Mailbag of Shame: Questions About Wrestling from Non-Wrestling Fans

Howdy! Once again, it's time for the Mailbag of Shame! This time, I tried to do something different: I requested questions from non-wrestling fans about pro wresting (and also asked wrestling fans for questions they've been asked from non-wrestling fans), and sought to answer them as best as I can.

One note: I got a few repeats for "what are wrestling fan archetypes," but I soon realized I needed an entire post to answer that question.

Remember: if you have a question for Mailbag of Shame, contact us on Twitter, Facebook, or via email. Or carrier pigeon.

How do you know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy?

Well, the "heel" is the bad guy who gets booed. And the "face" is the good guy who gets cheered.....Except sometimes the face gets booed, while the heel gets cheered. Or the face does horrible things, but we are still supposed to cheer him when we should align with the heel. Or there's no real reason for the guys to fight each other, but they are.

Look, it's complicated.

When you go to an independent show, figuring this out is usually easier. The guy who attacks the other guy before the bell, insults the audience, taunts his opponent, etc. is the heel. The face will be the guy who exudes "good guy" vibes as he comes to the ring, tries to get fans on his side, and attempts to fight fair.

In televised wrestling, it's sometimes harder to figure this relationship out, and there's honestly a good case to be made that the traditional heel / face dynamic is extinct. Or, at the very least, I think fans see a little more complexity to that dynamic. But then there are times where I think the story-line between wrestlers NEEDS a clear heel and face. I know Rick and I have complained about this a lot, but the booking of the recent Wyatt and Orton feud was terrible in its presentation. Again, RANDY ORTON BURNED DOWN WYATT'S HOME AND WAS THE 'GOOD GUY' SOMEHOW.

*falls to the ground, curls into fetal position, sobs*

Has anyone ever accidentally died from a pile-driver?

The pile-driver is, as wrestling fans know and many non-wrestling fans see, a dangerous move. As such, it's rarely used. Currently, Kane is the only WWE wrestler permitted to use it, although it makes more frequent appearances in Japanese wrestling.

To my knowledge, no one has died from a pile-driver -- but Stone Cold Steve Austin came close in his match with Owen Hart in 1997. Austin suffered a severe-neck injury from this move -- one that permanently hampered his in-ring work and gave him years of health problems -- and was incredibly lucky he wasn't paralyzed or killed.

Is that guy really bleeding?

Even though it's rare to see in contemporary wrestling, yes. And if you're watching an older match, yes. "Blading" or "getting color" has a long tradition in pro wrestling: wrestlers would cut themselves on the forehead or eyebrow with hidden razor blades at opportune moments in matches to heighten the realism and drama of the event. Wrestlers would also get bonuses from promoters for blading as the thinking went (in the pre-1980s) that such moments drew more money.

In today's WWE, blading is taboo for a variety of reasons. Primarily it's because of increased understanding of the dangers of bleeding people coming into contact with other people, but also because the company wants to maintain PG-style entertainment (there are numerous stories of wrestlers being fined by the company for intentionally blading, including Ric Flair and Batista). But if you see a wrestler bleeding in a match today, it's still real but accidental. It's very easy to a wrestler's planned kick or slap to miss its target, and for noses to break, lips to split, etc.

In short, wrestlers don't use fake blood and they are bleeding. If you see red on my face, however, it's BBQ sauce in my beard.

Why is everyone booing Roman Reigns?

They aren't booing; they are saying "boo-urns!"......Alright, raise your hand if you saw that joke coming from us.

*sees everyone's hands raised*

Short answer: a lot of wrestling fans don't like Roman Reigns. But this wasn't always the case. About three years ago, Reigns was part of a popular group called the Shield with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. After The Shield split up, Reigns was pushed by the WWE as their next major face and eventual champion.

I suppose in some ways, Reigns's shift to an individual wrestler showcased a few flaws in his game, especially his (at times) inability to sell moves of opponents (to act as those the attacks of your opponent look real) and he had (and maybe still has) pretty poor skills on the microphone. But a lot of popular wrestlers have limited move-sets (Kevin Nash) and have poor microphone skills (Daniel Bryan), so those can't be the only reasons for the boos.

Hence, the long answer: The WWE's push of Roman Reigns happened and is happening at a weird time where the fan base feels very open to airing their grievances with the company. While there's a long tradition of fans rejecting the narrative being told to them by a company in the ring (see Hogan vs Bockwinkel in the AWA or Hogan at Wrestlemania IX), fans are increasingly aware of the backstage politics of wrestling companies because of the internet, and as such, are far more keenly aware of which wrestler a company wants to promote or which wrestler is being punished by a company and pushed down a card. So for a lot of fans, Reigns's push came at the expense of other wrestlers who the fans felt were more deserving of being placed at the top of the card -- especially Daniel Bryan, who started his career in smaller wrestling companies and was often the victim of bad booking decisions by management. Reigns's push also happened not long after the popular CM Punk left the company, so fan anger toward the company was fairly high

There's also the issue of how "on-screen" management of the company (which is also off-screen management of the company) presents themselves as villains, and have sorta booked themselves into a corner where their "chosen" guy seems to automatically get the ire of fans. But that's another post for another day.

How many adults watch this? How does the WWE fill stadiums?

A lot. Enough to fill a football stadium. Moving on.

*sighs* Fine.

There are obviously a lot of fans of professional wrestling, but it's hard to quantify that number. From an optics perspective, there are clearly enough wrestling fans to fill an NFL-sized football stadium for Wrestlemania and to fill hockey arenas weekly for RAW and Smackdown; in addition, there are roughly 1.5 million subscribers to the WWE Network. But appearances are deceiving: at last year's Wrestlemania, the WWE claimed attendance of over 100,000 people -- but the real number was closer to 74,000; at RAW tapings, the arena looks completely full, but remember the "backstage" area cuts-off about a third of the building. And there's a lot of skepticism about WWE Network numbers (people join for a few weeks, then leave, or leave after a free trial).

So, there are a lot of wrestling fans, and enough for "fill" a football stadium once a year, but I don't think there are as many wrestling fans currently as there were 20 years ago.

Why? Why do you watch?

I think wrestling fans have all had to answer this question in some form or another at some point in their lives. While I can't speak for Rick, I know this is a really difficult question to answer for me to answer competently.

As evidenced by this website, I enjoy the ludicrousness of professional wrestling, but also the construction of good stories, good matches, and being surprised (I did freak out a little when the Hardy Brothers appeared at the last Wrestlemania). Additionally, part of my continued interest in wrestling is because of nostalgia: I grew up watching wrestling as a kid in the 1980s, and I watched ECW, WCW, and WWE programs until the early 2000s, so I'm sure part of me wants to relive some of those moments. There was something thrilling about seeing the NWO form in 1996 or feeling that I was part of an "underground" movement by watching ECW, and I know part of me longs for those days.

But I'm also a person who distrusts nostalgia as a concept for a variety of reasons, and I haven't come back to wrestling as an adult solely because of a desire to reconnect with teenage me. As an academic, I write about theatre, literature, and culture -- see my rambling piece about Trump and the confidence artist and wrestling here -- and wrestling as a performance art borrows not just from the carnival tradition, the confidence scheme, mythology, and theatre, but it also reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly of the cultures it represents. I remember having a conversation with a professor years ago wherein the professor defended pro wrestling as one of the best avenues to see the "zeitgeist" of America at any moment. So I suppose it gives me a window into what a good chunk of America is thinking about at a specific time.

Well, I hope I answered your questions about wrestling. I tried, at the very least.

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