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Spot the Difference: Politics vs Wrestling | Opinion

Donald Trump knows how to invoke a reaction from an audience — either in the wrestling world or in the political circus. Photo: WWE

Professional wrestling — half Shakespeare, half suplexes — continues to captivate as a stage-managed “reality” in which scripted stories bleed freely into real events, and the blurry line between truth heightens the addiction to the melodrama.

Following on from World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) WrestleMania extravaganza in April, we take a look as the Australian government gears up for the main event of their poorly executed version of the theatre spectacle The 2019 Federal Election.

POLITICS IS WRESTLING

The world has caught up to the ethos of professional wrestling, and with each passing year, more and more facets of popular culture become something like wrestling including politics.

The art of professional wrestling, much the same with politics, is based not the outlandish characters or the jumbo-size threats, but the insistence on telling a great story with no regard for the facts.

This weekend, many Australians will once again head to the polling booths and vote for the same two-party false paradigm that has consumed the country for most of the modern era, falling victim to campaign storylines created by the political establishment.

The latest Federal Election extravaganza is expected to draw records numbers across the country, following on from a largely dull campaign of television programming over the last few months.

To understand just why Australians have remained captivated with the illusion of federal politics, we must look no further than the characteristics that make up the professional wrestling industry.

TELLING A STORY

HEEL v FACE

In professional wrestling, the booker (or writers) of a company will pencil in various schedules of good and bad characters to produce a truly entertaining spectacle, combining some of the best theatre techniques in the world with a blend of traits that appeal to a variety of audiences.

The ultimate goal is simply to get the crowd on your side, and like all the best wrestlers — politicians invoke a reaction from their audience to suit an fitted agenda.

In politics, as in wrestling, a number of characters must be used to achieve a universal approach to captivation: the ultranationalist to appeal to the nationalist base, the progressive to appeal to the social base, and the traditional names to appeal to the long-standing audience across the years.

Who did it better?

Less buff, less charismatic and less exciting — former Prime Minister Tony Abbott fails miserably at his attempted Hulk Hogan impersonation.

In the 2019 Federal Election, Bill Shorten — the leader of the Labor Party, instrumental in the establishment of the UN and tipped to lead the coming sustainable model of society with The Greens — has emerged as the leading “babyface” (good guy) in the race and is expected to win.

Appealing to the ‘progressive minorities’ by speaking on issues such as welfare, cancer and even his own ‘mother’s story’, Bill has taken the charge to become the ‘human face’ of the campaign.

On the other side of the coin, Scott Morrison, playing the textbook “heel” (bad guy) role of the ‘evil Prime Minister’, is currently taking the heat of the ‘we need change’ audience as a figure target.

A common theme in the storyline of politics, the current Prime Minister is being written once again as a symbol of frustrations of the Australian people, blaming him for the problems of the political term just passed after his latest ‘championship’ reign in office.

A century-old tradition, this continues to be one of the most popular staples of the political theatre, as the public perk up in anticipation of the ‘coming change’ from the other party — and repeat.

As more of the country begin to awaken to the lies and deceptions of the establishment, characters such as Fraser Anning, Mark Latham and Pauline Hanson have been introduced to act as the gatekeepers of alternative information, while Clive Palmer adds the Trump flair to the programming.

The process of shaping a story undertaken by professional wrestlers is dangerously similar to what politicians do when they talk about the stories of their characters and brands — only as applied to real people and real events, instead of mascots and promotional stunts.

Ultimately, the bookers are in control of the narrative, and the good and bad characters all partake in the spectacle that has captivated for generations; despite all being in on ‘the act’, and the result being predetermined all along.

KEEPING KAYFABE

For over 50 years, the term “kayfabe” has referred to an unspoken contract between wrestlers and spectators: We’ll present you something clearly fake under the insistence that it’s real, and you will experience genuine emotion.

Neither party acknowledges the bargain, or else the magic is ruined.

To a wrestling audience, the fake and the real coexist peacefully. If you ask a fan whether a match or backstage promo was scripted, the question will seem irrelevant. It’s the performance that counts.

Speaking with a normie about politics or an election is like asking this question to a wrestling fan — you may as well ask a roller-coaster enthusiast if he knows he’s not really on a runaway mine car.

People don’t seem to care that politics is fake, and every four years, continue to get caught up in the pageantry and the showmanship of the campaigns, despite losing further trust each time.

You could compare kayfabe to method acting, or always staying in character.

Before the professional wrestling industry testified that is was “purely entertainment” in the 1980s to avoid paying athletic commission taxes, kayfabe would go as far as bad guys never being caught traveling with wrestlers who portrayed the good guy — even though they got along just fine.

There are stories of wrestlers who hesitated to wise up their spouses and children, even if that meant faking injuries around the house.

Much is the same with politics: despite all being funded and controlled by international corporate interests, many intertwined with each other despite being in opposing parties, the characters must maintain the storyline portrayal at all times to maintain the illusion.

A recent prime example of the kayfabe magic can be found with the latest photo opp of the Australian Labor Party, who got friends and former ‘inner-party turmoil’ storyline character ‘enemies’ — Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd — together for a brand development promo shoot:

Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard reflect on what some argue was one of the greatest political storylines of the modern era. Do you agree? Who were you rooting for?

So much effort went into preserving a character’s reputation as either the baddest man on the planet, or a pure and noble superhero of a man, that until the rise of the internet, kayfabe remained code among those in the business.

It has only been in the era of the internet that masses have begin to discover information about concepts such as the Australian government being registered as a private company, the New World Order, the existence of groups such as the Bilderberg Group and much more.

In fact, it’s only recently that pro wrestling itself was willing to take the step to acknowledge its own artifice, and the very idea of a wrestler ‘breaking character’ is still relatively novel.

Barely 30 years ago, ABC anchor John Stossel asked the wrestler David Schultz if what he did was fake, and had his ears boxed for the suggestion.

Politics has managed to maintain it’s illusion, however, despite a small minority — or “smart fans” in the wrestling industry — understanding the deeper spectacle that is unfolding.

As a result, the latest Pay-Per-View (PPV) campaign — the 2019 Federal Election — has had a successful run, leaving fans anticipating the main event result to crown the next ‘Prime Minister’.

WRESTLEMANIA v ELECTION

Audiences adore politicians because of their artifice, not in spite of it.

They admire men and women who can identify their most primal feelings, validate them, and choreograph their release.

The 2016 US Presidential Election is the perfect example of this: puffed chests and talk of penis size, seemed more like a wrestling pay-per-view event than a dignified clash of political minds.

Let’s not forget, Donald Trump was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, owing to his participation in several storylines and marquee events over the years:

WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and WWE Hall of Famer and US President Donald Trump before WrestleMania 23 in Detroit. Photo: WWE

Australia hasn’t had its shortage of colourful moments this year, either: from eggings of politicians, to outlandish meme political advertisements, to in-depth ‘investigations’ ‘exposing candidates’.

To this end, fake parties or ‘brands’, and their factional ‘rivalries’, make up much of the magic that allows the federal election to captivate audiences until the result at the end of the race:

‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown’, both brands owned by the WWE. Sound familiar?

Inside, devoted teams of debate coaches, publicists, fundraisers, campaign consultants, speech writers and sample groups, all coalesce to train and coach a candidate on how he or she can best be presented to the public.

These teams understand one of the most entirely true rules of communication – candidates aren’t elected because of what they believe, candidates are elected because of what people perceive.

While some grassroots movements still exist in the political arena, equivalent to the wrestling territories of old and independent promotions of today, the system has been designed to ensure they can have little effect on the game.

In professional wrestling, a scripted outcome or set of circumstances designed to draw a specific reaction from an audience is called a “work.”

Politics is a work, and it’s a fantastic work that the majority of Australians continue to believe.

WE ALL KNOW IT’S FAKE

The magic that captivates individuals to wrestling, and moreso politics, is called “emotional labor” — the professional management of other people’s feelings.

Diners expect emotional labor from their servers, Hulkamaniacs demand it from their favorite performer, and a whole lot of voters desire it from their leaders.

Ask an average supporter of any party whether he or she thinks the establishment actually plans to serve the best interests of the people, and you might get an answer that boils down to: “I don’t think so, but I believe so.” That’s kayfabe.

“Make Australia Great” isn’t about restoring the country, rather it’s about how cathartic it feels to yell with venom against a ‘common enemy’.

Think of the Two Minutes Hate’ schedule described in George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.

From Tony Abbott in speedos, to Vladimir Putin shirtless on a horse, to virtually everything Kim Jong-un does: does the intended audience know that what they’re watching is literally made for TV?

Sure, in the same way they know that the wrestler Kane isn’t literally a demon. The factual fabrication is necessary to elicit an emotional clarity.

This is the same with federal elections: from debates, to emotional backstories, you name it: the false elements of the soap opera continue to captivate the average Australian.

Satire depends on the constant awareness that what’s being presented is false, such as frequent acknowledgments, winks to the camera, giggling breaks of character.

Pro wrestling is not like this, and neither is politics. Both never openly reveal the true nature of their systems, despite it being a well known and provable fact.

People know, it is all a crock, but they want to believe that it is real.


On a spiritual level, it seems distasteful to imagine a living person as a piece being moved around on a narrative chessboard; their every move calculated to advance a maximally entertaining storyline.

Too often, however, this is how it works — whether plotted by the public figures themselves or by some canny handler (an adviser, a producer, a PR rep).

Everyone is looking to sculpt the narrative, to add just the right finishing touch.

It is easy as rationalists, such as the audience of this website, to make the case that empirical data is more reliable than intuition in many cases.

However, if you ignore the human need for things to feel true — such as the meaning in mysticism that religion has given society — you are missing the entire point of why the control system that we have all been born inside has so much control of individuals.

Ultimately, the audiences and the creators work alongside each other, building from both ends, to conceive a universe with its own logic.


Tired of the two-party false paradigm? Make sure to check out our picks of independent political parties to support in 2019 ahead of the Federal Election.


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