There’s a debate in the IWC that rears its head every once in a while: is it possible to make people fans of pro wrestling, besides little kids? There are strong points made on both sides of this debate. Some argue that it’s very difficult for people who didn’t grow up with wrestling to suspend their disbelief (why don’t the wrestlers just move before they get hit with a moonsault?), and this alone precludes any interest in wrestling.
Personally, I don’t fully agree with this point. Avengers: Endgame made millions upon millions of dollars, and that movie asked the audience to suspend disbelief for almost 3 hours straight. If movies can expect their audiences not to question the discovery of time travel, then I think wrestling will be fine.
I’m going to present some ways I think wrestling can become more welcoming to newer fans, and hopefully elevate itself to a higher status in the entertainment industry.
1. Everyone knows it’s fake, so have fun with it
My older sister became a fan of wrestling in the past year, with the rise of AEW. What drew her to AEW (other than the obvious buzz that surrounded its debut) was the fun, endearing characters. Among her favorites are the Best Friends, Kris Statlander, and Jurassic Express.
Wrestling needs to stop presenting itself as realism. It’s such an uphill battle it’s practically vertical. Instead, wrestling should accept the fact that it’s fictitious in order to explore its creative options as much as possible. AEW is doing this the most, I’d argue, with their outlandish characters such as my sister’s favorites and wrestlers such as Abadon, who blow realism out of the water in order to put on fun, captivating stories.
2. Make it easy to understand
Sometimes in pro wrestling, it can be hard to tell who’s the good guy, and who’s the bad guy. You switch on the TV to a bunch of men or women in zany outfits, shouting at each other. The hero and villain seem to switch places every month (yes, this is about the Fed). Such convoluted, incohesive storylines make it hard to follow, and will almost definitely make watchers unfamiliar with the program switchly change the channel.
In my opinion, the best solution for this issue is what I’ll call the New Japan model. When wrestlers are split up into larger factions, it makes their storylines much easier to follow. The audience can immediately recognize that each wrestler has the end goal of bringing gold to their team, and understand why tempers would flare between stables.
I’d argue that the New Japan model is a good marketing tactic as well. Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and other pop-culture series have shown us that people go crazy for the chance to sort themselves into teams, or houses, or camps. Wrestling could easily capitalize on fans’ team-player instincts.
3. Make wrestling more inclusive
There are several groups of people who have felt as though they don’t belong in pro wrestling or its fanbase. Women are the first group that comes to mind, largely because of WWE’s history of misogyny and objectification of women. The hypermasculinity in mainstream brands of wrestling often drives women and those in the LGBTQ community.
A lot of progress is being made in this regard; women across the globe are legitimizing women’s wrestling, and male wrestlers are starting to stray from the 300 lb, incredibly buff, oiled up and angry archetype of wrestling in favour of showcasing their own uniqueness (of course, some wrestlers are still in this archetype, and that’s perfectly alright too!). This is not only a healthier representation of masculinity for men to see, but it makes an environment that is more welcoming to people who aren’t men.
Seeing women like Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Asuka achieve such feats as they have in their career makes women feel that they can be involved in pro wrestling. The same goes for LGBTQ fans who can see wrestlers such as Nyla Rose, Sonny Kiss, and the Golden Lovers and feel that they, too, have a place in the wrestling community.
It seems that the pro wrestling community has existed in a bubble for the last decade or so. There’s a lot of bigotry that still exists in the community, and oftentimes it’s spread by some of wrestling’s biggest stars. If wrestling wants to find new fans, it has to accept that it can no longer tolerate intolerance. Wrestling should make efforts to become more inclusive to those who have historically been marginalized, as well as make itself more accessible to those who don’t have decades of wrestling knowledge under their belts.
I know firsthand how amazing pro wrestling can be, and I believe we should be trying to share its magic with as many people as we can.