Making the scripted more real? Pro wrestling and Twitter

Curator's Note

Professional wrestling is not real. Most fans are aware that what they are seeing is pre-scripted and delivered by performers in character.

Despite this familiarity viewers have with the product, there has always been a separation between the fans in the audience and what happens behind the giant, HD TitanTron screen.

As internet access has become more readily available, the separation has narrowed. Full storylines are leaked weeks ahead of time, backstage political struggles are rumored about and now people like me can passively follow the product with ease. But internet-powered proximity to the industry doesn’t equate to closer proximity to the performers themselves.

However, Twitter does.

From the WWE’s John Cena and Randy Orton to TNA’s Mick Foley and retired legends like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels, many of pro wrestling’s most influential performers now use Twitter to connect with fans.

Though most of the wrestlers tweet about the inane aspects of their personal lives, which take place almost exclusively on the road, the connectivity between them and fans creates a new experience – and raises new questions. Fans know that the performer known as Hornswoggle is playing a role in the ring and on television, but when the usually silent man tweets about loving a Toby Keith concert (See Slide #2), it is difficult to determine the reality of it all. Is this all a part of the WWE marketing machine (See Side #3) or is Dylan Post (Hornswoggle’s real name) just boringly updating his followers on his life outside the ring? Are they in or out of character? Are Post and his cohorts even crafting their updates? Or are the tweets being ghost-written by the WWE’s scribes?

From the wrestling promotions’ perspective it does not matter. Even if thousands of fans are following performers who are tweeting about their mundane lives and raising the curtain on the scripted wrestling experience, said fans are still interacting with the brand in a way. But from a fan perspective, there is more to consider. Is theoretically being closer to your favorite wrestler more important than knowing how real that mediated relationship actually is?

The wrestling industry and its performers are still adapting to the Twitterverse and social media in general (See Slide #4), but in a way, a form of entertainment based on a fabricated, detached relationship with its fans is becoming more tangible thanks to a medium that could be just as unreal.

Comments

Ari Berenstein's picture

The Purpose and Potential for Porfit

Good column Cory. There is a very real blurring of the barrier between a wrestler’s “character” and “real person”, thanks to the advent of Twitter and Facebook. These websites grant fans limited access and insight into the life and likes / dislikes of these wrestlers (as well as other celebrities). Yet for what purpose do the wrestlers let the fans and the public have that access? 

There is a lot of potential to use social media to gain brand awareness as well as extra profit from the fan-as-customer.

Independent wrestlers especially can reach out to their immediate fan base and market directly to them—selling their latest T-shirt or DVD and plugging their latest appearances.Given the nature of their position in the wrestling landscape, it is almost required at this point for the independent wrestler to have positive fan interactions and customer outreach. Interesting their fans almost has a patron / sponsor relationship and their dollars go directly into a wrestlers’ income. In this example, it makes sense for a wrestler to let the fans into their world, make them feel as if there is a relationship and encourage future patronage.  

Also of note, what constitutes a safe Tweet and what is too revealing? I doubt that WWE brass would be too upset by Hornswoggle’s discussion of his fondness for country music. However, WWE has warned wrestlers not to cross the line and write anything embarrassing the company. Recently, WWE instituted the policy of discouraging late-night Tweets, when a wrestler may have partied too hard and would be more inclined to write something embarrassing and reflecting poorly on the company.

It’s a perk for wrestling fans to believe that they “know” more about their favorite wrestlers in much the same way people love to read about celebrities and their lifestyles. Yet the wrestlers (or the wrestling company) are the ones controlling the message. Ultimately, anything a fan learns about the wrestler is completely dependent on what the wrestler is willing to reveal to the public.

 

Sam Ford's picture

Wrestlers and Twitter

As Ari mentioned, there have been a variety of tweets from WWE performers that have given the company pause, caused consternation, etc., which indicates that tweeting is completely handled by the talent. And, as we see, different talent seem to take different approaches to their tweets as far as  where they fall on the continuum between performer and character. Some fall quite heavily into the storytelling side, some (as your Hornswoggle example) fall perhaps a little too far outside it, and yet others fall into the camp of being mundane without seeming to break the continuity of the character in any way.

The storytelling potential of how wrestlers use Twitter in real time greatly interests me, though. Could tension and drama be built throughout the week through a Twitter account. Could a small plot reveal, in one way or another, even be teased through the Twitter account. What happened with the Daniel Bryan leak on WWE.com this past week indicates that WWE still has some quality control/continuity to work on in this regard, but outlets such as the WWE Universe blogs, Twitter accounts for the wrestlers, and the use of WWE.com stories all provide outlets for drama that could, for instance, serve to make house shows more important by making them the site of small incidents reported on through the web that ultimately leads to a match on the next Smackdown or Superstars.

For indie wrestlers, I believe there’s some significant potential here as well. As your comments have indicated, Cory, Twitter provides a great opportunity for indie wrestlers to give their fans regular updates about where they’ll be, etc. But, for indie promoters, storytelling devices such as Twitter can provide great opportunities to keep feuds going between shows that are weeks apart or, perhaps, to get fans to follow them around their small territory. In the work I did with UCW, a local wrestling outfit here in Kentucky, we saw this work in small doses, encouraging small pockets of fans to drive an extra 90 minutes to check out a show outside their own territory because of writing regular stories building up matches, having personalities take part in the discussion forums, etc., in ways that continued to build up feuds. We even invented an unidentified backstage mole who continually revealed rumors, and fans would come to the shows actively speculating about who he might be.

Did our limited experiments greatly boost attendance? No, we didn’t really give it time, and I don’t know that gaining new fans would even really be the point. But we did see it help keep the return show fresher in people’s mind, and it led to some cross-pollination between towns. Of course, you have to design the show in a way that makes it intelligible for those who don’t follow storylines online, etc., but I’d love to see stories of how indie promoters might be embracing this sort of storytelling more fully.

Shane Toepfer's picture

Too Real for Wrestling

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A really intriguing post Cory, as the use of social media certainly serves as a contemporary component of pro wrestling.  And it ties excellently into yesterday’s post over what aspects of wrestling are “too real” for the narratives being constructed.  Yesterday, the violence was seen as crossing some line that WWE didn’t want crossed.  Similarly, twitter accomplishes similar things – as Ari pointed out many WWE performers have revealed too much information to their twitter followers according to the office.  This has led to the company issuing restrictions as to the content, and even the time, of wrestler tweets.  This level of control is fascinating given the status of wrestlers as “independent contractors” rather than employees, and all of the benefits that come with being an employee of a large, publicly traded company like WWE.  It seems absurd that these independent contractors are having their tweets censored like this, but that is just another layer to wrestling’s complex industrial makeup.

I also like the potential discussed by Sam in terms of using twitter to advance wrestling narratives – this sort of experimentation on the independent level seems to mirror other cultural realms where the margins serve as testing grounds for new ideas and modes of presentation.  Just last week there was a strange twitter-verse moment where Hulk Hogan apparently announced he was leaving TNA via twitter, only for that account to be proven false.  However, there was certainly debate as to the authorship of subsequent tweets from the same account concerning a possible wrestler revolt in TNA and why the account was advertised as authentically Hogan by his cohorts like Bubba the Love Sponge and Eric Bischoff.

It is interesting to think about the sort of impact social media like twitter and facebook pages have on wrestling texts.  Do they make the wrestlers more relatable to wrestling audiences, or do they remove or demystify the performers to such an extent that we can no longer suspend our disbelief?  Essentially, is twitter too real for the realm of wrestling?

 

Cory Barker's picture

Thanks

Thanks for the comments guys, I appreciate it.

I am most intrigued by the story possibilities of social media as well. I think the WWE would be wise to start integrating Twitter and Facebook as platforms to tell their stories. Not only would it blur the lines between fiction and reality more, but it really does open up the story for any number of possibilities. Though I wonder if the WWE and its more family-friendly, clean-cut image would work with some sort of kayfabe tweets? I could see TNA embracing it more since they’re trying to bring back 1997-8 and if Bischoff would have had Twitter back then, WCW would have been even crazier.  

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