Monday, 4 August 2008

Marks 'n' smarks

This post is epic. But bare with me and the payoff will be worth it.

There are bits of jargon and slang within every niche market and subculture. Pro wrestling is no exception.

I'd like to focus in this post on two terms in particular that are associated with pro wrestling - they are 'Mark' and 'Smark'.

First, 'Mark'. As anyone who's ever seen an episode of 'The Real Hustle' will know, the target of a confidence scam is known as a mark.

According to
15. Slang.
a. an object of derision, scorn, manipulation, or the like: He was an easy mark for criticism.
b. the intended victim of a swindler, hustler, or the like: The cardsharps picked their marks from among the tourists on the cruise ship.

This is where the term enters the pro wrestling lexicon. Wrestling can trace its roots back to the days of travelling carnival shows. Some of these shows had the aim of conning and tricking the honest punters, or 'marks'. This is true whether they were on the coconut shy, the duckpond or the wrestling ring.

So when wrestling made its break from the travelling shows, the lingo would obviously stick, and anyone who was wrapped up into believing that what they were witnessing was legitimate competition would be known as a mark. This meaning is still used today when referring to people who believe a bit too much. When people are getting completely absorbed by the show, it's known as 'Marking out'.

The term was used in a derogatory way by the wrestlers back then, and it's used in a derogatory way by some fans (who we'll look at in more detail shortly) that know that wrestling's pre-determined when referring to people who seem to get a bit caught up in the hocus pocus of it all.

A story was recently published in PowerSlam magazine about a former writer who was eventually kicked out of his job by Stephanie McMahon for being "too much of a mark" (read it here). Stephanie even told this poor writer that if the wrestlers found out that he was a "super-mark", he'd never get their respect. Something that somewhat implies that things haven't changed too much behind the scenes of pro wrestling since the days of the travelling shows.

The apparent opposite of a 'Mark' is a 'Smark'. The word 'Smark' is essentially a name invented by members of the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) who wanted to feel superior to people who enjoyed wrestling at face value. It's a shortened version of "smart mark". Someone who was "smart" to the wrestling business (even since its days in the travelling shows) was someone who knew that there was a pre-determined element to it all. So a smart-mark (or smark) is one who enjoys pro wrestling despite knowing that match outcomes are pre-planned.

One final phrase that I'll briefly cover that is probably necessary to understanding this post is 'Kayfabe'. Kayfabe (possibly pig latin for 'Fake', again from the Carnival days) is the idea that everything that happens in the ring is absolutely 100% legitimately real. For example, kayfabe was threatened way back in 1987 when various news sources picked up on the story that Hacksaw Jim Duggan and the Iron Shiek, apparently mortal enemies in the ring, had been arrested together for possession of marijuana. Despite being one of the funniest and most ridiculous things to happen in wrestling, it opened the eyes of many fans to the true nature of the business (or at least confirmed their suspicions), and that these two guys, rather than hate each other, were actually pretty good friends.

The most important breaking of Kayfabe might not be seen as such. But after the Montreal Screwjob (You need to read that link if you don't know what it is - I'm not explaining it here), there was a pretty public falling out between Bret Hart and Vince McMahon with many statements about how the match was supposed to finish. Kayfabe was thrown right out of the window for the sake of two peoples' egos. It had become public knowledge that wrestling matches had pre-determined finishes.

The implications of this lead to the Attitude era for WWE. McMahon became the evil boss - the foil of Stone Cold Steve Austin (who would, as you know, carry the Attitude era). During this period the line was blurred between works (pre-planned stories) and shoots (legitimate beef and public dirty laundry airing), and kayfabe could be maintained because nobody was sure what was real.

Since then, we've seen the dawn of broadband. Unfortunately, this has heralded a new era for the smarks. People who I believe are becoming the new marks. I reached an epiphany when Mike Adamle was announced as Raw's GM. At this monumental news in wrestling, I hurried, like the rest of my smark brethren, to the internet. Everybody in the IWC thought that it was the worst idea of all time. They thought this because they had a legitimate hatred of Adamle because of his crappy commentary. They couldn't believe that they were giving more TV time to this idiot. Meanwhile, I was in disbelief at what I was reading. This was one of the greatest swerves of modern times. The most hated man on WWE TV was put into a position where he was meant to be hated. Yet people were angry. How was this a bad move?

The Iron Shiek was legitimately hated by fans in the 80s because he was Commie scum - he drew heat better than copper wire. So when they put someone who's legitimately hated by fans (not for being a Commie, but just by sucking hard) into the limelight in 2008, the fans, or rather, the smarks (who know better) think that it's a stupid idea.

The smarks are, dare I say it, marking out!

The more I thought about it, the more I realized smarks were out of the wrestling loop. The idea of mock-battles is inherently ridiculous. Anyone involved in it shouldn't be taken seriously. Yet search on Google for "professional wrestling" and you get hundreds of "news" sites. Apparently reliable sources for backstage gossip. I've used them as sources for this blog in the past (heck, even this post!), but they definitely need to be looked at with caution and not accepted without question - this is the same as every news source, but it's a simple thing that most smarks (who know better) overlook for whatever reasons they may have.

Smarks are the new marks. Using semi-shoot angles is a way to capture their imaginations. The non-questioning of dubious news sources is them suspending their disbelief. KAYFABE LIVES ON!

The matches themselves have changed to make marks of the smarks. Every smark knows that a textbook bump is one that's taken flatly on the back. Most indy feds are full of sick piledrivers and brainbusters that look absolutely brutal. These bumps are obviously not that brutal because they wouldn't be so common if they were.

Yet when people land somewhat awkwardly or in an unorthodox fashion, smarks and marks alike cringe. I've even seen a matche where a concerned fan shouts to a wrestler in the ring "STOP LANDING ON YOUR HEAD!" after he took two consecutive bumps on his head.

I'd sum up this blog by saying that smarks are the new marks. But it's not that simple. If smarks were the new marks, then there'd be a gap at the top of the pecking order for people who were up to speed with the secrets of the wrestling business. The thing is, people who are "Smart" have always been there. The only thing that's changed is that there's a bigger gap in the gulf of knowledge between people who are smarks and those that are smart than there's ever been.

I'll finish with a piece of advice. If you're a smark, stop taking yourself so seriously. You don't know everything there is to know about wrestling, nor will you ever. So stop posting things on the internet that make it look like you think you know everything about wrestling.

My most controversial post yet? Possibly. Hit that comment button.

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rock said...

Good post. I'll be the first to step up and say that I'm a smark, but not as smart as I thought I was. I thought I was done with wrestling after the Adamle thing, but I walk into the gym today, totally forgetting that Raw was in Knoxville tonight and had a mark-out moment when I saw Batista was there working out. Yeah. I'm a mark, and I take it too serious and that's probably not going to change. Hell, bitching about it is half the fun of it.

Leighsus Christ said...

That's cool! I hate big Dave but would have marked out too. Didn't you get a picture with him?!

I'm frankly amazed that he was working out. So much for him being exclusively a roid man.

rock said...

Nah, I didn't get a picture, I didn't have my phone with me and to be honest he really didn't look that approachable (he was beating the hell out of the heavy bag). I was impressed that it was three hours before show-time and there he was working his ass off in the gym. Never really been a big fan of his before but that earned some points in my book. I looked for others but he was the only wrestler that I saw. Also, I've got to say that I was impressed by Adamle on RAW and that was one of the better shows in a while. Kind of wish I had went to it now. Big pops for Kane, lol.

Leighsus Christ said...

It must be hard for commentators not to go "And Kane's hometown fans are going nuts!".

I'm surprised Michael Cole didn't actually.

the Professional said...

What about the best mark moment on Raw. Cena and Batista, the new Tag Champions. I thought for sure that wouldn't happen but then again I think I'm a inbetweener. Not really a mark and don't follow enough to be a smark.

Leighsus Christ said...

I don't think I like either Cena or Batista enough to pop for them winning the tag belts. I suppose they had to though.

CM Punk would've been below them on the card for Summerslam, yet there was no gold involved in their feud. It undermines the value of the WHC.

Plus, this may mean a return of prestige to the tag belts!