There Is Currently No Known Cure For Wrestlemania
I can honestly say I’m not a wrestling fan.
When I was 12 years old I decided I wouldn’t be attending college, at least not in the traditional sense. No, instead I would be enrolling in wrestling school (which indeed is a thing that exists). My mother, ever patient, encouraged me and even took me to open my first bank account in a highlight reel example of sneaky good parenting.
My dreams of wrestling in the big leagues died of natural causes around the start of my adolescence, which I imagine is not atypical for scrawny children who hate participating in physical sports.
Every winter I would shovel the driveways of my suburban Massachusetts neighborhood in order to save up $40, or however much it cost at the time, to purchase the ever important Wrestlemania pay per view, often touted as the Super Bowl of pro wrestling.
My first ever purchase on amazon.com was a DVD of the documentary “Beyond the Mat,” which follows some of the biggest names of professional wrestling’s yesteryear as they navigate “the business,” retirement, drug use, and, in one case, paralysis.
Seriously, I’m not a wrestling fan.
That being said, I have been to roughly ten WWF/WWE live events in my lifetime. From 1999-2003 I saw eight shows in person. Upon relocating to Southern California in early 2018, some friends and I journeyed to Tijuana, Mexico for a night of tequila shots and Lucha Libre. Last year, some friends and I ventured into the Staple Center in Los Angeles for Monday Night Raw, and I subsequently surprised (and quickly disappointed) my partners with tickets to a Smackdown taping the following night. Both events were fun and fascinating, as well as way too long and at times excruciatingly boring.
Then there’s the independent circuit. From VFW halls, to empty warehouses in San Francisco, to an auditorium in Tijuana — sure, I’ve dabbled in this healthy mix of depression and nostalgia. You get some washed-up stars hawking their autograph for $15, you get some up-and-coming twenty-somethings damaging their brains and bodies, but mostly you just get wasted.
I really don’t think I’m a wrestling fan.
I believe that professional wrestling is the truest theatrical representation of each generation’s cultural zeitgeist. The genetic makeup of almost all wrestling promoters is 50-percent carny, 50-percent con-man. They know what sells, and they know how to sell it. When I was growing up in the “Attitude era” of the 1990s, anti-heroes were en vogue. “Suck it” was a popular catchphrase on the playground, and a plain black t-shirt reading “Austin 3:16” was very popular among the crossover audience of wrestling fans, South Park viewers, and KoЯn listeners.
Today, as I write this, I’m stuck in the apartment. We all are, actually. The whole world is seemingly shut down, as those who can afford to do so are participating in self-quarantine. Headlines the world over are devoted to the recent coronavirus pandemic. Almost all major sporting events have been canceled. Talk shows, game shows, and almost any form of entertainment that occurs in front of a live audience are battening down the hatches. But on Monday night, the WWE was coming into your living room live from an empty production complex somewhere in, where else, Florida.
What I witnessed was at once surreal and comforting. There they were, the usual shiny suspects. Hairless, hulking B-list athletes screaming at each other and at an invisible audience. Their demands were simple and consistent: they wanted you (SOMEONE, ANYONE) to give them a “hell yeah.”
Laser lights and blaring music accompanied each of the entertainers, as they made their lonely walk down the runway and into the ring, before flexing from the atop turnbuckles, once again yelling at rows and rows of empty folding chairs.
The Undertaker, one of the most enduring characters in the history of all episodic storytelling, was “mad” about “something” and systematically destroyed pieces of office furniture in the inexplicably carpeted ring. This particular sequence, shown without commentary and lasting all of 15 seconds, convinced me that if there was any hope of adequately capturing the absurdity of our current timeline, that it may lay within the 20×20 confines of the squared circle.
It was around this time I also realized that I wasn’t going to be venturing outside with any regularity in the foreseeable future, and there are worse ways to kill time than getting stoned and watching a several hours of professional wrestling.
This year’s installment of Wrestlemania will continue, as scheduled. It will be broadcast live from the same vacant warehouse in Florida that all WWE shows will be produced while COVID-19 prevents them from taking their traveling circus to the people. But even without a live audience, for a way-too-long five hours on April 5, there will be a literal captive audience watching at home.
Unfortunately, now I can’t stop myself from wondering what Wrestlemanias of the past may have to offer as a way of reflecting the cultural angst of their time. What I’m hesitantly considering is an experiment fit only for someone staring down the barrel at a month of isolation: Revisit the main event of all 35 previous Wrestlemanias, looking for clues as to what the national mood may have been surrounding the event.
I’m not saying I’ll succeed at this endeavor, but I will try. Win, lose or draw, however, I will be in front of the television on the first Sunday of April. I’ll be at once looking for clues as to how the perceived drama of the real-world will translate into the world of kayfabe, as well as seeking refuge from the seemingly bottomless pit of demoralizing headlines.
A singular question, as always, remains: what am I gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on me? Oh, brother.