The art of true living in this world is more like a wrestler’s than a dancer’s practice.Marcus Aurelius
What Is Kayfabe?
“What is kayfabe?” “What is it mean?” “Is that a word?” “And how that helps pro wrestling?”.
These and many other are common questions that time by the time I come across, so on this post, I decided to dig in on the matter to answer your questions, tell you the story of kayfabe, and explain to you his importance and value in professional wrestling.
So what is kayfabe? Kayfabe is the act of keeping the illusion that everything portrayed by (mainly) wrestlers on character as legit and real, meaning that competition, feuds, and relations are held by everyone within the biz as genuine and not staged.
This originates the creation of a suspension of disbelief from the beginning until the end of a show and ultimately will allow the fans to enjoy the product despite his predetermined nature.
About the word’s origin, there are many theories, with some more credible than others.
Some say that was due to a wrestler named “Kay Fabian,” others suggest a word manipulation of terms like “be fake,” “keep quiet,” or “keep secret” basically, kayfabe as a word was created to be used in a quick and indecipherable way.
For example, if an outsider with no roots or affiliation with the business for any reason was present in the backstage area of an event, the word “kayfabe” will be used to aware of wrestlers to don’t break character due to its presence.
And this is pretty much everything you have related to the origin of the word itself and its meaning.
Next, we’ll take a look at the “when” and “where” of the matter and find out how everything started.
A Little Story About Kayfabe
Another common question is, “Where does kayfabe come from?”. Its origins, as said before, are not clear. Still, a point that everyone seems to agree on is that kayfabe had his roots in the carnival world.
As mentioned previously, with the intent of communicating among people within the business without being understood by outsiders or warning someone for some reason to don’t break character.
Having professional wrestling his roots in carnivals is not surprising that kayfabe was inserted in it since his very beginning.
With the spread of professional wrestling in the post-WWI, bookers and promoters decided that the only way to keep the legitimacy of professional wrestling was if all the parts involved kept the illusion that everything that occurred in the shows was legit, the fight itself, storylines, wrestlers’ origins, fight skills, etc.
Doubts about professional wrestling’s legitimacy always existed since his very beginning, but in a starting point, kayfabe was crucial to keep his status as a legit sport.
It allowed creating a suspension of disbelief who helped promoters deliver better shows in terms of entertainment and ultimately win popularity. However, it might have been exhausting to wrestlers at times, keeping character whenever in public.
And the only advantage of not having internet back then was that if you were in a new place where nobody knows you, maybe you could be yourself for a while or even reinvent or create an all-new gimmick to work with without being noticed.
Although the industry always tried its best to keep things “legit” in 1937, a book called “Fall Guys – The Barnums Of Bounce” by Marcus Griffin was published.
Griffin’s book was documented as the result of an extended investigation that Griffin itself carried out about professional wrestling secrets, giving one of if not the first insight looks about the business. Important to say that Griffin never used the word “kayfabe” in his book, when all his concept is described.
Despite the exposure of the business’s predetermined nature, all the parts involved kept the kayfabe, the public kept attending wrestling shows, and the “sport” never died.
In the post-WWII, wrestling entered its Golden Age, and kayfabe was still a “thing” in the sense that despite the voices against his legitimacy, everyone within the industry kept defending professional wrestling as a legit sport.
And that never-die attitude might have been the reason why professional wrestling didn’t find out his end when the business was exposed in the first place.
As an ex-pro wrestler named Al Snow said, “kayfabe was a way to show respect for the audience and respect your own business,” meaning if you don’t show respect by your own sh!t how you’d expect the others to respect it?
And that’s a principle for all the forms of art, which means that kayfabe isn’t something exclusive of professional wrestling in a certain way.
Kayfabe It Is Everywhere!
It can look pushed the claim in the chapter’s title, but it isn’t looking with the right perspective. Actually, it’s easy to understand, and the best way I found it to explain to you is by giving you some examples.
Imagine you go to the cinema and the movie has a good plot, interesting actors, cutting edge scenes or romantic ones (as you prefer :)) and the film keeps you on the edge of your seat until the last second, and then like a good RKO, out of nowhere hits you that five stars perfect ending!
I suppose you will be happy and feel that your money was well employed as everything made sense, and due to the commitment of all the parts evolved, it was a very believable experience.
But imagine the opposite happens? You didn’t have enough kisses or punches in the movie, or simply the plot was terrible? One of two things will happen.
Or the actors made you believe in them despite all the other negative aspects of the movie, and maybe just because of that you’re not so that disappointed or…
They have a poorly commitment, and that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back and made you hate everything in that movie. Because no matter how bad things are, at the end of the day are the actors that will make you a believer or not.
The point is that the actors’ commitment and professionalism with their craft will most of the time influence your final opinion of what they offer you.
And we can continue with examples in other forms of art, the music, for example.
When a musician acts, he may also have an alter ego too, where his image and antics defend or establish a particular idea or will, which in most cases he feels related with, making it easy for the musician to commit with his craft and make you a believer or…
You can be just like Justin Bieber. Meaning you’ll try so hard to look good in what you do that eventually, people will start to believe that you are actually good at it. Big props to him!
In a more serious manner, looking at these examples, we can conclude that all forms of arts with almost no exception in their own ways have their own kayfabe.
And if in the past kayfabe in professional wrestling tried to defend until the last breath his legitimacy as a sport, nowadays in an internet era, kayfabe is still alive though his concept and ways of being used changed.
Between the now and then, there was a period of pre Internet Era. Let’s take a look at how kayfabe was used during that period.
Nothing Stands Forever!
If there’s a decade to “blame” for the beginning of the end for kayfabe as it was known is most definitely the 80s, that was the decade when some unwritten rules started to be broken like heels and babyfaces not traveling together.
Want a great example of that? Jim Duggan and Iron Sheik. Fierce rivals in the ring and caught traveling together by car. Unfortunately, that was the least of their problems as they were in possession of illicit substances.
But don’t think that everyone was messing around; Hulk Hogan, in his 2002 autobiography, said that once traveling with the Wild Samoans, he got caught with an unregistered handgun in his car.
The Wild Samoans never spoke English on tv, so when Hogan begged them to come to his defense, they didn’t come to don’t break character. That’s just another level of kayfabe!
But then in the late 80s, Vince K. McMahon (Chairman of WWE) admitted to an athletic commission that wrestling wasn’t a legit competition, officially killing in the eyes of many the kayfabe.
In the early 90s, an incident known as the “Curtain Call” happened at the iconic Madison Square Garden, giving another blow to kayfabe’s credibility.
In a live event and after their farewell match for WWE (WWF at the time), some wrestlers were joined in-ring by other wrestler fellas and had a group hug in the ring.
The problem was they were holding kayfabe feuds between them, and that act was in a certain way at that time a lack of respect for their boss and audience as well.
Despite being right before the internet era, some images of the show were recorded and put into circulation, giving some mainstream to the incident.
In a post-internet era, things changed, evolved (nope, not talking about Jim Cornette), and with that kayfabe too. In the next chapter, we will examine how kayfabe changed with the arrival of the internet in our homes.
What Is Kayfabe On The Post Internet Era
It’s impossible that in the present time, an adult with a healthy mental state believes that professional wrestling is a real sport, so where does that leaves kayfabe?
For some, kayfabe is dead, but for others like me is alive but isn’t at all what it was in the past. So how has it’s been used exactly?
In this era, kayfabe keeps being used by the promotions and all the parts involved when working, meaning you can expect from everyone within the business a serious behavior towards professional wrestling when shows happen.
But in most cases, once they undress their gimmick, it’s the “real” person you see and not his alter ego that you see in the events.
Even if a vast majority of wrestlers have their own personal profiles on social networks, they often use their alter ego’s profiles to address their fans or give their thoughts about the industry keeping kayfabe in some cases.
That doesn’t mean that “kayfabe” profiles aren’t used to share some events of their personal lives. On the opposite, often, wrestlers, promoters, and bookers use kayfabe profiles to share personal events on their lives, shoot on someone or a promotion, and even troll some fans.
Sometimes, this leads to situations where reality and fiction blend, creating uncertainty in fans if a particular case is real or not.
This became a common way of kayfabe being used nowadays, helping wrestlers and promotions, creating expectation and curiosity among the fans.
My Two Cents
So in this post, you have learned that kayfabe is the act of keeping the illusion that everything portrayed within the industry of professional wrestling is legit and real.
The word’s origin has many theories, and many others are popping up by the time I am writing this post.
You learned as well that if in the past kayfabe was used to defend the legitimacy of professional wrestling as a sport, nowadays it’s used mostly when wrestlers attend their shows and/or when they use social networks.
It’s important to retain that on different forms of art, and with different dynamics, kayfabe is present too, having crucial importance in how artists and fans relate to each other.
And there you have it, my shot at explaining to you what kayfabe is, his importance and value in pro wrestling and other forms of art too.
I hope you enjoyed it, and if you think I missed something or you want to add something, don’t hesitate to superkick me in the comments below, and as usual, I’ll be more than pleased to chop you back : )
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If you like our content, consider following us everywhere (except on the street, that’s weird:)) and I’ll catch you on our next post; until then, stay strong and keep loving pro wrestling! Amor Fati! : )
Founder of Against The Ropes.