Kanye and The End of Reality
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on the Wide World of Kayfabe – a wrestling concept by which we choose to consume fiction as ‘reality.’ Learn how this one principle as it work in so much of the content we consume today – from celebrity gossip and rap beefs to spicy political campaigns and beyond!
Written by: Michael Burns
Directed by: Kim Kruse
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Jackson Maher
Artwork by: JR Fleming
Produced by: Jacob S. Salamon and Emily Dunbar
Kanye and The End of Reality – Wisecrack Edition
Let’s talk about Kanye West. The year is 2009 at the MTV Video Music Awards. Taylor Swift wins an award over Beyonce, and you might remember what happened next. “I’m gonna let you finish but…” Kanye goes on to apologize, and then un-apologize, and it all gets very confusing. Fast forward to 2016, and Kanye’s track “Famous” features this line:
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex //
Why? I made that bitch famous //
I made that bitch famous”
The internet got mad. Taylor Swift got mad. And then audio comes out that Taylor Swift knew about, and even encouraged, the song from the start. Wait- what?? So what does have to do with anything? Well, this seemingly insignificant example perfectly explains our current cultural and political predicament. And it all has to do with a concept from professional wrestling called Kayfabe. Believe it or not, if we pay attention to these guys; we’ll be able to better understand what’s going on with these guys. If we’re right – it might be the case that Wrestling truly can explain everything.
What is Kayfabe? It’s a term used to describe the way in which professional wrestling consists of staged events and pre-determined narratives that are treated as true. So even though everyone knows that wrestling is scripted, they still treat it like a real athletic competition. And even when wrestlers are off the clock and out of the ring they never acknowledge this, as this would constitute the unholy sin known as breaking Kayfabe. You never break kayfabe. To put this commitment to Kayfabe in perspective – this would basically be like if Matt Damon refused to accept his drink at starbucks unless the barista called out the name Jason Bourne. Now, wrestling fans aren’t idiots, they of course know that the fights are scripted and that the wrestlers are characters. But it’s not the truth of the events that matter, it’s the story. It’s not true because it’s real, it’s true because it’s entertaining. “It’s still real to me dammit!”
Kayfabe doesn’t just apply to any reality show that may or may not be true,
“Rachel, do you accept this rose?”
“I was like we don’t have no dogs in here…”
As this would make ninety percent of modern entertainment Kayfabe. Instead, Kayfabe refers to entertainment in which staged events are presented as real by those producing them and are perceived as real by those consuming them. It’s like Santa Claus: Everyone knows he’s fake, but because we are all in on it, “It doesn’t matter!” And this time we agree with you Dwayne. And in case any kiddos are watching this, don’t be upset. While Santa Claus is a lie, so is God, so remove the shackles from your tiny souls and dare to live a life beyond good and evil. But much like John Cena, Kayfabe didn’t stick to just wrestling for long. And in a manner reminiscent of Dwayne Johnson himself, Kayfabe has now infected the entire entertainment industry, and as we’ll soon see, our lives.
And while professional wrestling is unsurprisingly full of Floridians another famous Floridian has used Kayfabe in a seemingly unlikely medium, rap music. Rick Ross, who is basically the Santa Claus of Miami, has built a career on the narrative that he is a legendary boss in the drug game, “They call be Big Meech, Larry Hoover” comparing himself to infamous kingpins in countless songs. However, pictures leaked which revealed that the boss with a belly full of rosé spent his younger years as a corrections officer. So rather than ducking the law, Rick Ross was enforcing it. Many assumed this would be the end of his career, “How do you think about Bossip giving you the name Officer Ricky? I just want to hear it form you.” “Baby I’m worth too much money to be sidetrakced on this red carpet, know what I mean?”
But it had very little effect. Ross responded with a vagueness that would make a French new wave fan proud, “You know it’s about me. it’s about who Rose is. When I walk in the room and put it down people know its authentic. Know it’s real … let’s get this money let’s make this music,” and his career has only grown since. Kayfabe can help us understand this, as the fans prefer the narrative of Ross as a Miami drug kingpin over the truth of his career in law enforcement. And why would Ross care what’s true and what’s not as long as he’s selling records? We can see another use of Kayfabe in the work of YouTube’s most infamous brothers, the Pauls. In a move that would likely confuse Rick Ross, the two brothers often engaged in a back and forth beefrap battle via YouTube videos. Along with making Aaron Carter look hardcore by comparison, this battle can be best analyzed as a clever use of Kayfabe to game the YouTube algorithm to get the brothers more clicks, and more dollars.
And just in case Rick Ross is watching this – Rick, we will gladly send you a free Wisecrack hoodie if you post your own rap video that shuts the Pauls up once and for all. And if Ross did this, it would make him a shooter, which is the Kayfabe term for someone who makes the violence in wrestling real. Before we go on it’s worth noting how Kayfabe is also distinct from satire. While for both the performer and the audience are in on the joke, satire is used precisely to point us towards the absurdity of the actual truth, rather than create a new one. For example, Stephen Colbert engaged in satire on The Colbert Report. As his character was used to exemplify the absurdity of cable news hosts like Bill O’Reilly.
But Infowars host Alex Jones can be better analyzed via Kayfabe, “I’m a pioneer, I’m an explorer, I’m a human, and I’m coming.” His insane claims are always presented in the guise of political truth, and the audience buys into the narrative. The Colbert and O’Reilly example can help us understand another set of terms used by Kayfabe: Faces and Heels. Faces refers to the good guys in Wrestling and Heels are the bad guys. And while we might outwardly root for the faces the heels are the ones who sell the tickets. This can help explain the polarization of the media. Heels are where the money is. So O’Reilly and co had their heel in Obama and now the liberal media has found their ultimate heel in Trump.
Now you might be thinking that if kayfabe only applies to the media, why should I care? Well, we think that, “It doesn’t matter!” dammit Dwayne, it absolutely does matter, because the terrifying reality is that Kayfabe is an even better tool for understanding contemporary politics. A 2016 New York Times article by Jeremy Gordon was titled, “Is Everything Wrestling?” Which we might rephrase as, “is our world becoming one elaborate Kayfabe?” Take Alex Jones. While he’s known for his subtle political arguments and stellar advertising campaigns for legit medical supplements, he recently used Kayfabe to his defense in a court of law.
But Jones’ claim doesn’t change the fact that his show is considered a news source by his millions of viewers. And yes it can be fun to play with this persona “I’m not a democratic either I’m a nihilist.” but the pizzagate scandal shows the dark side of Jones’ brand of political Kayfabe. But Kayfabe isn’t just being used for the type of fringe media being kicked off YouTube, it’s all over TV news as well. CNN has acknowledged that their primary aim is not objective news, but rather, entertainment. According to a New York Times profile of CNN president Jeff Zucker: “As Zucker sees it, his pro-Trump panelists are not just spokespeople for a worldview; they are ‘characters in a drama,’ members of CNN’s extended ensemble cast.” Michelle Wolff recently pointed out how much cable news depends on heels and constructed narratives.
And finally, the biggest example of political Kayfabe might be the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. And finally, the biggest example of political Kayfabe might be the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. No stranger to reality tv Trump is the first politician to fully embrace the power of Kayfabe. Trump has made a number of claims that are clearly untrue, “I know more about ISIS than the generals, etc.”
And of course his threats against his old friend Hillary Clinton, “It’s good that we don’t have someone with the temperament of Donald Trump in office,” “Cuz you’d be in jail.” Had as much truth behind them as the beef between Stone Cold and The Rock. But just like Rick Ross’ criminal past, it’s the narrative that matters, not the facts. Trump may be especially extreme in his political Kayfabe, but politicians across the spectrum use it just as much. While many Democrats have been vocal in their support for fighting against climate change, the DNC has also recently backtracked on their ban from taking donations from the fossil fuel lobby. But of course this won’t stop their narrative of being the party of environmentalism.
So why is Kayfabe having a moment? The most obvious answer is that it allows people to ground reality in narrative, rather than empirical truth. And who wouldn’t want to live in an exciting story full of heroes, villains, and escalating drama? As Jeremy Gordon said in the New York Times: “If a story is told well, if its history seems consistent, then the machinations putting it into place can be temporarily overlooked or turned into a fun story of their own. And why not? In the end, we’re all marks for a world we want to believe in.” And this brings us to our last Kayfabe vocab term of the day, mark, which is a fan who is so excited to believe a narrative that they lose sight of its fictional nature and treat it as real.
For the mark it’s not about what is true, it’s about what they want to be true. And this might be the danger of Kayfabe, when it turns from a principle of entertainment into a practical philosophy. Writer Nick Rogers had this to say in the New York Times: “Kayfabe isn’t merely a suspension of disbelief, it is philosophy about truth itself. It rests on the assumption that feelings are inherently more trustworthy than facts.” Kayfabe’s philosophy replaces reason and objectivity in the favor of emotion and opinion. And the most dangerous part of this world of kayfabe is that we might not even realize that we are in fact marks of our own creation. And before you go, be sure to click these links to check out these videos in which we take down our competitor website CleverCrevice and their ridiculous host Gerald. And once you’re there, be sure to check out their response to our response, and of course you’ll wanna see our response to their response to our response, and after that…