Wrestling a nerd’s thing. You can argue as much as you want about muscled men, about how it’s a sport, and that a sports fanatic is more likely to be into wrestling than a fan of nerdy things is, but you’d be wrong. Wrestling is for nerds. You only have to look at the evidence, and compare it to the nerdier aspects of fan culture to realise that being into wrestling is more like being into Game of Thrones or Steven Universe than it is being into football, or any American sport.
Firstly, there’s the story. Kayfabe is a bizarre mix of reality and fiction that expects you to suspend your disbelief for a weirdly interminable amount of time. Never mind the card being subject to change, the storyline is subject to being completely thrown out of the window whenever someone’s pushed something too far, there’s an injury, or it’s decided that something isn’t working. Kayfabe is like if you were halfway through a season of something on Netflix, and then next episode the loved up couple were each with different people, and there was no mention of them ever having been together. You’d be rightfully confused, you’d wonder what had happened, and then you’d stop watching. Well, wrestling pretty much does that on a weekly basis, scrapping storyline on a daily basis – and that’s without even considering that there are real lives of the wrestlers alongside kayfabe, and sometimes the two become combined into story. Unlike actors, wrestlers aren’t their ‘real selves’ outside of the ring, they have to play their role in every fan interaction and use their character’s name in interviews. It’s a bit weird, and something that’s difficult to explain to people who don’t know anything about wrestling.
Then there’s the lore. Each company has its own lore, and then some lore transcends that. In this way, wrestling is a bit like Star Trek. Each series of Star Trek has its own canon and its own lore, but there are certain things which have been mentioned in more than one of these series. Wrestling lore talks about matches, undefeated streaks, pay-per-view events, and kayfabe storylines, as well as real life incidents, so it’s no wonder that people can get a little lost when they first get into wrestling in a big way. It’s also expected that you either know the lore already, or that you educate yourself – no one’s handing out leaflets about Austin 3:16, no one is explaining why anyone chants for CM Punk when he never seems to show up… it’s a very daunting pool to dip your toes into, and it’s not made friendly for newcomers.
Gatekeeping is a huge issue in wrestling, as it is in most fandoms where the supposition is that the fanbase is mostly male. There’s a lot of references, in jokes and sayings, and no one’s going to explain it to you – even if you ask. There’s also a supposition that casual fans can’t possibly know as much as the hardcore fans, and that if you haven’t been watching wrestling since you were a tiny tot, then you can’t really like it. All that serves to make it a pretty nerve-wracking thing for me to choose to write about, when I hadn’t watched any for ages, and had to go back and catch up on everything. Hearing other fans call fans out on their lack of ability to call spots is frustrating, too – I struggle to call Raw simply because Michael Cole doesn’t help me, and if you’ve ever tried writing for three hours straight while something is live, then you’ll know how complicated it can become. I’m trying to learn, but gatekeeping says that trying isn’t enough, and that if you don’t know what you’re talking about, you shouldn’t talk at all. My take on this is that when Michael Cole can call matches incorrectly and get paid to do it, me doing it for free isn’t such a terrible crime.
The cast list with wrestling is also HUGE. Forget Game of Thrones, we’re talking genuinely massive, huge, a hundred people and each of them has a name move and a gimmick you’re supposed to remember, even when they’re off tv for weeks at a time. Then when you talk about outside talent coming into a promotion you’re familiar with, and it’s like the cast of Gravity Falls showing up in CSI – you might not know who they are by anything but reputation and a couple of clips someone showed you at a party once, or you might not be familiar with them at all. It can be baffling to have to deal with characters who are not only new to you, but who have a whole new set of moves and a new style that you have to get used to.
None of these things necessarily make wrestling bad. They do, however, make it difficult for newcomers, in the same way that getting in to Star Wars now requires a lot of effort, or someone who’s only seen the new Star Trek films might struggle with the ocean of canon behind those. Wrestling is nerdy, and liked by a lot of nerds, because it uses all the same things their favourite franchises do to make them feel welcome; it’s an exclusive club full of language that’s only inclusive if you’re part of it, and it can alienate outsiders. Wrestling is full of nerds because it’s a nerdy love; something that constantly disappoints and upsets you, but you forgive it anyway, because you know that there were amazing moments in the past, and you trust that there will be again. I love wrestling because it feels like every other fandom I’ve been part of – because that’s what it is. It’s not the same as supporting a sports team, it’s more like a combination of Cirque du Soleil, Shakespeare, comic books, science fiction, video games, and urban fantasy. It’s theatre, lore, history; an ongoing saga in which the storyline can change at the drop of a hat. And that’s nerdy – and what makes wrestling so exciting.