Professional wrestling has been on a long downslide in popularity since its heydays in the 1980s and 1990s. But even at its height of popularity, professional wrestling has never been seen for what I believe it is: art.
Now before you complain, just because something is art doesn’t mean that it’s good art. Most professional wrestling, just like most art, isn’t really that good. It’s often cheesy, schlocky and intended to appeal to the lowest common denominator. But the same can be said for a lot of literature, music, cinema and television. The fact remains that the scripted, narrative nature of professional wrestling makes it indisputably a form of storytelling, and most would agree that storytelling is fundamentally an art.
Professional wrestling tends to follow a general set of rules based around a very dualistic sense of morality: most wrestlers take on the personae of either good guy “babyfaces,” or villainous “heels.” Sometimes there will be “tweeners” who are neither entirely face nor heel, and every so often a wrestler will “turn” from face to heel, or vice versa.
Beyond this, most wrestlers have some form of “gimmick” that defines what their character is: an All-American patriot, a post-apocalyptic biker, an undead Satanic priest or even flamboyant “fashion police”. These characters are almost always over-the-top, exaggerated and extremely unrealistic. But at the same time, they can be authentically political and reflect real world anxieties.
One of the most common motifs that’s found throughout most of wrestling is the struggle between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” One of the most famous wrestling feuds was the struggle between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the beer-swilling, foul-mouthed, anti-establishment rebel and Vince McMahon, the real life founder and CEO of WWE, who played an exaggerated version of himself.