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Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Stone Cold Podcast – The new kayfabe

One of the best features on the WWE Network right now are the live Stone Cold Steve Austin podcasts. The first one Austin did with Vince McMahon generated a lot of buzz because of McMahon’s comments about the business as a whole as well as the way new stars are created (the “brass ring” comments have taken on a life of their own). But the most recent interview Austin did with Triple H was equally compelling and interesting.

One of the first questions Austin asked Triple H was about kayfabe and if Triple H thought that it was dead. It was a very interesting way to start the interview and it got me thinking about how kayfabe is viewed or use in modern professional wrestling.

With the social media boom and the rise of the information age, people are savvier to the sport of professional wrestling than ever before. People no longer view pro wrestling as black and white, good guy versus bad guy because every wrestler has such a presence in social media that whether good or bad, they’re all more fully realized people now than they would have been in eras past.

One could argue that the old style of kayfabe is dead – that idea that everything presented was real. We no longer think that, outside of the confines of the ring, the good guys and bad guys never mix. Thanks to social media and the ease that everyone has access to information, wrestling fans today are more aware that wrestling is just a show.

But one could also argue that the interviews Austin has been doing with WWE figures is creating a new kind of kayfabe. Call it “kayfabe 2.0” or “reality era kayfabe” but whatever you want to call it, these interviews are helping blur the lines between reality and pro wrestling reality.

For example, these interviews have been presented as legitimate interviews. That this is off-work hours, not a part of the weekly Raw or Smackdown programming and are just two guys having a chat. But it’s presented within the realm of pro wrestling as a whole and therefore must be taken with a grain of salt.

“Smart” fans often feel like they know everything about what’s happening backstage. They feel like they know the reason behind storylines and the motivations the higher-ups have to put those stories in motion. But what these interviews are doing is allowing WWE to say, “Let’s put all this info out there on our own” – info that once was only presented by “insider” wrestling journalists. This way, WWE can play off the ideas and instances presented like they’re general knowledge while still being in control what fans see and hear.

The Stone Cold Podcast is helping to bridge the gap between “old school kayfabe” and “reality era” kayfabe. They’re talking about storylines, creating characters, guys coming from indy and foreign companies – topics that would never have been referenced on WWE programming until now. And it’s allowing WWE to basically perform sleight of hand – pulling back the curtain slightly to allow fans to think they know what is happening so that when they do put together a good, surprising storyline, it has that much more impact.

Now, this isn’t to say that I think these interviews are completely staged – that they are being put on for the implicit act of blurring the lines between reality and kayfabe. They talked about a lot of interesting topics (like Reign’s Rumble win, CM Punk and NXT) and it’s really cool to hear how the business works from people at the top. But at the same time, you can’t discount that these interviews are happening on the WWE Network and should be considered “canon” for lack of a better term – that these interviews could or are serving to further WWE storylines.

I also found it very interesting how Austin ended the interview. Triple H said he’d love to do another interview sometime and talk about how Austin used to “potato him,” i.e. actually hitting Triple H with punches that could have been pulled more. Austin responded by saying “Hey, I had to protect the business,” which I found to be a really interesting phrase for him to use in the context of the interview.

Austin wouldn’t pull his punches so as to make the in-ring action seem more real – “protecting the business” in other words. In the days when Austin first got into wrestling, I bet he would never have dreamed of talking about the inner workings of the professional wrestling business in an interview that could be seen or heard by millions. But today, that act is in essence accomplishing the same goal as his stiff punches were – working to make the business seem more legitimate and blurring the lines between reality and kayfabe.

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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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