There’s a Latin phrase attributed to Roman satirist, Petronius, which goes, “Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur,” meaning, “The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.”
I gravitate toward fiction in all its forms – books, television, movies and comics – to buy into the fiction. The great tapestry of fiction is that “buy in,” the escapism.
When I read Harry Potter, I step into his magical, angst-filled shoes. When I read a Jack Reacher novel, I become 6’6 with a chiseled chest, get the girl and kick ass.
It can be that simplistic or it can go deeper; it can become an organic, living, breathing art that helps us to realize we’re not alone. More than just escapism, it becomes a coping mechanism for the Big Questions of life. I find that connection of togetherness in Virginia Woolf’s writing or an Edgar Allen Poe poem.
Likewise, I find that escapism in a form of entertainment and art that is much maligned in the mainstream culture: professional wrestling.
Somewhere, many eyes just rolled, groans came forth and someone said with snark, “You know it’s fake, right?”
I’ve been a fan of this odd-ball amalgam of sport and entertainment for some twenty-odd years. Unlike my friends, I didn’t “grow out of it,” after childhood. I still watch the weekly television show, Monday Night Raw. I still watch every monthly pay-per-view. I even embrace the full realization of my geekiness and analyze its ups and downs with fellow wrestling fans on message boards and Reddit.
Despite the fullness of my investment, it’s still something that you hold back from mentioning on a first date. Or from telling people, generally, because they just won’t “get it.” My many wrestling t-shirts remain hanging in the closet on most days. The fandom is compartmentalized as this weird thing that occupies much of my time.
I know all the arguments against it; that it’s fake, that it’s low-brow, that it’s misogynic, racist and more plainly, stupid. And yes, it has been and sometimes still is, all of those things.
But when it’s great, it’s unlike any other form of escapism that I know. When it’s great, it is art manifest. I know that’s shocking to outsiders, “Dude, it is two oiled up men rolling around in their underwear.”
Us wrestling fans know it’s fake – to the extent that it’s scripted and the two combatants aren’t actually trying to hurt each other – but that doesn’t matter. Just like I know Norman Reedus on The Walking Dead doesn’t really carry around a crossbow. Or that Robert Downey Jr. isn’t actually Iron Man. However, when I watch those, I buy in because it’s fun.
As I write this, WWE, probably most known to outsiders as their former name, WWF, is going to present their biggest show of the year, WrestleMania. Some 70,000 fans will pack inside the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for the 31st edition of the event and I’ll be watching from home, marking out — a wrestling phrase similar to geeking out.
I attended my first WrestleMania, WrestleMania 23, when it was held at Ford Field in Detroit. My father and I thought we left the hotel to head to the stadium at a good time. We did not. Unbeknownst to us, the geniuses in Detroit only allowed one exit lane to get to the stadium.
I was losing my mind in the passenger seat, afraid I’d be late and miss the biggest show of my life; the culmination of my fandom. Somehow, we made it through the exit and to the stadium. My dad let me out before he even parked.
I turned into an Olympic runner, running through the hall of the stadium, panicked, breathless trying to find my seat. In that moment, I have no doubt I’d have shoved past an old lady with a walker or hurdled a baby stroller.
Just as Aretha Franklin began her rendition of “America the Beautiful,” a throwback to when she did it 20 years prior at WrestleMania 3, I found my seat.
Then I looked out to the crowd of over 80,000 screaming, wacky weirdo wrestling fans. And everything was okay. I made it. I was there in the moment. I get chills just thinking and writing about it now.
I was fortunate to attend my second one, WrestleMania 29, in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium with another grouping of 80,000 fans and breathtaking replicas of the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building on the stage.
I’m letting my freak wrestling flag fly. Wrestling fans are analogous to the wizards in Harry Potter. They live and exist in this otherworld where they have to hide their fandom. Because it’s embarrassing to be an outed wrestling fan, right?
It’s not a guilty pleasure to me; it’s just a pleasure. We all have things we geek out on. Professional wrestling is just mine.
David Shoemaker of Grantland, perhaps the most elegant writer about professional wrestling, gets at what’s really fake and great about professional wrestling.
“It’s the story of a mythology populated not by gods, but by real men, fallible mortals who served as vessels for a larger truth, men who lived the lives of kings and who suffered to be our idols. This is the ultimate fakery of wrestling — that the emperor has no clothes, that the gods are mortals,” he said in his book, “The Squared Circle.”
That’s why I love it. The wrestlers exist in this odd dichotomy where what they do quite literally breaks down their bodies, but to most people, it’s just make-believe.
But I want to be made to believe. Just like I want to believe Hogwarts is an actual place or that Clark Kent is bailing some hay in Kansas.
It taps into my childhood and embracing adulthood shouldn’t mean the total abandonment of the former. We need to be reminded from time to time of that wide-eyed, still wondering, still curious, still fun kid inside of us.