The week of April 3, 2016

Let’s get ready to rumble

By Austin Powell

If you’re a professional wrestling fan, you don’t need to be reminded what day it is. Tonight’s WrestleMania XXXII at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is the most important event of the year in sports entertainment; it’s what months of storylines and speculation have been leading up to, and by the numbers, it might be the biggest WrestleMania of all time. It’s a fitting backdrop for this week’s issue of the Kernel, where we’re examining the ways in which the world of wrestling has been impacted by the Internet—no holds barred.

The days of dialing up your cable company to order WrestleMania have long since passed into distant memory. Now, for $10/month, you can sign up for the WWE Network, unlocking a deep vault of archival and bonus footage, as well as the ability to stream each of the company’s pay-per-view events. While the streaming service boasts more than 1.2 million active subscribers since its February 2014 launch, Kenny Herzog examines where the WWE Network still falls short—and why you should be wary of leaning on it too heavily Sunday.

After all, history is always made at WrestleMania. It’s where Donald Trump once speared and sheared WWE owner Vince McMahon in the infamous Battle of the Billionaires. As Soyo Hong explains, there are some surprising parallels between Trump’s history with the WWE and his current run for president. You could even argue that Trump’s campaign is really just a weird kayfabe storyline spun completely out of control.

If that were the case—and regrettably, it’s not—you’d probably read about it on Launched by a then-18-year-old college student, the site was one of the first to deliver spoilers and backstage gossip about professional wrestling on the Internet. Rick Paulus recounts how the site helped move the industry forward, forcing it to confront the impact of the Internet and its ability to tear down the fourth wall between the choreographed fiction portrayed in the ring and what really happens outside of it.

But while the Internet can compromise the grand illusion of professional wrestling, as Pilot Viruet details in a personal essay, it’s also helped bring fans closer to their favorite characters—and to each other. “As I started watching [Monday Night] Raw again,” she writes, “I started discovering all of these pockets within pockets online: a thread within a private feminist group that was specifically dedicated to chatting about wrestling, multiple punk rock-oriented groups that talked about the intersection of punk and wrestling, and so on. These groups provided me with places to chat free of judgment, to find smart folks who also love to analyze a ‘lowbrow’ form of entertainment in terms of racism and sexism, and communities full of card-carrying feminists who are also grappling with a product that has yet to learn how to treat its women wrestlers as more than just flimsy objects.”

The world of professional wrestling, of course, is much bigger than just the WWE. While McMahon’s empire cornered the U.S. market via the Monday Night Wars of the late ’90s and early 2000s, Insane Championship Wrestling used social media to build a niche following in the U.K. for its hardcore brand of pro wrestling. In our cover story, Chris Stokel-Walker traces the company’s rise online and checks in before its own blockbuster special, Barramania, which is boldly going head-to-head with WrestleMania Sunday.

Let’s get ready to rumble.

Photo via Erwin Bernal/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)