Anthony Pace wrote an eloquent piece on the nature of kayfabe, referred as The Show, and how the reality of death couldn't even stop it. Towards the end of the article, Anthony brought up questions that piqued my interest:
How could [the WWE] go on knowing a staple of the enterprise was perhaps on his deathbed, perhaps brought there by the enterprise itself? How could Cena and Punk and, especially, Hart go out to the ring to perform while this real human tragedy unfolded?
Now, I can't speak for WWE performers or staff but I can speak as a professional actor in Los Angeles who has been busting his ass for the past five years trying to make it. I'm certainly no pro wrestler, but there's an aspect of their job that actors share:
We both dedicate our lives to tell great stories, so I felt compelled to explore these questions, and hopefully shed some light on the crazy (or maybe not-so-crazy) perspective of performers, it's relation to The Show, and to life and death.
Anthony's final paragraph characterized The Show as cold, ruthless, and relentless. I certainly won't deny those aspects. But there's a common tendency to look at The Show primarily from a financial perspective. The Show was more important than a person's life because WWE had to fulfill a contract and people had "paid for tickets to see a show." While there are certainly financial ramifications to consider, from a performer's perspective, it's not the business that's more important; it's the STORY that's more important.
Claiming a story is more important than a person's life sounds insane, but consider that story is one of the most powerful of humanity's creations. It's through stories that we pass on values from generation to generation. It's through stories that we educate about the dangers of the world. It's through stories that we learn empathy and to see from perspectives other than our own. Stories provide enlightenment, emotion, education, and escape, and the best ones will live long after their crafters have passed on.
The human value of the stories on WWE, whether we enjoy them or not, is profound. Millions are compelled to take three hours out of every Monday to watch RAW. People spend thousands of dollars on tickets, lodging, and airfare to attend a pay-per-view (PPV). We of the cSs community gather in a daily ritual to analyze, dissect, criticize and celebrate scripted outcomes. Terminally ill children write to John Cena daily because a few minutes of his time would mean the world to them.
Now imagine that you create those stories. You are the one who millions see every week. You are the one who inspires that fire, passion, hatred that so many will sacrifice so much to experience. You are the one receiving those daily Make-A-Wish requests. How important would The Show be to you?
Now I'm not saying that The Show is so important that it supplants the concern for a person's life. But when you dedicate years, decades of your life to The Show, the desire to perform doesn't quickly turn off; not even the spectre of death can supplant it. Rather, those concerns, as it goes with many things in life, exist concurrently, both at odds with and enhancing each other. So when John Cena made his entrance, I saw a man whose prayers were in a hospital miles away; but I also saw a man who was so immersed in story, who so genuinely believed in the qualities of a true champion that he gave the promo of his life. CM Punk, no doubt aware of the dire situation, was especially focused to play Cena's foil, matching him with every verbal blow. Bret Hart, no stranger to wrestling tragedy, nodded in approval, himself captivated by the basic yet powerful conflict of good versus evil. I can see how one could view these performers as doing their job in spite of "The King." But I prefer to see these performers, colleagues of a man who himself sacrificed 42 years for The Show, as doing their job in respect for "The King."
All that said, while I believe WWE did the right thing, I don't presume to know if continuing RAW last night, or Over The Edge '99 for that matter, was the "right" call. Every person's different; every performer's different. But I hope that anyone reading this would consider the value of person's life is inexorably tied to the mission to which that person dedicates it, and The Show is equal parts kind and cruel, compelling and abhorrent, inspiring and disgusting. It consumes lives while immortalizing them, a twisted paradox worthy of our own humanity.