Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: The Importance of Kayfabe

Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: The Importance of Kayfabe

Today we’re going to break format a little and talk about something vitally important to wrestling – namely, the importance of kayfabe.

First off, if you’re wondering what kayfabe is, let me answer that with a quote from Percy Pringle: “Kayfabe is me not telling you what kayfabe is.” With that out of the way, let’s move along.

Imagine you and your girlfriend (or boyfriend/wife/husband/friend/whatever applies) have gone to the movies to check out the new Hannibal Lecter movie. You’re excited about it, because Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster are playing Hannibal and Agent Starling again. You’ve seen the ads and watched the trailer and it looks incredible. You sit down and relax, waiting for the movie to start.

Things start off fine. Then, all of a sudden, you think you hear somebody call Starling “Jodie.” Probably just a mistake the editor missed, right? Then it happens again and again and again.

So the guys who edited the movie screwed up, right? Then things get worse. Anthony Hopkins stops gnawing on a guy’s face, says (in his normal voice) “that’s enough,” and walks out, wiping makeup off his face as he goes. Suddenly director Jonathan Demme runs out onto the screen, yelling at Hopkins to get back to the scene. As Hopkins fails to return, Demme rants that Hopkins will be fired and will never work in Hollywood again.

What would you think? How would you react?

I’ve been watching a lot of WCW lately. One of the last shows I checked out was New Blood Rising. This show seemed to demonstrate that, at least at this point in time, WCW had decided that kayfabe was completely useless.

The first one to show this was Mark Madden. During a four-way dance between the Filthy Animals (Juvi & Rey), the Perfect Event, MIA (Hugh Morrus and Lash LeRoux), and Sean O’Haire & Mark Jindrak, Konnan had taken a seat at commentary. Madden calls Konnan “Carlos.” OK. Madden may have slipped a little, and Tony Schiavone kept referring to him as Konnan. Then Madden kept doing it.

It’s like in the movie above. When you’re watching a movie, you don’t want to see Anthony Hopkins pretending to eat someone’s face. You want to see Hannibal Lecter chowing down. If someone had broken in and called Hopkins by his real name, that would break the moment.

This was a major flaw for WCW at this point. During the Human Torch match at the Great American Bash, Sting had climbed to the top of the Turnertron. Vampiro was arguing with Madden, who kept telling “Ian” that he didn’t tell Sting about his fear of heights. (And we won’t even talk about Vampiro’s promo where he discussed “Steve Borden, the actor who plays the part of Sting.”)

I’m not an idiot. I know that Vampiro’s real name isn’t Vampiro. I know when Sting was born, his mother didn’t say “Let’s name him Sting.” I even know what their real names are. It’s not really a secret. Look them up on Wikipedia and you’ll find out. But it doesn’t have to be rubbed in my face that you do know who they are.

Let’s move along to the ROTC (Rip Off The Camouflage) match between Major Gunns and Miss Hancock. In the end of the match, both women were fighting in the mud pit at the front of the stage. Yes, apparently every glorified evening gown match needs a mud pit. Major Gunns kicked Miss Hancock in the stomach, and Miss Hancock doubled over. David Flair (her boyfriend at the time) came running out and jumped in the pit to help the paramedics stretcher her out.

Madden actually started to redeem himself as he and Tony Schiavone tried to figure out what had happened. After all, she hadn’t taken any really hard shots to the stomach. How had she gotten hurt? (Of course, any long-time wrestling fans know that woman’s stomach pain = pregnant, but that’s beside the point.) Then Scott Hudson emphasized that this was real.

Okay. By this time (August of 2000), I think that fans had seen quite enough real injuries. In October of 1999, Droz was wrestling D’Lo Brown when a powerslam went wrong and Droz was paralyzed. In 1998, Buff Bagwell had suffered a broken neck at the hands of the Steiner Brothers during an episode of Thunder. ECW had seen Sabu break his neck twice by this point (in 1994 against Chris Benoit, and in 1997 against Taz). The previous December had seen Bret Hart take a kick from Goldberg that would directly lead to Hart’s retirement. Steve Austin had suffered a severe neck injury in 1997. In 1998, we had seen Shawn Michaels suffer injury after injury that led to a period of retirement due to back issues. Of course, the memory of Owen Hart’s tragic death in 1999 was also still fresh.

We’ve seen enough real injuries. Injuries are also a part of wrestling storylines. The problem was the fact that the announcers acted like Hancock was dying. Of course, Hancock’s acting skills (or lack thereof) didn’t help the situation. The problem also was that this went on and on and on – through an interview segment, then another segment with the announcers, and then the footage of Hancock being loaded into an ambulance.

Then we get to the big breach. The semi-main event was a three-way match between Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner, and Bill Goldberg to determine a new number one contender. (Never mind that in the weeks leading up to the show, Vince Russo had hinted that the ending would be what was best for the company.) During the match, Steiner was out of the picture and Nash had Goldberg set for the Jacknife. Goldberg shoved out of the move, rolled out of the ring, and headed to the back. Russo came out to order Goldberg back to the ring. Goldberg refused and left.

That left our merry band of commentators to discuss the fact that Goldberg had just walked out of a match that he was supposed to lose, and we didn’t know what was getting ready to happen! In the end, Nash won and Scott Hudson contributed by calling Goldberg a crybaby who didn’t want to lose.

And that wasn’t the end of it. The main event was Booker T defending the World title against Jeff Jarrett. Hudson chimed in on this one by making it sound like the only reason Jarrett had won and retained the belt on previous occasions was due to what Russo and Eric Bischoff had set up backstage.

Let’s look at both of these together. We’ve just seen the announcers verbally bash two people who were supposed to be serious contenders for the world title. Yes, the world title, as in the top belt in the company. One of them is a crybaby, and the other only won the title because of the writers (which is true, but I digress).

If Goldberg had walked out, the announcers could have covered it. Remember the insane ending to the Skins match between Tank Abbott and Big Al? At the end, Tank held a knife to Al’s throat and threatened his life. Schiavone tried to cover by saying that Tank was getting ready to cut Al’s (nonexistent) beard off. If the entire purpose of the angle wasn’t to show Goldberg not willing to do what Russo wanted, couldn’t the announcers have tried to cover it?

Of course not. That wouldn’t have been a “shoot.”

And then we get to Jarrett. Again, the announcers decided to “shoot” about how he hadn’t won anything on his own (which was what they explained he was trying to do by facing Booker T). They could have gotten the same idea across without damaging Jarrett by talking about how Russo and Bischoff had done everything they could to give him weaker opponents in order to stack the deck in his favor.

Let’s be honest here. I’m not recommending an extreme return to kayfabe like the USWA used to practice (which reportedly fined wrestlers if heels and faces arrived in the same car). Still, wrestling requires that suspension of disbelief. Deep down, we may know that wrestling is “fixed” and that there are writers backstage working out who will say what and what will happen. Just don’t rub it in our faces, okay?

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