Wrestling is cool and I don't care what you think
by Scott Saffran
Staff John Cena
Around a better part of a month ago, John Cena, the face of the WWE and wrestling in the United States, told a very compelling anecdote in the ring, as part of a “promo” segment. Cena spoke of his mass-appeal success and crossover breakthrough in the past several years as part of movies Trainwreck and Sisters and hosting the Espys and the Teen Choice Awards. Too often, Cena remarked, has he been asked by reporters and talk show hosts when he will leave the wacky world of wrestling now that he’s mainstream. Though used as part of a storyline to hype a feud prior to an important pay-per-view event, the notion of wrestling apart from mainstream culture is a reality many pro wrestling supporters have come to accept over the past few decades.
Pro wrestling’s boom period took place between 1984 and 1990, riding high on megastar Hulk Hogan and the fruits of competition between the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), the National Wrestling Alliance (Yes, that’s the NWA and it’s responsible for getting me in some serious trouble), and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). As the likes of Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, and Dusty Rhodes won the hearts of the nation, promoter Vince McMahon was almost supernaturally possessed in his pursuit to make the WWF the only show in town. With Wrestlemanias I-V setting live event attendance records and the superstars pulling in block-busting merchandise sales, the inevitable crash hit the industry hard. 1992’s steroid scandal and Federal investigation of the WWF and McMahon family seemed to sour the nation on the idea of sports entertainment. Those once the heroes of many limped bitterly out of a courthouse, defeated and exhausted.
Still ever so incensed, Vince McMahon made one last bid in the mid-90’s to take out the WCW, his lingering competition. Born on the back of edgy 90’s counterculture, the WWF began an Attitude Era of crude and lewd programming championed by the next generation of megastars, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock. The fierce battle between WCW and WWF would come to be known as the Monday Night Wars and would fuel another massive boom in the industry. As 2001 turned the corner, Vince took the throne for himself, finally squashing his rival and buying out WCW. Never one to ease the throttle, the now-WWE would continue its edgy programming throughout the early 2000s in its self-proclaimed Ruthless Aggression Era.
Now coasting on stars like Edge, Batista, Undertaker, Triple H, and Shawn Michaels, this would cost the WWE, even as merchandising machine John Cena rose through the ranks. Fans tired with the product and more were dissuaded from tuning in by the legacy of obscene programming left in the wake of Attitude and Ruthless Aggression Eras. What was once a proud contest of real life superheroes had devolved into some vile monstrosity, a theatre of the absurd and the embarrassing. A move to PG TV did nothing to resurrect the ratings of the good old days, and the WWE was once again plodding along just as they were in 1992.
It was around that time, say 2008 or 2009, that I came into my own as a true fan of professional wrestling. Distinctly against the wishes of my parents, I would sneak a few minutes every Monday to watch RAW in my basement. Every few weekends, I’d even get to go to my friend’s house and binge hours of old tapes and DVDs. From the very beginning, it was engendered within me that pro wrestling and the WWE was something of which to be ashamed. I could never watch freely; I was barred from talking about it at the dinner table. Even when I could scare up a WWE Magazine, it would miraculously disappear a few days later. I was a backroom wrestling fan, hiding my passion from the public at all costs.
So how has this come to pass, that I spill out my passion for my peers to see? I stopped caring about public opinion. I took every “That’s fake, you know” in stride, each “It’s so stupid” as it came. I turned my insecurity into confidence and started to wear my passion across my chest. I found wrestling fan friends and made friends wrestling fans. I wore my t-shirts out in public. I’ve accepted that pro wrestling teeters on the precipice of cultural relevance, and I’ve forged that into pride.