Body Slams and Hell Turns: On the Spectacle that is Wrestlemania

Evan McGarvey breaks down the experience that is Wrestlemania.
By    April 12, 2018

Evan McGarvey wrote this in his Summerslam slippers.

Wrestlemania takes four days now. It’s a whole weekend that begins with WWE’s version of an indie show, NXT, on Saturday, through the seven-hour (!) Wrestlemania on Sunday, to consecutive nights of cable TV shows on Monday and Tuesday. Let that sink in. 14 hours of programing, sequins, and performed pain and entrances and catharsis and other heady Greek words.

The post-Mania arena crowds in New Orleans this Monday and Tuesday were fittingly punchy: A once-a-year troupe of European mad lads extending a holiday, bleary eyed families operating on the caloric fumes of slushies and beignets, professional wrestling aficionados trying to guess who’s going to debut tonight, and steerage: very embarrassing bros, ironically pretending to not be into the very things that they’ve spent time and money to come see.

The exhaustion of Wrestlemania weekend is supposed to be endured for the sake of a prize, satisfaction. Sunday didn’t have it.

Brock Lesnar, pale, male, and bulky as an alt-right wish fulfillment fantasy, was supposed to lose to Roman Reigns. The storyline demanded it: Brock was going to go back to UFC, and Roman would not allow his and our beloved billion dollar play fighting theater troupe to suffer such loss of face. Roman was going do it for us and for the WWE shareholders. Word.

Then Brock won.

Two Japanese wrestlers with wild charisma and supreme skills, Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura were poised to win championships from white wrestlers whose WWE legacies were already made. Asuka and Nakamura both lost. Then, after each of their matches, they gave cringy, conciliatory congratulation speeches to their opponents. Nakamura at least used his as preamble to a low blow and a heel turn.

On the TV shows Monday and Tuesday, the cyclotron whirred back to life, doubling down on some storylines, and undoing others. Video packages shoved screen caps of Sunday night into a premature sepia bath. Ads for the next PPV peppered ad breaks, like someone using the backend of a riotously expensive wedding reception to talk about how cool it’s going to be when the young couple files taxes jointly.

If art is supposed to give us “equipment for living” (whatup, Kenneth Burke), then maybe this weekend was good training for living with the exhaustion of Trump’s America.

Hear me out. Maybe more than any other element of popular culture, the WWE embodies—actually acts out in spirit and in form—the potency and the vertigo of the Trump ethos.

There’s no center at which to aim. What happened yesterday doesn’t matter, except that it very much does and only in odder ways. You’re only as good as your last line of bullshit. No one noble is ever safe. The best heels have eternal life. Seemingly essential threads—narrative and structural and otherwise—get waved away as a contrivance. Everyone has a brand and an aesthetic and catch phrases and no logic can stymy the progress of a huckster, especially ones that you like, the ones that you catch yourself getting amped to hear chat and to see fight.

Monday’s RAW opened with Stephanie McMahon—the Ivanka we deserve—trying to make nice with Ronda Rousey after Rousey arm-bar-d Stephanie into comeuppance oblivion in their Wrestlemania match. Stephanie kept talking, made Ronda an offer to “put the machine behind her,” the Faustian gig she’s offered to a dozen heroes, the exact same deal she already offered to Ronda in February.

For a second I felt as if I was through a space-time-vortex finishing move, an event horizon in which Steve Mnuchin is always holding up a sheet of money and Stephanie McMahon is always offering someone a devil’s bargain and Scott Pruitt is always stomping an endangered grouse who dared to nest on top of a shale deposit and The Undertaker is always returning.

My wife walked through the kitchen Monday night, saw me watching RAW on a tablet and asked with a not insignificant level of concern: “Wait, people are still wrestling?”

Yes, people are still wrestling. Our president still thinks that his lawyers are legal invisibility cloaks. Jared still can’t identify major features on a map of the Levant. Get ready for Summerslam, dear. I don’t know why any of it keeps spinning, but here we are.