Professional Wrestling is More Real than Politics
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” H.L. Mencken
Professional wrestling has more reality and truth than politics in Congress. There, I said it.
In the early 2000s, I was involved with one of the larger professional wrestling organizations in the US. No, I didn’t wrestle, but I did sub for a sick referee a few times. My work was “backstage,” interviewing wrestlers and writing content for websites. As a referee, my job was to keep track of the match time, signal the go home moment, and be a foil for the audience with my reactions to moves. These guys and gals worked together out of view of the camera. They would put the match together, plan big moves, and anticipate reactions. In front of the camera they opposed each other. Behind the camera they were often closer than most colleagues in a 9-5 office job.
In 2018, I had the chance to work in the US Senate as an Economics Fellow. Through this experience, I saw politics when the cameras were off and when they were on. I sat in televised committee hearings behind the dais and at conference tables untelevised.
Both politics and professional wrestling share theatre in common. Both attempt to ‘rile up’ the fans, get folks to believe what they see is real. To get the audience to dole out hard cash to signal allegiance, whether it be to Dwayne Johnson (R-Rock) or Dwayne Johnson (R-CA). Don’t be fooled, both ‘work’ their audience.
Consider some of what I saw and heard in my time on the Hill…
- For televised hearings, staffers of the same party work together to plan questions to maximize political benefits. In other words, a senator with many military bases in their state will almost always ask the military funding questions. In contrast, a senator with few military bases will not. Promos, when a wrestler talks to the audience, are far less scripted today than most political speeches and interviews. The very best talkers in wrestling talk for 5 minutes with 3 bullet points.
- In non-televised subcommittee hearings, senators from both parties listen and respond to expert testimony. Discussion is robust and focuses on fact finding and seriousness. However, several weeks later in a televised committee meeting, these same senators act different. There, they ask non substantive or “gotcha” questions to score political points. Contrast this to the work wrestlers do when making promos; they clear what they think they want to say with their feuding opponent. Eddie Kingston said “When I speak, if its about me its a shoot (the truth) but if its about my opponent its a work (fabrication, lie, embellishment).”
- In the rotunda, watching two senators (neither whom I worked for) from different parties discussing amendments and bills in a friendly manner, before heading to their respective TV interviews in that rotunda to harshly critique each other’s positions. This is not unlike the work the heel (bad guy) and face (good guy) wrestlers do in planning out matches in the locker room and before the fans arrive.
- After a few months of helping to prepare questions for senators to ask in Committee, it was obvious that questions were doled out in accordance to (a) senator’s constituent composition, (b) political needs, (c) rank. The same is true in professional wrestling; screen time and focus depends on where stories are and what is capturing the fan interest.
And that’s the bottom line…
These are just a few examples of what politics is when the cameras are rolling and when they are not. The outward fights within a political party (say, Manchin and AOC) are often obfuscating their true intent. These public fights serve to shore up each other’s constituencies. Privately, behind closed doors, they’re working together. Public actions serve to provide cover to vulnerable members and drive up fundraising. This is not that different from promos the CM Punk Pipe Bomb promo driving t-shirt sales.
Unlike in politics, professional wrestling is predetermined, the winner and loser are known but how they get there is up to the wrestlers. But voting is more predetermined in politics than the casual observer might think. Leaders will only schedule votes that win. Because of this, moments like John McCain’s thumbs down are so rare (and feel so truthful).
So, the next time a YouTube clip or news segment gets your blood boiling and your PayPal donation finger itching, pause. Odds are, you’re being worked by a politician just as much as a professional wrestler does. At least Eddie Kingston is honest about it. And to me, nothing is more real than an Eddie Kingston backstage speech(starts at 3:45)