If you have ever wondered why millions of people around the world get excited to watch sweaty people beat each other up inside a ring for arbitrary prizes in scripted matches while wearing outlandish costumes – the easiest answer is to tell you a story about a turtle.
This turtle lives alone in a treehouse and is happy with her solitary life as she is a timid creature who doesn’t really like crowds. So when a flood happens in her neck of the woods and animals from all walks of life invade her home, it is quite a shock. Sloths, rabbits, birds and even an elephant all take uninvited refuge in her modest little home and as a result, almost destroy it. Turtle is very distraught and breaks down in tears from all this new stress in her life.
The house guests, now aware of their unwanted visit and the destruction left in their wake, all come together to not only apologise but to say they will rebuild Turtle’s home. Turtle is amazed at their generosity and hesitantly accepts their kind offer. The story ends with the birth of a new community and a new unexpected way for Turtle to live her life. She is happier than ever but still remains true to who she is.
Too Much For Turtle by Cat Rabbit & Isobel Knowles is one of the best books I’ve ever read. A children’s storybook made from photos of handmade felt and cardboard, it instantly creates an incredibly beautiful and unique world for a reader to fall into. A simple tale told in a fresh and original way that is bursting with charisma and wonder.
As human beings, we want satisfaction and to be rewarded in every avenue of our lives. We have more than enough things that fall short. Careers we don’t achieve, relationships that don’t fulfill and small everyday injustices that are out of our control. Frustration is a major river flowing through our adult days and how we deal with it can reduce it to a pleasant country creek or turn it into an unstoppable raging tsunami.
Storytelling can give us that sense of satisfaction. An underdog battling against adversity. A dangerous journey to claim the ultimate prize. A hero’s fall from grace into loss and desperation. Classic tales that are as old as ink and paper. Stories that give us a subconscious belief that despite hardships, there is the possibility that we will succeed where others have failed.
Within that simplicity, we desire originality. Unpredictability. A sense that despite our own personal and selfish needs, there’s a chance anything could happen. Stories that could branch off into countless directions and take us somewhere we never thought possible while at the same time, giving us that much needed feeling of gratification.
The most resonant stories are those that are told in a compelling way featuring characters that we are invested in. It’s as simple as John McClane flying by the seat of his pants while fighting terrorists in Nakatomi Plaza. Woody and Buzz forming a friendship so they can work together despite their differences. Kaneda watching his former friend Tetsuo go insane with power and realising he must be stopped. Or Turtle’s messy neighbours not only causing her distress but being the spark of a new and joyous life.
To the masses, these are easy stories to understand. They typically begin with some kind of event or injustice and end with things being put back into recognizable balance. This isn’t avant-garde, experimental storytelling. There’s no wheel reinvention or disruption of the landscape going on here. It’s a step-by-step process on a road that has been driven many times before. It is something a child can instantly comprehend and enjoy.
This is the main reason people watch wrestling – to be told a story. Admittedly, two people grappling in a ring and performing feats of superhuman fitness and bravado can be impressive all on its own but for a lot of people, that’s not enough. They need an extra layer. What if, in addition to being booked into a match by promoters, these two wrestlers didn’t like each other? What if they actively hated each other’s guts? Now that’s something. Did one of them do something to upset the other? If so, what? Will that change the outcome of the match? Wait, they’re former best friends too? Well, that makes things interesting. These two grew up together but now one feels betrayed and wants to prove a point in the ring. Look at them, they have raw anger in their eyes and the match hasn’t even started. What was so bad that split them apart? How vindictive will this get? Whose side are you on?
See what I mean? That took five seconds to think about but the hook is pretty much undeniable. If you take that basic framework and add a ton of charisma in each competitor, stylish clothes, awesome music and a chanting audience and maybe then you can start to understand why this seemingly ridiculous entertainment starts to draw a crowd.
Speaking of which: it’s almost all pre-determined and rehearsed. From the victories and the losses right down to the individual moves and elaborate entrances. To the human eye, watching fans gasp in horror or cheer in delight while wearing their favourite wrestler’s merchandise that cost them hundreds of dollars is quite silly when the outcome has been already decided. But I say that after jumping up and down on my couch at the latest Marvel movie trailer. Oh boy, I hope [insert superhero’s name here] kicks the ass of [insert supervillain’s name here] for what they did! That scumbag is going down! Yeah, you get ’em [insert superhero’s name here]! I can’t wait to pay money to see this!
That’s where you need to come at this from. Pro-wrestling bridges the gap between entertainment and sport and as such, is unlike anything else out there. And the fans know it. They just want to see heroes and villains. Triumph over adversity. Good versus evil. They want to be told a story and when wrestling is at its best, it keeps them coming back for another chapter. Once you accept this notion, this journey into ‘sports entertainment’ will be a lot smoother.
In this ongoing series of features, my aim isn’t to defend, celebrate or criticise wrestling – just explain it. Well, along the way I’ll probably do all four of those things because professional wrestling as it stands today is like a labyrinth of insanity so pardon me if I’ve already contradicted myself. With a staggering backstory touching millions of lives and billions of dollars, conflicting narratives and glaring hypocrisy are speed bumps that simply can’t be avoided. So put on your seat belts.
From the outside, wrestling looks like an asylum inhabited only by gibbering lunatics who somehow keep buying tickets to this dark carnival of madness. On some level, you’re absolutely correct to view it that way. But under the surface, there sits the most fascinating characters, outlandish stories, horrific personalities and compelling moments of entertainment the world has ever seen.
There is an absurd amount of information to explain and unpack when it comes to the business of professional wrestling. It has been around longer than any of us have been alive and seen more transformations than anybody could have predicted. It is amazing and disgusting in equal balance. A maddening blend of lunacy and brilliance. The people involved range from real-life superheroes who help sick children get through tough times to unrelenting monsters who should be locked in a gulag never to see the sunlight again. Obscene amounts of money wasted, mountains of potential squandered and dreams made into reality.
That’s what wrestling is: a story.
And I can promise you this: it’s a good one.