Aug 19, 2018
In recent years, the WWE has welcomed pro-wrestling podcasters to sit on pay-per-view pre-show panels.
These podcasters who, in real-life, dissect pro-wrestling for the entertainment it is, provide faux-analysis throughout the pre-show: match-outcome predictions and quick examinations of rivalries.
In short, they pretend, like everyone else on the panel, that pro-wrestling is real.
It seems they’re meant to bring a sense of “legitimacy” to the pay-per-view. Their publicly known analytical powers, merged with the fiction of wrestling, posits that pro-wrestling is a form of media that inspires and attracts actual journalists.
Their integration into WWE-programming also offers a “synergized fan experience” - the podcasting personality brings their fans with them to the pay-per-views, and the podcaster gets more listeners thanks to the exposure.
In theory, it’s a win-win.
In reality, it represents a terrible metaphysical paradox that is unique to pro-wrestling.
The podcasters have their podcasts in real-life where they openly discuss the unreality of wrestling, but then, when they appear on the wrestling show they critique, they transform into people who believe wrestling is real.
Imagine the hosts of The Talking Dead becoming character-versions of themselves in The Walking Dead - they have the same names and the same appearances, they just happen to be integrated into the fictional show they typically critique. Then, whilst inside The Walking Dead, they believe zombies are real and they think all the other characters are real people.
That situation is nonsense, right?
Well that’s exactly what the WWE does when it invites podcasters onto its panels.
The company allows for a conceptually wonky premise that dismantles the most basic conceit of professional wrestling.
To articulate this problem in a simpler fashion using the language of wrestling: pro-wrestling podcasters on pre-show panels shatters kayfabe (the basic, necessary conceit that wrestling is real).
For the most part the WWE doesn’t bother walking the tightrope of wrestling reality and wrestling fiction anymore. In fact, they cut the rope a long time ago and have taken their own, twisty, turny path to success.
WWE is primarily responsible for “opening up” the wrestling business, exposing the truth of the stage-craft. But it still maintains the medium’s most basic fiction; that wrestling matches are real. When the company starts welcoming real-world entities that directly contradict that fundamental conceit into its own fiction, it does a disservice to the art of wrestling.
The conceptual problem at root in the presence of wrestling podcasters on WWE television is not the same as when celebrity guests like Jon Stewart or Grumpy Cat appear. Celebrities aren’t pro-wrestling analysts in real-life who dissect the medium of wrestling for their audience. The celebrity’s identity is not intimately contained within their real-world critiques of wrestling. A pro-wrestling analyst, on the other hand, is defined by the fact that they know pro-wrestling isn't real.
The legitimacy, if any, a podcaster earns in the wrestling community is through their specific process of critiquing wrestling as a performance. These podcasters earn an audience precisely because they know wrestling isn't real.
So when that podcasting personality arrives on the fake show they typically analyze, they bring with them the essence of what initially gave them legitimacy in the first place.
So we must ask, again, what initially gave them legitimacy?
Their knowledge of pro-wrestling being staged, of course.
That means the legitimacy podcasters bring to pre-shows is the open acknowledgement that wrestling isn't legitimate.
In short, pro-wrestling podcasters and pro-wrestling shows cannot logically coexist in the same place at the same time.
If, on their podcasts, hosts talked about wrestling as if it was real, then that would be a very different story. If their public personae was consistent with the characters we see on pre-shows, then they would shore up the fiction of wrestling and justify their presence. But that’s not the case. Their presence contradicts the wrestling narrative.
Furthermore, how many “natural views” do these podcasters actually bring with them?
In reality, the people who listen to these podcasters are already going to watch the pay-per-views anyway. There’s no significant viewership benefit for the WWE. The audience is the same for both entities, and so the potential for “sharing fans” is ineffective.
It certainly sounds good, but it’s founded on the erroneous notion that the podcaster brings fresh eyes to the WWE-product. The only meaningful effect the presence of these podcasters has is by providing fans a knowing wink and smile - a reassuring nod that the real-world culture of the internet wrestling community is valued by the company.
That’s all it is. It’s not about preserving the fiction of wrestling and it’s not about breaking the fiction of wrestling. It’s a marketing tactic that forgoes logic in favor of providing diehard fans a coddling emotional service; an emotional service the company believes will ultimately result in more revenue.
Perhaps that’s true, but there's no escaping the fact that this flawed, kayfabe-ignoring decision-making inevitably makes professional wrestling a more insular experience.
Literally, the number of people who see, understand, and appreciate what’s happening becomes smaller. It represents a closed feedback loop that undermines any legitimacy professional wrestling could possibly have. WWE fans watch the pay-per-view, then they listen to the interview the podcaster gets with a particular superstar afterward, and then round and round it goes, never stopping, keeping the fan immersed in the WWE product 24/7.
The presence of these podcasters certainly doesn't hurt anybody, but it doesn't help either. It just exists as yet another example of the WWE’s awkward relationship with the internet, and the company's disinterest in thinking through logical fallacies in its presentation.
Ironically, a panel made up exclusively of WWE announcers and veteran wrestlers would be far more "legitimate" than one that includes a real world wrestling commentator.
The presence of these podcasters says, “Yup - wrestling isn’t real, but we enjoy pretending it’s real down’t we?! Let’s have fun!”
The only effective way to tell pro-wrestling stories is to do so with the confidant proclamation, “This is real!”, and to not undermine that respectful perspective with unnecessary, forth-wall shattering ploys.