM Punk sits on a stage in Las Vegas and tears a hole in WWE so big that it supposedly brought forth a new era. Now, we’ve moved from era to era before, whether it’s from the New Generation to Attitude (which is being covered fabulously on this very website by my fellow Brits Mazza and Maverick) or from Ruthless Aggression to PG. But these transitions seemed to happen slowly – indeed the Attitude era is most commonly pointed to having begun in 1997 but the seeds were sown in the years preceding this, with the debut of Goldust in 1995 and the Brian Pillman character in 1996 and 1997. Whilst it really took off in the late 1997 with Bret Hart starting a war of words with Vince McMahon, the transition was gently handled in the run up and the fans were ready for the sea change that came around in the late 90s, accepting an edgier product that, in all truth, felt more real than what had come before it. There was a gritty reality to the Attitude era that often gets overlooked in favour of remembering Big Show hanging off of a coffin and Mae Young’s breasts, but in truth there had never been a more ‘real’ feel to wrestling than during those years.

Until now, of course. In a similar way, WWE have gradually shifted towards a reality era – the pipebomb may well have been the opening salvo, but it’s taken a while for them to truly embrace the shift. Now, though, we are truly looking at a reality era – the people who run the company are on screen bastards, the main storylines are built on real life experiences that are immensely relatable, and there is a crossover happening between WWE and the media – notably somewhere like TMZ (if you can call TMZ ‘media’ which…that’s perhaps an argument for another day) is picking up on WWE stories, and not just things like Punk leaving or the Bella Twins relationships. Media outlets are reporting Daniel Bryan’s kayfabe comments about Triple H holding him down, they’re questioning whether CM Punk walking out is ‘real’ or ‘fake’. There’s a sense of real life being introduced to wrestling, a sense of, dare I say, legitimacy surrounding what’s happening – because of the way things are being presented on television.

The Authority are probably the best example of this. Now, personally, I don’t really like when the business side of discussion comes into the ring and is showcased – but there’s not really any denying that by using terms like ‘the face of the company’ and building stories around who does and doesn’t sell the WWE product to the common man give a sense of reality to the show. ‘Best for business’ is a term that comes out of Triple H’s mouth twice a minute, but it still plays into that whole reality feel. In doing things like this, they are pulling through the idea that this is what it’s like backstage, thinning the fourth wall down and showing off how they make their decisions. In playing up his behind the scenes role in his on screen character, Triple H is the principle guy in bringing forth this new era – whether he’s as much of a bastard behind the scenes as he is on screen is another matter, but there’s no denying that, like his father in law some 17 years earlier, Hunter is such a good heel in terms of reaction because people recognise that he has the power. The power that is currently holding down Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes and others in favour of his old buddies the New Age Outlaws, Randy Orton and Batista. He has the company in the palm of his hand, and he’s already making it look like he’s only bothered about those who he classes as friends. Mark my words – we are mere days away from X-Pac turning up and delivering a bronco buster to somebody.

I think, however, that the very best example of WWE embracing the reality era now, rather than before, is that they are clearly starting to feed titbits of news into the public conscience. Look at the recent reports of Daniel Bryan’s concussion. Injuries such as that get flagged on the WWE website, but this one wasn’t – the only reports of it surfaced online that people read religiously in the current day. Sure, it was ‘confirmed by WWE’, but never publically acknowledged in the way that other concussions have been. Has WWE finally learnt how to work the internet? It’s arguably years too late, but in doing something like that they immediately throw out some confusion amongst the fans. The truth could well be that Bryan never had a concussion but they saw an opportunity to build a story into his next match around the story that they broke to news outlets. For the same reason as this, we’re questioning the CM Punk walkout – is it real, or is it a storyline? Nobody knows right now, and whilst WWE have moved to scrub him off of their current marketing (and unfollowed him on Twitter, which…I mean, man, if that happens the relationship must be beyond repair) they’ve not formally announced him leaving the company. We’re just extrapolating from scraps of information that haven’t actually changed since day one, and in truth it could still go either way.

What’s great about that is that it no longer seems like anyone is a ‘smart’ fan – everyone will soon be in the same boat. We’ll either have to embrace what’s portrayed in front of us or choose to go to the internet…where everything might just be WWE telling us what they want us to think by ‘leaking’ information. We’ll all end up being fans with nobody having extra knowledge than anybody else. It’s arguably too late for WWE to really be embracing this movement but, with things like Twitter allowing for information to spread in minutes rather than hours, they can now release a story and have it immediately picked up by any number of outlets and fans nearly instantaneously. Look at it this way – if WWE wanted us to start booing someone, all they may need to do now is spread a story about them doing something nefarious backstage. We saw how instantly a news story can turn the fans opinions on someone when Darren Young came out last year – overnight, the Prime Time Players became faces. WWE did nothing but roll with it. Similarly, they could turn Batista heel easily now. Most of the crowd hates him for taking a spot that others deserve. Break a story about him thinking he deserves to be pushed ahead of Bryan or Punk and he’ll get booed even more heavily next time he’s in the ring without actually doing anything. After that, it only takes a booking tweak and you’ve got a big main event heel. Simple, isn’t it?

With WWE finally starting to embrace the world outside of its own bubble, it’s actually moving forward in terms of what it’s capable of. Some have pointed to this as a sort of ‘kayfabe 2.0’, which is an interesting way of looking at it – by using the tools that are available, what I would say they’re actually doing is taking kayfabe back to how it originally was, where we don’t truly know anything is real or fake. Sure, it may seem like they’re pulling back the curtain on what goes on behind the scenes, but equally we have to question everything that seems real as to whether we’re really being played by WWE. Is this news story real? Has so and so actually suffered an injury? Imagine what reaction Punk would get on his return if this all isn’t actually real, if WWE are just working the media outlets to cover for him needing time off to heal up? I know that a lot of people are split 50:50 on his reasoning for splitting on the company, but there’s no denying that if they bring him back at the right time (which is the March 3rd Raw in Chicago, for the record) the reaction for him will be monumental, especially if the crowd acts as expected and chants for him throughout the night.

Amidst all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure – this is an interesting time to be a fan. And if WWE are using the media as a platform for their own storylines then maybe, just maybe, we are seeing the true nature of the reality era.

Do you think WWE are embracing the opportunity to use media outlets to push their storylines? More importantly - is it a good or bad thing? Leave me a comment below, or drop me a Tweet (@MrOlliB) or an email using the link at the top of the page. Until we twist again, stay safe when crossing the road and drink more hot chocolate! Aufweidersehen!

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