Sam's piece on Bret Hart's infamous departure from the WWE sheds light on a very interesting issue in the business of professional wrestling: the distinction between reality and fantasy, and all the shades of gray in between. We've come to know that, from its very inception, pro wrestling has been a scripted performance. The winners and losers of bouts are known beforehand, and shoots are idealized matches that are only approximated at best. While the injuries and bloodsheds are often quite real, the wrestlers are only characters who exist within the squared circle, or at least, that's how it used to be.
I believe that a very big difference between the modern era of pro wrestling and the earlier era is that wrestling personalities have gradually begun to exist outside of the ring. The characters and personas that are invented to draw heat from crowds have more recently taken on lives all their own, to the avid viewer, outside of the arena. Consequently, the distinction between the worlds of reality and fantasy are blurred. From the documentary Wrestling with Shadows we witness how superheroes and villains appear to become very real people with real issues and real reasons to go at each other's throats. What has allowed such a melding of worlds is the increased insight offered to the audience as to the workings of the wrestling machine. It was a while, for example, before people realized McMahon was the man behind all of the WWE. The arena has effectively been extended beyond the ring and into the backstage where it is assumed that wrestlers lay down there masks and be themselves.
The reality is that this is all simply a new direction in drawing heat, simply a new gimmick. Pro wrestling is by nature a game of tricks and angles, and in this respect, the "backstage" stunt is no exception. Wrestling thrives on eluding the viewer's idea of what is real. Like the punches which barely skim a wrestler's opponent, wrestling itself just brushes the surface of reality. The seasoned viewer isn't exactly fooled into believing that any aspect of the wrestling performance is real. But it is at the very least entertaining to watch the performance take this direction. It is interesting to note that Wrestling with Shadows is itself a way of reinforcing this blurred boundary between fact and fiction. The viewer is invited to witness the underpinnings of the wrestling world through the of an insider. He or she gets to know the wrestling hero and the man behind the metallic pink shades and are left to judge whether it is the wrestler who makes the man or the other way around. In effect, it becomes difficult to discern how far the ring extends.