Wrestling with the Truth

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Matt Geiger

It’s very popular to lament the fact that we, as a species, can no longer tell fact from fiction. That we are suddenly incapable of grasping the riddle of reality. That we can no longer align the vexing Rubik’s Cube of truth. 

If you worry about this, I have good news for you: It’s not true. We were never any good at it. The truth has always been an elusive beast that wriggles and slithers and lives most of its life protected by darkness. 

I give to you Exhibit A: Sergeant Slaughter. 

He never served in the military, and while I didn’t actually check this part, I’m willing to bet he hasn’t even slaughtered anyone in his entire life. He’s not even cadet of murder, let alone a sergeant of slaughter. 

And yet that is what we called him, and what we believed him to be, when we were kids. 

Things were different in the 1980s. People wore Reebok Pumps, which I’m beginning to suspect did not make us better athletes. Snap bracelets were slicing kids open on a pretty regular basis, leading to a ban on them in middle school when the teachers realized they were basically just prison shanks hiding under a thin layer of fabric. 

The ‘80s saw a massive fashion crime wave that went well beyond shoes and wristwear. People very briefly wore Skidz, which were neon, baggy drawstring pants based on the aesthetic philosophy of poor driving. These pants had the visual sophistication of the back of a sugar cereal box. I never researched it, but I always kind of assumed Skidz were dreamed up by someone who had recently lost control of their dented Mercury Sable and was plowing through a guardrail and plummeting off a cliff: “I’ve got it! I’ll buy pants from clowns and sell them to young, middle class kids in New England at double the price! Ahhhhh!”

I remember sitting in the lunchroom, watching my friend “Townie,” whose real surname was Christopher Townsend but who chose too late in life that he preferred to be called by that and so is now eternally “Townie,” eat an entire slice of pizza, which had what looked like tractor tracks on the underside of it, in a single bite. The trick was rolling it up, and also being extremely fat and gluttonous. (By way of explanation, nicknames can only be changed before the age of 13. After that they go on your tombstone. Choose wisely.) 

After the “Can Townie eat a whole slice of pizza in a single bite?” debate had been settled, we all returned to the most divisive issue of the day. The first Gulf War was raging. The Iran-Contra scandal was fresh on everyone’s minds. Michael Dukakis, our governor at the time, who had moved to Boston from Hobbiton a few years earlier, was preparing to make everyone laugh at him, and by extension all of us over whom he presided, by riding around in a tank and being the only person alive to somehow look less tough when doing so. There we were: young, healthy, draped in miles of eye-searing fabric, our footwear ready to explode at the slightest change in barometric pressure, Dukakis-adjacent and yet somehow full of life and hope. Our entire lives were before us in a world that seemed full of violence and injustice, which was, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, run entirely by buffoons. 

So of course, the subject of the day–the subject of every day, at lunch–was a pressing one: Was “professional wrestling” (quotation marks have never been so necessary in the 1,500-year history of our language) real? Were the men who fought in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) real people who engaged in legitimate combat for all to see? Or were they actors who were just pretending to fight? Were they really sheiks and undertakers and cowboys and sergeants? Or were they just enormous piles of bronze testosterone playing make-believe in their underwear? 

The general consensus, of course, was that yes, the entire endeavor was completely legitimate. It was obviously real, according to most of the kids. Keep in mind we hadn’t even heard of the Internet yet, so as much as I want to blame Twitter, doing so would require logical and temporal leaps I’m not entirely capable of. 

Today, it seems preposterous. Even the name of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) had to be changed, because it turned out they shared an acronym with the World Wildlife Federation, and the two sides had grown distrustful of one another ever since Rowdy Roddy Piper clubbed an endangered baby panda to death in front of a packed stadium. (That might not have happened.) 

Today, the fact that we believed any of it seems preposterous. It’s well known that the WWF was not real wrestling. Sometimes those old actors will argue that it WAS in fact real, because it was difficult to do, and because doing it hurt their bodies. But those aren’t legitimate arguments. If I ran around on a basketball court dribbling a birthday cake or shooting an imaginary basketball, I would probably be sore the next day. But saying I had actually played basketball would still be a bit of a stretch. 

Life went on, and the false pomp and splendor of the WWF is now common knowledge. That the Macho Man Randy Savage parlayed a career in fake wrestling into a lucrative second career selling Slim Jims, which are essentially fake meat, surprises no one at this point. 

But it’s important to remember that those children, who sat around the lunch table in their Skidz and their snap bracelets and their pumps, debating whether or not wrestling was real, are now in their 40s. They are the people who run the world, unless of course the world is run by shadowy lizard people, which is a topic directly related to all of this. It does not make it good that no one can figure out what the heck is going on these days. But it does explain quite a bit, and that’s something, at least.

Because the objective truth might exist, but it is–and will continue to be–almost entirely unattainable. All we can hope is that in the darkness of our lives, we might occasionally brush up against the wriggling, slithering, always-elusive beast. We can never hold it or cage it, but, like the man-eating tigers of the Taiga forest, there is a great deal of comfort in knowing it is out there, hidden, unattainable and real.

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