Has The Rock Lost His Electricity?

This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 22. Republished with permission.

We last saw The Rock at WrestleMania 32, when he contributed to the continued burial of the Wyatt Family by defeating Erick Rowan in six seconds and beating down Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman with the surprise assist of John Cena. The injured fourth member, Luke Harper, didn’t get a WrestleMania moment but it’s hard to argue that he got the raw end of that deal.

The Rock had been harping on about how he would electrify AT&T Stadium since December last year, so expectations were high. But they didn’t include him entering to an introduction by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders (especially after the historical retiring of the Divas Championship, the inauguration of the WWE Women’s Championship and the accompanying press release stating that women’s wrestlers will henceforth be addressed as female Superstars) and setting an erection of his name on fire with a flamethrower like he was Chyna (RIP) in the poorly received segment. Was it when he derided Bray Wyatt—the man billed as the new face of fear and successor of The Undertaker—as a hot pocket-eating, gimmicky joke that The Rock lost his electricity?

No.

Was it when he did chiefly the same thing to New Day in January by mocking their unicorn horns and calling Big E a woman (not The Rock’s first transphobic joke. Also, what’s more insulting than femininity?) and, frankly, coming across as out of touch and stale on the mic compared to the charismatic witticisms of New Day? While it did highlight that The Rock is arguably out of step with what wrestling fans want, it wasn’t then that he misplaced his electricity.

It could be deduced that it was a year prior at the Royal Rumble when The Rock aligned himself with his cousin, Roman Reigns, who has been anointed to follow in the steps of Cena, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and The Rock himself as WWE’s “Chosen One”, to a chorus of boos. Evidently, not even The Rock could get Reigns over.

But perhaps it goes back even further than that, to WrestleMania 29, when he met his Dallas compatriots on the opposite side of the ring in a rematch from the year prior, WrestleMania XXVIII, which was dubbed as a “once in a lifetime” event. It’s hard to believe in the electricity of an allegedly one-time-only occurrence when it happened again only a year later.

Many would say it was when The Rock took a hiatus from WWE in 2001 to film a cameo in The Mummy Returns, which parlayed itself into his debut carrying a feature film, 2002’s The Scorpion King. Modest success throughout the ’00s in action films Walking Tall and The Rundown and comedy The Tooth Fairy followed, but he garnered perhaps the most praise in scene-stealing bit parts in Be Cool, Get Smart and Pain & Gain. 2011 saw The Rock’s casting as Hobbs in Fast Five, the re-emergence of the franchise as the pre-eminent action series perhaps not wholly unrelated to The Rock’s own rise. The Rock, going by his birth name Dwayne Johnson, is now the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

Wrestling fans are notoriously disdainful of anyone who achieves fame outside of wrestling. The Miz, Batista and Eva Marie come to mind, with The Rock being the most obvious example. This could be why his most recent returns to WWE have been met with a lukewarm response from fans. It could also be because they have largely included the burying of younger, arguably more electrifying talent. Or maybe it’s just that The Rock’s character is actually shit.

Back in the Attitude Era, his cocky, overblown facade was a perfect match for the larger-than-life characters he shared the ring with: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Mankind and The Undertaker. In the crossover period between Reality and New Eras, though, his misogynist, predictable schtick that often borders on stream-of-consciousness nonsense seems tired and embarrassing. No one but little kids (who could be said to be WWE’s target audience) are entertained by llama penis jokes and, in a climate where women in sport are slowly but surely being taken more seriously, his sexist, slut-shaming encounters with Lana are cringe-worthy.

To be clear, I’m not talking about Dwayne Johnson, the real man behind the character, who by all accounts is one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. His Instagrams illustrate his penchants for saving puppies, celebrating the birth of his second daughter with fiance Lauren Hashian and modestly throwing back to a time when he was poor and homeless. He possesses a warm smile, a big heart and a red carpet and on-screen presence that confirms his status as one of the biggest movie stars on the planet who can sell the shit out of dime-a-dozen disaster movies and campy, male-sexualisation romps on the back of the success of films like Magic Mike.

So where is this guy on WWE television?

Think back to how many wrestlers who are great on the mic have tanked it in their crossover attempts, such as Triple H. For some reason, they just don’t translate. Could the reverse be what happens to The Rock when he makes his obligatory returns to promote his latest blockbuster once or twice a year? Or is it simply a case of having outgrown the industry that gave him his start? Surely, with ten movies in various stages of production, not to mention his HBO show Ballers, he doesn’t have time to keep up with the constantly evolving WWE Universe.
So, to answer the question posed at the outset: yes, I believe The Rock has lost his electricity. It’s not an indictment of the character or even the man who plays him but rather of a bygone era that insists on holding on while new wrestlers surpass it. WWE is brimming with talent, arguably too much, so why does it insist on bringing back guys like The Rock and the Clique to give new talent the rub? Politically, we know why, but New Day and even Roman Reigns before he was anointed “The Guy” were getting over just fine without them. Wrestling is a deeply nostalgic sport, so there’s always going to be a Legend lurking in the background, but they need to recognise when the flame has been extinguished on their torch and to let the next generation electrify. The Rock has Hollywood: let us savour the charisma of Xavier Woods and Lana while we have them, before they put it to use elsewhere, just like The Rock did.

Related: In Defence of Eva Marie.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

I’m at Paste Wrestling writing about the dearth of women’s wrestling merchandise on WWEShop.com, and the stuff that is there is exclusionary to children on the spectrum and women who’ve experienced sexual assault.

I wrote about the censorship of porn when many young people use it as sex education. [Archer]

My latest for SBS Life is about how women’s friendships can dwindle later in life and why that’s okay.

I wrote about why we need diverse podcasts for Feminartsy.

I contributed to Writers Bloc‘s list of feminist books for International Women’s Day and covered the All About Women festival for them.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rebecca Bunch is crazy. “So am I.” [Junkee]

Britney Spears deserves better than her Lifetime movie. [Buzzfeed]

“How Supergirl Became One of the Most LGBTQIA-Friendly Shows on TV.” [Elle]

The Good Fight needs Kalinda Sharma.” [The Ringer]

“No, I Don’t Want To Watch A Rape Survivor Reconcile With Her Rapist.” [Junkee]

Get Out the the horror movie of our time. [Buzzfeed]

And in it, “Allison Williams Knows How to Make ‘Good White People’ Scary”. [Vulture]

Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale in the Trump era. [The Cut]

How will women’s magazines cover Ivanka Trump? [Politico]

Kellyanne Conway is a Cool Girl. [WaPo]

What Donald Trump’s food says about him. [Eater]

How Big Little Lies challenges “Leaning In” and #WomenWhoWork. [Buzzfeed]

Daria Morgendorffer is the heroine we need now. [The Cut]

Intersectionality is not a brand, but it extends to brands. [Daily Life]

World Wrestling Entertainment asserted a year ago that it would start telling LGBTQIA stories. That still hasn’t happened. [Paste Wrestling]

ICYMI: I republished an old freelance article about how Gossip Girl and other flashy shows make me feel bad about myself.

And in case this wasn’t enough for you, there’s more feminist reads at the 105th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Transcendancing]

Watching Gossip Girl Makes Me Feel Bad About Myself.

gossip girl serena crying

This article was originally published on Birdee on 23rd October, 2013. 

In preparation for an upcoming trip to New York City, I decided to immerse myself in pop culture related to the Big Apple, one morsel of which was Gossip Girl.

I was a fan of the show before it went off the air this time last year, but upon rewatching it, GG just wasn’t the same. Maybe it’s because I binge-watched and therefore didn’t have the distance of weeks between episodes and months between seasons; or just because I’m older, wiser and more in tune with my feminism; but GG ain’t like it used to be. In fact, Serena et al. and the swanky and “scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” actually made me feel bad about myself.

Now, I have pretty high self-esteem and positive body image for someone who went through adolescence in the internet age – when porn became ubiquitous, texting and social media reigned supreme and magazine cover girls were increasingly airbrushed to within an inch of their lives – so I can only imagine how it affects other young people.

When the first season premiered in 2007, I was still a teen and finding my place in the world. Initially, I aspired to have Serena’s luscious locks (albeit in brunette) and designer duds and gallivant around the big city. But as the series grew more debauched and increasingly focused on materialism and status, I unknowingly became susceptible to GG making me feel inadequate – it even contributed to the early stages of a quarter life crisis (from which I’m still not sure I’ve recovered)!

The enviable wardrobes and statement jewellery of Blair and Serena, the glamorous New York parties and cunning schemes were juxtaposed against my mundane existence working at Coles and studying in a country town. I’d never have Serena’s gravity-defying breasts or even Georgina’s slightly more attainable eye makeup; forget invitations to hobnob with celebrities at Upper East Side events.

I don’t think the manifestation of these feelings of inadequacy is accidental. We all know the purpose of advertising is to make us feel like we won’t be good enough until we’ve purchased this item, after which all of your worries (and wrinkles!) will be magically erased. GG is a show renowned for its product placement: VitaminWater, Android smart phones, Bing’s search engine, not to mention the legion of celebrities and fashion designers hawking their latest projects.

It goes beyond this, though, with the showrunners punishing certain (female) characters for their transgressions: Jenny was banished from New York for questionably consenting to first-time sex with reprehensible Chuck, who’d tried to date rape her in the first episode. Blair was slut shamed and ostracised for deigning to sleep with someone who wasn’t her boyfriend, is denied love from Chuck for seasons, is equated to a commodity to be traded for a hotel, loses a pregnancy because she can’t chose between two men, and even her own mother questions her sexuality. Serena’s character is dismissed as eye candy and lacks any defining personality traits – apart from being an ‘It girl’ about town. Gossip Girl’s characters and plotline, while dramatic, are not inspiring or empowering.

Sure, it’s just fiction. Often the TV medium is about escapism, and after a hard day at work, school or just a weekend veg-out session, not everyone wants to turn on the TV or open their laptops and be confronted with more intellectualism. Sometimes we just want to lose ourselves in the fantasy.

But it can only be a good thing that some new TV shows have made an effort to better represent the general population and depict women with interests, issues and body types that real people can relate to – think Girls, Orange is the New Black etc.

From now on, I’ll be spending more of my TV time on content that makes me feel good.

Image source unknown.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

czmlm4ewqaavqq0

I’ve started writing for Paste Wrestling about quotas being the only way World Wrestling Entertainment will diversify, that supporting WWE financially may mean supporting the Trump administrationwhy they need a women’s Royal Rumble match and the inequality that still remains in women’s wrestling.

I also wrote about shine theory in WWE. [Intergender World Champs]

And I attended Donald Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March in Washington D.C. and wrote about it for SBS Life.

I’m at Writers Bloc musing about the guilt that comes when the work isn’t and the obligatory leaving New York essay. 

How Carrie Fisher became the face of the Women’s March. [Vanity Fair]

Women filmgoers are largely responsible for Passengers flopping. But has Hollywood stopped to realised why we’re sick of rapey storylines and how we express satisfaction with our money? [Bibliodaze]

Beyonce, Kim, Taylor and Trump: how celebrity changed in 2016. [The Ringer]

Patriots Day is the first movie of Trump’s America:

“Such films are perfect vehicles for a Trumpian understanding of the world, one in which there are clear winners and clear losers, where environmental concerns disappear and the virility of the male ego (and, by extension, the American self-image) matters above all else. Where root causes of conflict go unaddressed; where nuance and reading and knowledge are denigrated as the provenance of intellectual sissy fools. These films ‘flatten journalism into a GIF,’ Nicholson argues. ‘They frighten me.'” [Buzzfeed]

Finding solace in the Final Girl as an abuse survivor. [Birth Movies Death]

How My Favorite Murder grants courage to survivors of violence. [Buzzfeed]

Image via Twitter.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

nidpgn2hmrvruxrnaff_ebhbfkl1j5wtey9mm1bi7x-to0ubv6nv28sk7c44d4_y8ws2000

I wrote about why Lorelai Gilmore is a Cool Girl. [Bitch Flicks]

Is America’s Next Top Model relevant in 2016? [Buzzfeed]

Though I wish she was in the White House and not the wild, I really relate to photos of Hillary Clinton out and about as a post-election salve. [Daily Life]

Why Hillary going makeup free in the wake of her defeat signals a return “to an earlier iteration, reclaiming her identity as the accomplished, aggressive lawyer Hillary Rodham, who pursued success while rejecting the rules put forth by the patriarchy.” [Quartz]

I’ve been thinking about what Catherine Deveny refers to as “financial abortion”—where a biological father legally opts out of an unwanted pregnancy—for a while so I’m glad someone is finally giving voice to this notion. [ABC News]

A history of famous men taking off their shirts. [Buzzfeed]

“The Art of Lobbying Ivanka Trump.” [Jezebel]

Could her rumoured appointment to a First Lady-like position shake up the role traditionally put aside for the President’s spouse? [WaPo]

How a new breed of TV shows are dealing with rape as a plot device. [Variety]

“The Year They Stole Kim Kardashian.” [MTV]

A thoroughly modern Disney princess. [Buzzfeed]

“The Feminist Legacy of The Baby-Sitters Club.” [New Yorker]

Jackie O the Scammer. [MTV]

This is what having a miscarriage is like. [Medium]

Women built Standing Rock. [Jezebel]

How Scream reflects the small-town mentality of America, 20 years after its premiere. [MTV]

Why did rape allegations derail Nate Parker’s career but Casey Affleck is an Oscar contender despite alleged sexual misconduct? [Buzzfeed]

More reading material can be found at the latest Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Zero at the Bone]

ICYMI: My favourite books of the year.

My piece for Calling Spots‘ last issue about navigating kayfabe in the reality era of wrestling is now live.

Image source unknown.

My Favourite Articles That I Wrote in 2016.

2016, it’s fair to say, was a pretty shit year for humanity in general. For me personally, though, it was pretty good. I’ve published the most freelance work I ever have, and I’m writing this from New York City, where I’ve been seeing out the apocalypse (the Mayans were wrong: 2016 is the end of their calendar and, thus, the world) for the past two months. Here are some of my favourite things I’ve published this year.

“Beyoncé Makes Us Want to Be Better People” & “The Kardashians Are Better Than You”The Vocal.

Some of the most fun I’ve had writing was for The Vocal and I think these were two of my best pieces. I love writing about controversial issues and controversial women, and these two subjects certainly tick those boxes.

“Kim Kardashian: Our Modern-Day Monroe”, The Big Smoke.

Similarly, what’s more controversial than comparing perhaps the most reviled woman in contemporary culture with the iconic, though equally disdained, Marilyn Monroe?

“In Defence of Eva Marie”Calling Spots.

And in the wrestling world, who is more controversial than Total Divas star Eva Marie? I wrote in defence of her for Calling Spots magazine.

“Whorephobia & Misogyny in Wrestling: Still Real to Me, Dammit”, Harlot.

Short-lived feminist site Harlot let me write about what a travesty it was that woman wrestler Chyna wasn’t inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. She died a month later.

“The State of Women’s Wrestling”SBS Zela.

Writing for SBS’s now-shuttered women’s sports site Zela was one of the defining moments in my career. A writer and editor I’ve long admired (but who I thought didn’t even know I existed!) recommended me to Zela editor Danielle Warby to cover the women’s wrestling renaissance. My favourite piece was an overview of the year in women’s wrestling up to that point in one of my last articles for the site.

“Nia Jax: Not Like Most Girls”, “Smack Talker! Daniel Bryan’s Tiresome Vocal Misogyny” &  “A Woman’s Place Should Be in the White House—And in the Cell”Intergender World Champs.

With Zela and Harlot shutting down, I was without a place to write about women’s wrestling for a time. Then along came Intergender World Champs, for which I’ve written an assortment of things.

“Why Celebrities Prefer Empowerment to Feminism”Daily Life.

I’d long been thinking about “women’s empowerment” and what it even means, and I got to write about it for my first piece for Daily Life, an outlet I’d been trying to crack for years.

“Trading in the Beauty Economy”feminartsy.

I’d been pushing words around in this piece for ages and feminartsy allowed me to publish it.

“The James Deen Allegations: How Porn Sets the Example for Responding to Sexual Assault”Archer.

My first piece for Archer was a look at the rape allegations against James Deen and what mainstream industries can learn from porn’s response to them.

“This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet”Junkee.

Getting paid to write about things you enjoy doing is a pretty good gig.

“Women of The People VS. OJ Simpson, The Big Smoke.

Ditto.

“Why An Australian Woman Felt Compelled to Go Door-to-Door Campaigning for Hillary Clinton”Daily Life.

Though not my last published piece for 2016, what better way to cap off a tumultuous year than by writing about volunteering for Hillary Clinton?!

Navigating Kayfabe in the Reality Era.

dolph ziggler

This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 21. Republished with permission.

The dwindling amount of old-timers still alive that experienced the territories of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and even ’80s tend to look back on making towns with fondness, when wrestling was still considered by the masses to be “real”, so much so that even many rookies making their debuts at that time weren’t “smartened up” until after they climbed through the ropes.

The Attitude era that dominated the latter part of the 1990s will be remembered as the heyday of “sports entertainment” when anything could happen and often did. When the WWE “got the F out” in 2002 it took with it outrageous shenanigans such as DX invading WCW, Alundra Blayze dumping the WWE Women’s Championship in a trash can and Sable parading around the ring in hand print pasties, making way for the PG era in which John Cena and his candy-coloured merchandise reigned supreme.

Now, with social media and the WWE Network, it seems kayfabe is almost non-existent and Superstars have to strike a balance between making themselves available to fans on Twitter, Instagram and at meet and greets while attempting not to engage in any bad behaviour that might piss off sponsors. (Though there are still untouchables: Seth Rollins’ cheating dick pics were leaked early in 2015 before he became WWE Champion and when the new girlfriend he sent said pics to was revealed to be a Nazi-sympathiser later that year, she was promptly fired from her developmental deal while Rollins remained a dual champion. And although Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Snuka’s histories have been effectively erased from WWE, Legends who’ve behaved badly in the past but not since the company brought in the domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse clause in their Wellness Policy, such as Scott Hall, are still decorated.)

Perhaps the most obvious example that we are living in the reality era of sports entertainment is Total Divas. What was first marketed as a glimpse into the unique careers of female professional wrestlers quickly devolved into your typical E! fare: 40 minutes of personal drama such as Brie Bella and Trinity’s husbands, Daniel Bryan and Jimmy Uso, respectively, taking issue with their sexy clothes, and Brie’s desire to start a family. The latest seasons seem like an attempt to rectify that and, in the midst of the #DivasRevolution, explore what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.

What’s also interesting about Total Divas is that it builds a fifth wall between kayfabe and the “scripted reality” of shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Hills. In a profile on The Hills villains Spencer and Heidi Pratt in Complex magazine last year, “a talent manager who requested to remain anonymous” claimed that the show was “80 percent scripted”.

From that article:

The talent manager isn’t breaking news here—almost everyone who was on the show has admitted how fake it was. [Lauren] Conrad, [Brody] Jenner, Kristin Cavallari, Spencer, Heidi—they were actors on a show marketed as real life so that an audience could buy into a fantasy… On the final episode of The Hills, the fourth wall was broken, the camera panned out, and a street in the Hollywood Hills was revealed to be a movie set… [T]hat audience seem[ed] willing to accept the unreality of The Hills…”

As a culture we’re still getting our heads around the cognitive dissonance of reality TV being rooted in anything but reality while wrestling has long been determined to be, erm, pre­determined. So, when it comes to the intersection of the two, does that mean the storyline on the third season of Total Divas about Nattie and her husband T.J.’s marital woes is more or less real than Nattie’s accompaniment of Kidd to the ring when he wrestled (before his sidelining neck injury, which is a focus of Total Divas this season)? Are they both just tools to further the fantasy or is it a case of real life spilling into the workplace? And what about when we add social media platforms to the mix? We know they can be used to portray the best, not necessarily truthful versions of ourselves to the world, so was Nattie posting photos of TJ and their cats on Instagram at the time of their alleged estrangement part of the ruse or were the couple working on their relationship?

A more obvious distinction between kayfabe and IRL can be seen on Total Divas this season when Rosa wants to remain involved in WWE in the wake of her pregnancy. She can’t wrestle so she suggests backstage interviewing as a consolation, which is deemed to be too risky because “anything can happen” and she might be placed in “harm’s way” in this role. Had Total Divas been more like NXT’s more sophisticated reality show Breaking Ground and/or aired on the Network, perhaps this storyline would be left on the cutting room floor. But because it caters to E!’s audience—one that WWE doesn’t necessarily want to break kayfabe in front of—the reality of simply writing altercations to take place away from a pregnant employee isn’t portrayed.

The most glaring example of Total Divas and social media colliding is in Dolph Ziggler’s inclusion in the show. As one of the more active WWE Superstars on Twitter and in his extracurricular endeavours, such as stand up comedy, Ziggler appears in season four and five of Total Divas as Nikki’s ex-boyfriend and a potential foil in her current relationship with John Cena. The photos of Dolph and Nikki together prove their past relationship was real, but can we assume Ziggler’s apparent rekindled feelings are also?

Ziggler moonlights as a stand-up comedian and there’s a sense that he’ll have a successful, Dwayne Johnson-esque career after WWE in Hollywood. His WWE Universe (apparently separate from both the worlds of Total Divas/E! and the one you and I inhabit) relationship with Lana dragged on for months while Lana’s former client/love interest/real life fiance Rusev was injured, Ziggler went on hiatus to film a WWE Studios production, and when Lana broke her wrist, with the three Superstars relying heavily on social media to prolong the love triangle (and then a love square with the involvement of Summer Rae). Instead of putting the kibosh on the ill-fated storyline, Lana and Ziggler were tasked with promoting their “relationship” on social media. As lacking in chemistry as their pairing was, Lana and Ziggler seemed to genuinely enjoy playing it up on Instagram and Twitter, proponents of an alternate reality where images alone convey something very different to what’s really going on.

Returning to Total Divas, if WWE wants our suspension of disbelief to remain in tact (which they apparently do, as one can’t imagine that Ziggler would choose to carry on an Instagram relationship if it wasn’t part of his job), why do they cross-promote the conflicting reality show and their own programming so heavily? Given Ziggler’s growing reputation as a love rat (he gifted Summer Rae jewellery while she was allegedly involved with Rusev), was his wooing of Nikki on the show for real or an attempt at rectifying his WWE character?

During an interview on The Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast, the host further pitted Ziggler and Cena against each other in that Cena plays a musclebound meathead who’s hooking up with Amy Schumer in her runaway box office hit movie, Trainwreck, a role allegedly based on Ziggler, who dated Schumer in real life.

Relatedly, Tyler Breeze burst onto the scene as Summer Rae’s rebound, taking the spot of Ziggler both literally and figuratively. He appears on Breaking Ground and at once parodies and makes use of our obsession with social media, asking if he’s who we follow, toting selfie sticks to the ring and streaming his entrances on Periscope.

Total Divas also uses social media to their advantage with things posted by its stars on Instagram have been used to punctuate storylines, most notably Eva Marie’s falling out with the rest of the cast.

In the first few episodes of season four, Alicia Fox and the Bellas were irked because of Eva’s continued posting of ads for her hair extension line and various self-promotional content at the detriment of anything about wrestling. Then, when the rest of the cast blew up that Eva was getting specialised one-on-one wrestling training while they all had to tough it out in developmental, Eva retorted with an Instagram post about a lion not worrying “herself with the opinion of sheep”. (Just FYI: A female lion is a lioness, Eva.)

Since then, Eva has made amends with the rest of the show’s cast, even joining babyface Team Total Divas at WrestleMania, despite cultivating a successful heel gimmick in NXT and further reinforcing not only the fifth wall between Total Divas/E! and WWE, but one between WWE and NXT, as well.

Ryan Boyd unpacked the relationship between kayfabe and social media further in a piece for The Spectacle of Excess. He writes:

[U]nder the new rules of kayfabe, the audience is encouraged to be just as interested in Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah as they are in Kofi Kingston, and what’s more than that, the Nashville crowd got worked like hell when Kofi-the-real-guy said that country music sucks purely because he went one further in his heel antics. Kofi-the-real-guy is as much a part of the show as Kofi-the-heel—they’re both props for generating heat and selling T-shirts.

“Kayfabe is a matryoshka doll of carny deception, and if you think you’re not getting worked, that just means you’re getting double-worked. The kayfabe is coming from inside the house.”

*

A few years ago I was involved in the making of a wrestling mockumentary with a smorgasbord of former WWE Superstars which then led to me working in an indie Australian promotion that often brought out big names to compliment its own talent. While most of the wrestlers I grew up watching on TV were lovely in person, I did observe a certain disconnect between their characters and reality. But it must be hard to get a good grip on reality when the bulk of your life is spent perfecting your craft and the development of the character that goes along with it. There is an expectation in the professional wrestling world that you stay in character at all times to protect storylines and maintain “kayfabe”—despite the widely held belief that wrestling is “fake”—at all costs, but what toll does that take on everyday life?

One indie wrestler who knows the importance of social media and utilising it to portray your character to your fans is Melbourne wrestler JXT, who recently received a tryout for WWE when they were in town with NXT.

With a YouTube show entitled JXTv and a photo op gimmick appropriated from Instagram’s polaroid-esque layout, JXT’s social media presence compliments his status as a party-loving, millennial everyman and will show industry heavyweights that he has an in-built following if and when the time comes to make the move to the U.S.

JXT believes that to be a wrestler and have a strong social media presence is “super important.”

“I see wrestlers now without Instagram or Twitter and straight away in my head I say ‘they’re not serious’,” he continues. “WWE talks about Twitter constantly and references [its] Superstars’ Instagrams. The fans want to invest in you so having platforms where they can talk to you and see what you’re up to constantly is key in giving the fans a chance to make that deep emotional connection. It’s 2016: people have 7-second attention spans; they want to see a lot of their favourite wrestlers in short, sharp bursts. So things like Instagram and YouTube help because there isn’t a show on Tuesday morning but they can just check your Instagram to get a dose of what you’ve been up to.”

JXT’s main goal with JXTv and his other online endeavours is to make a name for himself. “You look at any big independent wrestler, [if] they have a heavy social media presence [then] that’s how they get their name,” JXT says. “You hear of all these cool wrestlers who aren’t signed to a big company yet through social media. CM Punk was renowned [in] internet wrestling circles and that’s why he broke the mold and WWE signed the independent guy. He had so much buzz they gave him a chance.

“Everyone knows who Colt Cabana is yet he doesn’t wrestle for any big wrestling company [save for] ROH in its smaller days… Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn… Everywhere I go I want people to know who I am before I even get there. That is the goal.”

But JXT insists his character, like so many of the most successful wrestling gimmicks, is just a heightened version of himself. “I love to party and I love wrestling so I take that and over-dramatise it. [But] when I’m just being me, I’m calmer and less over the top. You need to know who you are as a person, and not get lost in the hype and perceived ego of your wrestling character.”

While maintaining some semblance of suspended disbelief is integral to professional wrestling, it’s also a delight when wrestlers break kayfabe for real. Take the Four Horsewomen’s curtain call at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn when Bayley won the NXT Women’s Championship from Sasha Banks in a hellacious match, culminating in Charlotte and Becky Lynch coming out to join them in a tear-jerking show of friendship. In my opinion there’s no greater reward than seeing competitors who gave it their all express respect and, oftentimes, love for one another. Give me that over neatly packaged “reality” any day.

If we can take one thing from the shitshow that was the Rusev/Lana/Dolph Ziggle/Summer Rae storyline it’s the ability to ask the question, what even is the point of kayfabe, anyway? If Vince McMahon claims that WWE is entertainment and not sport, then why not treat its Superstars as actors and let them do what they want, within reason (*cough* Hulk Hogan *cough*), on their own time? With social media and the 24-hour news cycle the kayfabe model is a risky one that’s no longer feasible.

Related: World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasAChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

In Defence of Eva Marie.

My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [Harlot] Whorephobia & Misogyny in Wrestling: Still Real to Me, Dammit.

[Intergender World Champs] Smack Talker! Daniel Bryan’s Tiresome Vocal Misogyny.

[Complex] Over The Hills: The Afterlife of Heidi & Spencer Pratt.

[The Spectacle of Excess] Kayfabe is Dead. Long Live Kayfabe.

Image via Courtney Rose/Calling Spots.