Max Maven brought the magic world’s attention to the word “kayfabe” with his recent DVD release. Back when I was writing Ye Olde Magick Blogge, I made mention of it, and to be clear I wasn’t the only one. If you don’t know, “kayfabe” is essentially referring to the dedication a professional wrestler has to the theatrical reality inside the ring, to the extent that if they continue that theatricality outside an event, they are maintaining kayfabe, and if they violate it, they are breaking kayfabe. This could be as simple as making sure that the good guys and the bad guys in a wrestling shows are never seen hanging out together outside of a wrestling show.
The potential application to magicians should be obvious. There’s that great scene in The Prestige when Angier and Borden are trying to figure out the secret behind Chung Ling Soo’s magic, and a big part of the secret is that the magician maintains his old man persona outside the show so that nobody would suspect the strength needed to pull off the trick. And, of course, there’s the world mentalists live in, where they need to worry about people believing that they have real powers (or perhaps worse, not believing it), since presumably if you’re able to read minds on-stage, you ought to be able to easily do it off-stage as well. It’s not like Siegfried and Roy are expected to have their tigers with them 24/7.
In any case, this article isn’t necessarily about how “kayfabe” itself applies to us, but rather just to draw attention to these three particular guys, who put on a fantastic show at the recent Royal Rumble event. Going from left to right above, it’s A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn, and when the WWE decided they needed to start the show off with a bang, they went with their match first.
Make no mistake about pro-wrestlers and whether or not what they do is fake. These three guys are artists. Here are some links to videos showing what they can do — Kevin Owens doing the Fisherman Buster Suplex, Sami Zayn doing the Blue Thunder Bomb, and A.J. Styles doing a Springboard 450 Splash onto a wrestler lying on a table.
If you don’t know anything about wrestling, wrestlers tend to have signature moves that they do in order to build towards the climax of a match, including “finishing moves” that, when they connect, tend to be enough to get the three-count and win the match. Sami Zayn’s Blue Thunder Bomb is usually done as a surprise in the middle of a match, whereas Kevin Owens’s Fisherman Buster Suplex rarely comes out (sometimes not even in Pay-Per-View events), and A.J. Styles’s Springboard 450 Splash onto a table was something I believe has only been done once since he joined the WWE two years ago.
All of those moves have proved to be reliable high points in their respective matches, and when the wrestlers bring them out, the crowd almost always pops. None of them are finishers. Ok, to be clear, it has happened that the Blue Thunder Bomb has managed to finish off a match, but the last time that happened it was because of outside interference setting up the moves. Usually, they are essentially artistic sacrifices made by the wrestlers in order to further the story unfolding in the ring.
One aspect of professional wrestling that tends to get a lot of attention are the use of off-stage videotaped vignettes (“promos”) that are used to add extra context to the stories being told in the ring, and while these three guys tend to do pretty well in those as well, quality-wise the acting usually ranks somewhere between infomercials and softcore porn. That said, while the WWE tends to put a lot of weight on these promos in their shows, where these guys really show their talent is in their in-ring storytelling, and make no mistake, each of these three guys are masters at what they do. You may have to watch a lot of matches to appreciate it, but they tend to work very hard to make sure that the matches they do have a story that’s distinct and immediate — not an easy feat given that a lot of pro wrestling lives up to (or perhaps more fittingly, down to) its reputation as being a bunch of man-children in tights fake-fighting for the amusement of the idiot masses, showcasing all the putridity of Roman Gladiatorial combat with none of the jeopardy. (To be fair, these guys actually do risk a ton every time they go out there, but because of pro wrestling’s reputation as “fixed” and “fake”, the people involved get very little credit for the chances they take.)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, whenever I hear magicians describe magic as an art, I cringe somewhat, because the unspoken corollary to that is that magicians must therefore be artists. Magic may be an art, but I don’t see too many magicians putting as much into magic as I do these three wrestlers putting into professional wrestling. And, let’s not forget, these guys were tasked with opening the show.
Now, between the recent references to e-sports and pro wrestling, I don’t really want the Nu Blogge to devolve into endless variations on the theme of “Garsh, guys, we really need to do better.”
Garsh, guys, we really need to do better.