If we were to transport ourselves back to a simpler time in the history of pro wrestling and explain to fans back then how we would analyze pro wrestling in the present, you would probably terrify them with a bleak, dystopian future.
Imagine telling fans of Bill Watts’ Mid South Wrestling, WWF Superstars, Wrestling at the Chase, or any other classic wrestling television program that in the future, not only would we watch wrestling every week, but we would spend countless hours after the show has concluded reading, listening, watching, and discussing our various opinions and analyses on the pro wrestling industry.
Every booking decision would be looked at through a microscopic lens and analyzed for its potential strengths and weaknesses. Every match is closely examined for any hiccups or botches. The constant debate about the future, who should be beating who, who should be the world champion, etc., would be permeating throughout your daily life in a non-stop barrage of podcasts, blogs, Tweets, YouTube videos, and Facebook posts. If you ever stop and think about just how much time you spend each day analyzing the weekly wrestling product, you begin to think about the absurdity of it all.
The constant and endless discussion and analysis around a weekly wrestling product has added a new dimension to the pro wrestling industry, one that promoters are still struggling to grasp and understand. In previous generations, there may have been newsletters, magazines, and maybe the odd radio show here and there, but nothing compared to today. In the 90s there was the internet, which opened up a new portal of discussion for a hardcore set of fans that were tech savvy, but still pale in comparison to our lives in 2022.
The growth of social media and the ubiquity of smartphones has made sure that the latest takes are always at our fingertips. Fans are constantly consuming other opinions and thoughts and sharing their own on these platforms, at all times. The podcast boom has given numerous voices larger platforms to speak directly to fans and share their thoughts and opinions. YouTube has provided a similar platform, complete with a powerful algorithm that is only one click away from sending you down a new path of wrestling analysis.
This is true not just for pro wrestling; any form of entertainment is facing this problem. There is way more analysis for anything, movies, television, sports, video games, music, etc. The way our pop culture has evolved in recent decades along with technology has made this a universal truth. However, since this is a wrestling site, we will be keeping this discussion to wrestling.
Wrestling on television was not designed to be this hyper-scrutinized. Storylines are meant to unfold over weeks, months, sometimes even years, before reaching a conclusion. Each and every chapter of a story or creative direction was not designed to be reviewed and examined endlessly; it is designed to be more passively consumed without too much critical analysis put forth. At the end of the day, the concept of pro wrestling is absurd and the storytelling keeping things together is flimsy; micro-analyzing the product each week is unproductive to appreciating the product.
Imagine you are watching a movie. After each scene, you pause the movie and discuss what just happened in the scene, the impact it had on the characters, and what that means for the story going forward. You then spend a week listening to podcasts, reading articles and scrolling through Twitter all discussing the scene from the movie. Then next week you turn on the movie and watch the next scene, and the cycle repeats itself.
Chances are you will discover more holes in the story that is unfolding and discover that the movie doesn’t really make sense if you think about it too hard because after all, it’s a work of fiction and your suspension of disbelief can only go so far.
There is a reason we don’t watch movies like this. Television series do work from a similar premise, but since the number of episodes are limited per season, fans are more conditioned to accept that they are working towards a conclusion and be more patient with the product.
Wrestling, with an unlimited amount of television content it produces, has to constantly be answering questions about the creative direction on the shows. On top of that, wrestling is much more likely to have inferior writing, producing, acting, and direction when compared to movies or television, which can expose plot holes and a poorly produced product much easier.
Those discussions that fill the time in between each weekly episode of wrestling influence the opinions of the viewer, and that in turn can influence the success of the product. If the discussion of something that happened one week turns too negative on social media, that can have a negative business impact for the company later on.
Fans who are participating in social media discussions are inadvertently working at a grassroots level to advertise a product. Fans on social media raving about a wrestling product are probably more likely to entice other fans to give the product a try than a traditional advertisement produced by the company itself. Given recent improvements in TV ratings and attendance, it’s hard to deny that the positive reviews most analysts and fans seems to be giving Triple H’s WWE shows lately have had a positive impact on getting people to tune into Raw and Smackdown, or buy tickets to live events.
Which is why it isn’t enough for wrestling promotions to put on an entertaining wrestling product. The promotion needs to win the optics battle to not only have a good show, but convince people that the show is on a positive trajectory and more people should tune in next week to watch.
For WWE, this has been a major struggle until recently when Triple H took over creative. Fans across all spheres of social media have been more optimistic about the product and in turn, that has led to a surge in business for WWE. Despite the fact that the product hasn’t introduced any hot new storylines, nor seems to be that much different than it was before Triple H took over, the positive word-of-mouth has been enough to impact business in a positive way.
Ultimately, individual companies are powerless in being able to control the narrative that takes place after each of their shows. They can put on a show that is perfectly in-line with a long-term creative vision, but the discussion that unfolds afterwards can be almost random. There is a form of chaotic balance in the personal biases people will have; some fans will say a show is bad no matter what and others will say a show is good no matter what; but realistically the narrative about a show can spill in any direction, based on the indeterminable tastes of the viewing public, and the various algorithms that dictate our social media viewing habits.
An episode of wrestling on television can’t afford to be presented in the same way that it could during previous, less tech-heavy periods of time. Promoters and performers have to be more in tune with the current narrative behind their products, and do their best to cater toward a positive spin in the public conscience despite its unpredictability. The patience of fans is slimmer, and the demand for a product that caters towards a specific fan has never been higher.
When it comes to analyzing or discussing the product, fans need to take a few steps away from the weekly battle in the trenches. It’s hard to look at a single episode and make a broad determination on anything that is happening, just as it would be hard to watch one scene from a movie and understand the creative vision that surrounds it. Analyzing weekly wrestling and reacting to every small thing that happens was never how the product was supposed to be consumed.
The way we analyze and discuss wrestling is simply wrong. The instant reactions to and reviews of most shows will struggle to find the point of anything because the product is never designed to be self-contained; it’s always moving forward, churning ahead to the next city for the next episode. It takes a keen eye and experience as a viewer, something many reactions on social media lack, to provide valuable insight into a product. Unfortunately, the way technology has impacted our society means that few of those voices will be heard.