I watched Fastlane with a friend who hadn’t watched wrestling since middle school, 30ish years ago. I often think of myself as a new fan, as I’ve been watching for not quite a year, so it was eye-opening to watch with a non-fan.
My friend has an extremely dry sense of humor and enjoys joking around, so he tended to poke fun at most of what he was seeing. It was a reminder to me that for many people, wrestling isn’t something that they have an emotional investment in and that it takes some time and a particular perspective to be able to take what we’re seeing seriously.
His favorite gag was to only discuss the show as if it were all real. When I’d make a comment about characterization or production decisions, he’d gaze solemnly at me and ask, "What do you mean? This is all happening. It’s all real." Funny enough, even though I get involved in the dramatic angles in WWE, I found that it didn’t really phase me to watch it from a "this is silly yet fun" perspective.
It helped me remember that there is more than one way to watch. Sometimes I get so caught up in analyzing the minutia – and so frustrated over the plots they won’t write – that I forget the immortal words of Dean Ambrose: "Wrestling is stupid, but it’s fun, so I love it."
My friend was a good sport, watching the half-hour pre-show and all three hours of Fastlane. We both had our smartphones out and were multitasking as we watched, but he kept putting his down to watch stretches of the show uninterrupted. He laughed unironically at everything Damien Sandow and the Miz said to each other. He did a fair amount of jokey commentary – "How did he get out of that one? I was SURE he was finished!" "Oh, man! I never saw that move coming!" and "Wow, I can’t believe the ref didn’t see that." I had a good time joining in – sometimes the atmosphere demands that you "Mystery Science" what you’re watching.
He found Rusev/Cena particularly funny, perhaps in part because I announced at the beginning that Cena is the worst and we needed to cheer for Rusev, but also because the faces those guys make, and the yelling they do, is in fact pretty funny if you’re not taking it seriously. When he made a reference to the Accolade, I was surprised that he had quickly learned the name of Rusev’s finisher, but he pointed out that the announce team had repeated it 10 or 15 times. It surprised me that I have stopped noticing some of wrestling’s goofy habits so quickly.
What really pleased me was that we watched the main event in near silence. I was truly into it – Roman and Daniel both had clear motivation that grew out of previous events, and it mattered who won, and they both looked like they were killing themselves in their attempts to kill each other. And though my friend apparently wasn’t converted into fandom by the end, he watched the match quietly and closely, taking it the way the performance was intended, which I think is the best compliment he could give it.
I felt a little bit of emotional distance from the stories while watching through a new, more sarcastic set of eyes. But I found that it didn’t bother me. Wrestling is, in the end, really over-the-top storytelling, with broad characterizations and a lot of stand plot twists and character behavior that you can see coming a mile away. But that’s okay, and it can even be a lot of fun, as well as a break from watching as a Serious Intense Fan.