Fox News’ corporate overlords gave a million dollars to the Republican Governors Association in 2010. MSNBC’s pushed its marketing slogan “Lean Forward” so hard they literally used the subheading “some things are best left said” (emphasis JMS’s) in ads and included a picture of Keith Olbermann for those still confused by the messaging.
And while there can be endless debates about the relative righteousness of their agendas, is it reasonable to assume they weren’t pushing one? C’mon, son.
In fact, the only thing that keeps them and places like the Drudge Report and Huffington Post in check is a business model requiring some faith in their validity. Even news gathering organizations with a specific goal in mind can’t be so full of shit that you’re too embarrassed to keep listening to them tell their stories. Both industries — niche news and niche entertainment — make their money on making you feel a certain way so you’ll watch almost continuously. They live and die trying to sell you a specific version of the truth that will capture your attention long enough for them to also sell you cars and deodorant.
After a while, you build up a tolerance. It comes from knowing that when the entire goal is to get you to believe a show about a fake fighting league, stories about injuries are probably lies. Or that when someone names a segment “The No-Spin Zone”, they might be doth protesting too much. Because of this there’s an untraversable uncanny valley between the show’s “reality” and reality.
Though history has shown that as long as the people putting on the show smooth over the gap with bright lights and fireworks, most viewers can’t tell the difference. Or are okay with simply ignoring the holes.
Professional wrestling has always taken the parts of sports1 that actually make money and filtered them through the trappings of entertainment. But the dynamics and logistics guiding the back and forth of professional wrestling has always been significantly closer to politics.
There are easy connections: promos as political speeches, the obvious/not-so-obvious ways popularity and “likability” are required for success, even distraction finishes. And a shift in the business model from “getting butts in seats” to generating “buzz” for “#brands”, has led to the tropes of political campaigns and elections taking over storytelling in professional wrestling.2
Which is why when overarching narratives are built with a long-term goal in mind but not written in stone — like WrestleMania XXX — “the chase” feels significantly closer to watching a presidential election than any sporting event. This isn’t a coincidence. Both require building a hero that appeals to everyone, one that can’t be heroic just because they win and represent a specific town. Collectively, we root for “ideas” more than individuals. So, when we can be made to feel like part of a movement, even something as obviously mined and processed as the #YesMovement or Yes We Can!, it’s worth its weight in golden ratings and voting turnout.
However, of all the overlapping parts, the ones that generate the most heat involve how information is presented.
The voices on the show try to make cases for the parties involved, with each side telling you who they want you to root for and what big picture ideas they are trying to get across thematically. But that wasn’t always their only function. While they were clearly there to represent different ideas of what “good” and “bad” were, it’s important to remember that Monsoon and Jesse played the WWF’s town criers and tolerable versions of Hannity and Colmes.
Their shtick had, beyond its perfect execution, intrinsic value that jibed with the atmosphere they were trying to create — a sporting event where the announcers need you to feel a certain way. They were commentators who happened to be biased in their opinion of the morality of specific actions, but what exactly happened wasn’t necessarily in contention. The role that announcers currently have completely removes the conceit of trying to find the truth in what they were watching, instead arguing over what truth is.
The WWE has also taken away the thing that made their obvious biases not just bearable but enjoyable: They don’t actually call the match. In the exact same way that pundits don’t actually talk about the issues when they are on television, JBL, Cole and Lawler exist only to generate enough heat so they can keep a storyline going.
Which has lead to stories not being told as much as talked about. It’s not just that they remove the context. They remove the context of context itself, creating a wormhole that brings you back to a world where you where you’re told you used to be comfortable.
It works in the same way you can sell security systems after informing viewers they are going to robbed by drug fiend minorities lesbian immigrants. Or advertisements for organically grown food (sold at a hefty premium) sold at stores to protect yourself from the “dangers” of GMO crops immediately following a story on Monsanto. And its effective because you forget how racist mandatory minimum sentences and immigration laws can be or what it was like when half of India starving before the invention of dwarf wheat. 3 Thankfully (?) stakes like these make cable news orders of magnitudes more depressing, and that’s important to remember.
While it may not seem like much of a consolation for those who are stuck watching the current state of TV wrestling announcing, maybe we can take a small solace in knowing that things could be worse. And that, like their counterparts on cable news, we can ignore them because they aren’t saying anything we need to hear.