The evolution of pro wrestling: Art imitating life?

It has initially been questioned and debated by Plato and Aristotle whether “art imitates life” or “life imitates art?” It’s kind of a “chicken-and-the-egg”-type of question, but it’s a good question to ponder.

As I have been watching pro wrestling for over 35 years, there have been major changes that have taken place in this sport/spectacle during this time, all of which have had an impact on society. All of these changes made me reflect on the impact that pro wrestling has had on life, on our culture…or maybe it’s vice-versa. Let’s think about this.

Some important definitions to keep in the back of your mind:
Evolve: {v} to develop gradually.
Evolution: {n} any process of formation or growth; a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development, as in social or economic structure or institutions.

I began watching wrestling in 1977. At that time, and on those few measly VHF/UHF channels we all had, the only wrestling show that I had access to was WWF Championship Wrestling at 11am. Back then, the WWF [now WWE] was not what it is today. While the shows had more of a mystique back then, the overall quality was very un-spectacular, flashy, and over-produced. And, the wrestlers looked more like your middle-aged and pudgy “uncle Louie” versus the chiseled-and-carbon-copied-hulks of today. Granted, this was all that pro wrestling was back then, and, that was cool with me. I loved it…for a while. And then, I found other pro wrestling shows, different organizations, and even more excitement.

I started tuning in to Mid-Atlantic and Georgia Championship Wrestling, Memphis Wrestling, and Mid-South Wrestling, just to name a few other wrestling organizations and shows back in the 1980s. And, for the next number of years, these wrestling shows offered more than what the WWF [at the time] provided: More excitement, action, and more brutality. These organizations evolved and really pushed-the-envelope, building upon what was done in the past.

While I still watched the WWF, I was more eager to watch these other shows as they were a lot less “boring.” For me, it was kind of a “thirst-for-more;” a desire for the “next-big-exciting-thing.” Yeah, it was a drug, an addiction!

In the early-to-mid-1990s there was another wrestling organization that stormed onto the scene called ECW, “Extreme Championship Wrestling.” And, this wrestling organization WAS EXTREME! They prided themselves on being “lewd, crude, and rude;” and they were! They showcased wildly sadistic [Extreme] types of wrestling matches that would probably even make Charles Manson queasy!

Side note: ECW was even a bit too extreme for me. But, I still watched it, every once-in-a-while. Had to feed that addictive desire!

However, the WWF was not to be outdone. Vince McMahon, the WWF’s “P.T. Barnum,” was a very shrewd and wily businessman, promoter, and entertainment guru. He realized that people wanted more, and he was going to give it to them. After the majority of the “minor-league” wrestling promotions closed their doors, and then the ECW folded in 2001, Vince and the WWF was still standing strong. Therefore, Vince took the playbook straight from ECW and ran with it, pushing-the-envelope even further, and has never looked back. And now we have the “WWE Universe.”

I recall watching pro wrestling through the years and realizing a few things. First, what used to be an “exciting” match or concept/story angle back in the 1970s/1980s was now considered “boring.” And, the fans were not ashamed to let the wrestling organizations know this. If there was not enough excitement, the fans would start shouting, “Boring, boring, boring!” After all, why go back to something that is now considered “boring?”

Therefore, and secondly, the promoters would take this as a clear sign and would change things up in order to appease [and keep] their fan base as well as increase their TV ratings. The WWF had a point the late 1990s/early 2000s known as the “Attitude Era.” For the wrestling fans, this was ECW on steroids [pun-intended]. The WWF held nothing back during this era as they incorporated more brutality, sexual provocative themes, scantily-clad women, politically incorrect characters, and very dark story lines. — Blood, beer, brutality, and blondes. The fans [even young kids] got what they wanted, and then some, whether or not they were ready for it.

Let’s correlate all of these pro wrestling “changes” with our culture today. Things have changed [“evolved”] especially through the re-focusing lens of our media. Gone are the days of “Leave it to Beaver,” “The Brady Bunch,” and “The Cosby Show.” Today we have more violence, anger, sex/nudity, graphic/vulgar language, and more adult-related themes in our television programming, movies, and music. And, the internet is just one-click away from any Pandora’s box of pleasure one could imagine. It’s all out there, for all to see!

Not only that, but there are societal changes on views of truth, marriage, and what is right and wrong. Sadly, this evolution is even happening within the Church as well. Basically, it is the secular and humanistic worldview messages of: “If it feels good, do it. Everything, [especially truth] is relative. You are an evolved monkey. There isn’t any right or wrong standards to go by. Live for today, for yourself and your own desires, as there is nothing else after this life.

However, all of this really shouldn’t be a shocking news flash. Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV) states, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

And then we have Romans chapter 1. This chapter is very clear regarding calling out issues of unrighteousness. Verses 19-23 and 28-32 state:

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. … 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

2 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV) goes on to state, “1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

We see all of these things happening in our culture today. Our “foundations” are crumbling and changing. That which we once held as true and authoritative is being passed off as fantasy and fiction. But it’s not just something that has happened overnight. It has taken time for all of this to evolve [i.e. to develop gradually]. Yet, just like the “frog in boiling water” we have a choice to make: Fight to change it back, getting out of the “comfortable” water? Or, allow the “comfort” to ultimately destroy us?

Thus, in regards to our “evolving,” we need to ask whether we are progressing, changing, and growing in the right direction, in the right way, and for the right purpose [based on…]? Or perhaps, just like the frog in boiling water, we are not really “evolving;” but rather, “dissolving.” Unfortunately, I think it’s the latter.

All of this, after all, is a wrestling match, whether we really know it or not. Sadly for some, to go back to what we should be would simply be “boring.” And, that shouldn’t surprise us.

So, does “art imitate life” or does “life imitate art?” More specifically, does pro wrestling get their story lines and characters from the culture? Or, does our culture take a page and story line from pro wrestling? — Perhaps it’s both.

Wrestling with you,

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