Thursday, February 7, 2013

Who Was That Masked Man? A case against letting curiosity kill kayfabe

Graphics Credit: Wrestling is Fun!
Like any other forms of entertainment, wrestling relies on a certain amount of mystery. Yes, the suspension of disbelief is critical, but so is the suspense and anticipation that comes with great storytelling.

This weekend at National Pro Wrestling Day I was privy to more discussion than I cared for as to who was actually under all of these masks. Now, I fully understand and appreciate that we all love different things in wrestling, and gimmicks aren't always a universally loved idea. However, I do not fall into that category of wrestling fan. I am all about gimmick. I will forgive the worst display of technical wrestling if it plays into a character's facade, a story that’s trying to be told, or if it’s done by someone who has a better character than most people going. Hard work isn't always physical.

Masks have been used for decades for many different reasons. Most currently, the Impact heel stable Aces and Eights are using masks as a way to hide their appearance as they attempt to…well, it’s Impact, so their intentions aren't actually clear. However, what is clear is that masks are not used to propel a gimmick or a character forward, but rather disguise a known personality. The end game is the unmasking.

Unmasking as an end game is a popular trope. Often, in Mexico, an unmasking is a way for a performer to move on, be it to pass the torch, retire, or move on to a new promotion or company. This can be accomplished as masks carry a respect and an impressive amount of cultural import, with luchadors going so far as to go out in public in their masks to further protect their true identities. Attempt to remove a mask during a match can be grounds for disqualification. Without this kind of commitment, instances like these unmaskings, or even luchas de apuestas (matches with wagers such as mask vs. mask, mask vs. hair) don’t carry any kind of gravity.

There is a vast difference, however, between using the mask as a proponent to the narrative and using them to convey someone’s identity as a wrestler. Be it writer, actor, wrestler, the art of character creation is something that can take incredible effort. But rather than respecting that, we seem to have a need to want to tear it down. It is what we all hate about the worst of the wrestling community, or the internet in general: someone else’s need to feel smarter or demonstrate that they know more than you for no other reason than they can. The feeling of "insider knowledge" that draws people to dirtsheets, or makes people use the phrase “my sources tell me” instead of “I read this rumour on the internet somewhere.”

Photo Credit: Jervis Cottonbelly
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

Now, if you do know the identity of someone under a mask, tell me, does it add anything to their matches? Does anyone get the same feeling knowing that Yokozuna is actually Samoan? That Ted DiBiase isn’t a jerkface millionaire? That the Dudleys aren’t blood related? So why is it that so many people have such a strong desire to tear down the hard work of a wrestler who happens to wrestle in a mask? If you had to go to work, act and speak completely differently, and perform with hindered vision, would you just breeze through it? Probably not.

If a wrestler is truly good at what they do – technical wrestling, in-ring storytelling, being high on the elusive and mysterious workrate scale – shouldn’t we celebrate that? And by the same token, shouldn’t we be celebrating the commitment and effort of someone who chooses to take it one step further and does it well? Why can’t we just appreciate that the Latvian Proud Oak is funny and trying to have fun, instead trying to figure out who the fellow underneath is, and why he would want to pretend to be a Baltic wrestling tree? Why can’t I get excited for to interact with two different characters who happen to be performed by the same person? I would think that they would be happy that not one, but two things they have created could make me so happy, rather than thinking I’m dumb for having two different conversations with the same person.

So just as I choose to respect someone for their athletic ability, I will respect them just as much for having the creative talent to make me love a group of pretend anthropomorphic ants, an olde tyme athlete with a baseball face, or a true gentleman with a belly of cotton. At the end of the day, wrestling is a pretty goddamn weird thing in general, so what’s wrong with wanting to let go, believe in something, and have a bit of fun along the way?

13 comments:

  1. I was speaking about this with Horrorshow (I will not tell you who he is under his mask, though, so don't ask) today and one thing we talked about is different types of wrestling fans.

    For me, wrestling is best when I'm totally lost in the moment and just enjoying what I see before me. I don't watch Lord of the Rings and say, "Arwen Evenstar is being played by Liv Tyler and I wonder if her panties and bra match, because if they do not I would not sex." Instead I just say, she's Elrond the Half Elven's daughter and gives up her immortality for love!

    So when it comes to wrestling I don't care about who likes who backstage, who is under what mask, or any of that other drama or nonsense. I just want to lose myself in the moment and just enjoy the show. I'm proud to be a mark.

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    1. We all know how Liv Tyler not matching her bra and panties can make people.

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  2. I don't care who's under a mask, but I do have to know if the face under the mask is pretty or not. Hugely important, the most serious of businesses.

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  3. I've been watching Chikara videos today and was thinking about the very same subject. I don't care who's under the mask. I don't even want to know. I'm glad that I don't know Ultramantis Black's real name. I mean, when you get to the point that it's someone you possibly otherwise know under a mask, I guess the curiosity kicks in, but most of the time that's not the case. Thank you for writing up something important that's been on my mind.

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  4. Look at Rey Mysterio without his mask, as he appeared at the end of WCW. Losing the mask ruined who he was in so many ways, and I am so glad WWE remasked him. Masks are geat.

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  5. I'm curious as all hell about what's under the masks, but, you know, I'll live. I think some people enjoy speculating. It's just another way of being a fan. Nothing wrong with it. Unless they're being jerks and intentionally going up to people who don't want to know and showing them pictures or something. Then they're just being trolly jerks.

    And, yes, I'll admit I'm with Jessica: I want to know if someone's pretty or not. Dasher Hatfield and Hallowicked, in particular, make me curious, because I find everything below the mask so yummy. But I thought the same about Jigsaw, and then I recently saw his RoH pictures where he was maskless and... well, let's just say his nose is rather more prominent than I'd imagined and leave it at that. (Though you know what they say about guys with big noses...)

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  6. I just hope that when El Generico starts to wrestle for the WWE that he still has a mask. Unmasking really does ruin masked wrestlers.

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  7. Now I feel a bit bad for being one of the people discussing it at NPWD.

    I agree that the mystery is important, but personally, it varies based on the wrestler/gimmick. For someone like Dasher, Saturyne, Rey Mysterio, I don't want to see who is under the mask (and in some cases, I've even closed out google image searches because maskless photos show up) and for a case like Matt Classic or Darkness Crabtree where it's publicly known I want to play along. But when it comes to Los Ice Creams or Proud Oak, I'm curious. Is that the wrestler's main character, or is it a new branch (see what I did there?) of a wrestler I already admire? At NPWD I learned that two wrestlers I like were actually the same person. Instead of ruining the magic, it made me appreciate him more because he can wrestle in more styles than I thought AND because I saw him wrestle multiple times in one show (which is in my mind, crazy hard, especially given how much of a beating he took in one of the matches). I don't want to be a bad fan and I hope I'm not. I want to know if NAME REDACTED is Proud Oak not because I want to be smarter than everyone else, but because I want to know if this is another side of him.

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    1. I'm also still newish to indie wrestling and don't know all the inside jokes, so sometimes if I don't know if a character's secret identity is a running gag or is supposed to be a secret I try to find out because I don't want to be left out on the joke.

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    2. I think presentation is important. Everyone is supposed to know that Mysterious and Handsome Stranger is/was Archibald Peck (Who just happens to look like Barrister RD Evans).

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  8. I dunno, I guess it doesn't usually matter to me. My interest has to be piqued for some reason to want to know who is behind the mask. Really though, I just think we should all aspire to be Baltic wrestling trees.

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  9. This is interesting. I don't need to know who masked wrestlers are, but there are a few relatively big names on the UK scene who play other characters under a mask when they wrestle for Lucha Britannia. Thing is, their tattoos are so distinctive you can tell who they are. I am still not sure if they WANT people to know or if perhaps a different costume would preserve the magic.

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