WRESTLING BABYLON: Not Fit to Print in The Washington Post

After doing a preliminary edit, The Washington Post, in its wisdom, has declined to publish my letter in response to a story last month about the alarming number of pro wrestler deaths. The Post article — a pretty good one, by the way — can be viewed here. The text of my unpublished letter is below.


In “Death Grip” (Aug. 16), wrestler Glenn Gilberti tells reporter Paul Farhi that pro wrestling today is “more physical and realistic” than it used to be. That characterization needs qualifiers.

The wrestling industry formerly operated by a carnival code known internally as “kayfabe.” Essentially this meant that the “marks” of the public were not to be let in on the joke that the performances were prescripted “works” rather than genuine “shoot” matches.

In the late 1980s kayfabe was jettisoned. Part of the explanation for the change was the emergence of at least some smarter and less irony-deprived fans. But the biggest factor was then-World Wrestling Federation head Vince McMahon’s campaign to get out from under state athletic commission regulations and especially taxes. Over howls of protest from old-line carny promoters who feared (incorrectly) that “exposing the business” would kill it, McMahon cheerfully put out the word that wrestling was fake.

What we face today with wrestling’s death pandemic is one of the conundrums of postmodernism. You would think the demise of kayfabe would make things safer for the talent. But as Gilberti notes, the opposite is the case.

Berkeley, Calif.

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