ON THE ONE HAND
Is wrestling all that different from other TV series that have dedicated, loyal fanbases? Sure wrestling has been around a lot longer than, say, Game of Thrones, but aren’t the fans just as nuts for the HBO show, or something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars or Star Trek as they are for Raw and Smackdown, comparatively speaking?
In pro wrestling we have breakdowns and sub-categories of fandom, in a way those other franchises do not:
MARK - A person who buys-into the on-screen pyro and ballyhoo and doesn’t worry about the backstage machinations.
SMARK (aka SMART-MARK) - A person who can not help but let the inner workings of the business affect their enjoyment level.
And yet, when someone talks about being moved emotionally at the death of Spock in The Wrath of Khan, or Luke in The Last Jedi or the one person in that one scene in Infinity War, you don’t have people in the audience saying “Psh, quit being such a mark!”
When Gale Boetticher ate a bullet between the eyes I was furious. So was the rest of the internet. No one told us to stop freaking out because “that’s just the story being told.”
And yet, get too invested in pro graps and some snarky person will call you a mark. Get too mad and someone will go out of their way to remind you that it’s just a story and not real.
I suppose that’s it: No one ever believed Battlestar Galactica was real. There was never an era where fans thought M*A*S*H was a documentary. But wresting has that stigma, where ignorant people still feel the need to say “you know it’s fake, right?”
I hate those people.
And as maligned as the “it’s still real to me” guy is, his actual point wasn’t “I reject your reality and substitute my own;” it was “I know it’s scripted but I also appreciate the toll it has taken on its actors.”
Yes there was a time when a lot of people accepted wrestling more or less at face value, and though they might admit things were...let’s say “theatrically enhanced,” many of them simply took for granted the wins and losses and assumed they were in some round about way legitimately acquired.
By now, however, everyone over the age of eight ought to know what’s going on, at least on a fundamental level. Kids who still “believe” in Spider-Man and Superman are naturally going to believe in John Cena too. But once they understand actors, scripts and film shoots, they’ll understand pro wrestling too.
ON THE OTHER HAND
Wrestling fans are some of the worst in the world.
You can find plenty of Star Wars fans criticizing the writing and direction of the saga, plenty of Star Trek fans doing the same. Ask DC fans how they think the movie competition with Marvel is going; there’s pretty unanimous agreement that it’s going really really badly. Ask the same fans what to do to fix it...and things get more complicated.
But wrestling fans? We’re a group of know-it-alls, each convinced that our one idea is not only a good idea to try but is the one and only idea that should be tried and anything else is just stupid and wrong.
Unlike fans who can sit back and take in a product and either enjoy it or hate it while it’s happening and then debate its merits afterward, wrestling fans have only varying degrees of criticism which they happily dispense in real time while the story is unfolding.
It can be very hard not to look at things from a “smart” fan perspective. In my opinion (which is the only correct one and if you don’t agree you are wrong), we should all try to be a little more marky and a little less smarky. But that’s just me. And as said, I know it can be very hard to “suspend disbelief.”
I guess it’s sort of like learning the truth about Santa Claus. Once that genie is out of the bottle there’s no going back. You can’t ever see the show as anything but a bunch of athletes and freaks putting on a carnival performance-slash-soap opera.
The closest community to ours that I can compare this too is Game of Thrones, whose fans will have great passion (and often anger) about the changes made from book to screen. But that still is not a great comparison, because most of the GOT online community is in agreement that the past season was too rushed, that the burning of Shireen was probably a bad move and that Winds of Winter is never coming. Sorry I lost my train of thought.
Smarks and marks, that’s it.
Why can’t pro wrestling fans find that same level of consensus? Why must everything be a long, drawn out argument where both sides are certain of their rightness and neither one can just let things be.
Why do we get SO worked up about WWE, seemingly more than other genres?
Is it because the story never ends so we’re never given the chance to process and reflect the whole beginning-to-ending happening?
Is it because it’s live-entertainment and that brings with it a different level of immersion, one that almost expects fans (who cheer and boo) to voice their opinion in other ways?
Is it because Vince McMahon is no Kevin Feige and he disappoints and frustrates far more than he hits a home run?
Is it because we have our favorites and since WWE is the only game in town (on a practical level) we want what’s best for our favorites and get frustrated when Vince keeps pushing talent we care far less about?
Or is it just Roman Reigns’ fault?
One thing I appreciate about NXT is how its loyal fans seem to watch and comment on it in a way unlike other WWE shows. It’s more like the way fans debate and argue about traditional TV shows and movies. There’s far less “Ugh, they should have done ______” and far more “I’m excited to see where this is going...”
It’s a much more enjoyable fan-experience as a result. I hope one day the main-roster shows put on a product that produces the same reaction among its fans and we end the “smark vs mark” fight once and for all.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.