BY BRIAN OLIU
Kayfabe (1882 - 2016)
The first rule of professional wrestling is that if you see something, you are supposed to see it—there are plenty of secrets and slip-ups; a body falling to the floor a step early, a mistimed musical cue—yet the camera will always seem to cut away at the precise moment (cameras are everywhere these days) & it will never be spoken of again.
Before professional wrestling was a televised event, there were stories: of shows in half-empty arenas where titles would change hands, if only for a few seconds before the decision was reversed; a brief moment of celebration with the fans who believed that they had witnessed something special before everything returning to the status-quo—certainly the bad guy would not receive their comeuppance in a civic center in northern Georgia; these things were made for the bright lights, of Sunday specials, of big city drama.
As the wrestlers traveled from town to town, crammed in the back of their rental cars, they had to remain separate from each other: good guys could only travel with good guys, bad with bad—the illusion was gone if a face & a heel shared a pot of coffee over a Waffle House breakfast; someone might see that what happens on camera is not real.
The world in which professional wrestling exists has a name: kayfabe. All staged performances are deemed to be authentic. The chair shots, real. The eye rakes, real.
I remember the moment where I found out that the Tooth Fairy did not exist—one simply does not lose a tooth on a Monday when payday was not until Thursday. I can’t recall ever believing that wrestling was real; to me, it was a television show like any other television show—heroes, villains. This could have been because my parents did not want me to believe that the violence was real—that I would try to deadlift a child much smaller than me on the playground, that all of my punches would be done with closed fists.
I also do not remember when I found out that kayfabe does not exist anymore—perhaps it was a slow trickle of the staged becoming real; the ring encircling everything we hold dear. Wrestlers drop their fake accents on videos. Blood rivals play video games together backstage, the controllers dwarfed in their massive hands. We watch reality shows about the reality show that is professional wrestling—to be real is to acknowledge that something else is false; that there is a curtain to be lifted, that the scope of what we are up against is much larger than we could ever imagine.
To exist in this world is to know that we are forever backstage, yet we are constantly in the spotlight. There are no camera tricks here—no angles that can make a mistimed forearm look less real. We are true in our falseness. The lines, yes, are blurred, yet we are stuck in between them. They’ve got us on the ropes.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and four full-length collections, So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections, Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games, Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping (Cobalt Press, 2015), essays on NBA Jam, and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. He is at work on a memoir about translating his grandfather’s book on long distance running, as well as two books on professional wrestling. Recent work appears in Denver Quarterly, Passages North, and Another Chicago Magazine.