Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Abolish the Mark

These fans are just the same as every other fan
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The term "mark," like most of wrestling slang, comes from the carny origins of professional wrestling. It was secret jargon that the wrestlers could use to talk without betraying the worked nature of their matches. A mark is someone who believes that wrestling is real. The word also has origins in confidence games (cons, if you will), where the word signifies the target. In actuality, the two aren't too different from each other. The wrestlers are trying to trick someone into believing a match is real, while the con artist is trying to trick someone into giving them money. Frankly, the wrestlers are in the same game, but with entertainment, instead of out and out fraud. Rooted in the term itself is an implication of deception. A mark is someone who has become immersed in the fictional storytelling, enough to believe it's true. That is the goal of most fiction, but only in wrestling is the term for a person like this used with derision. This term lies near the heart of the love/hate relationship wrestling has with its fans, and there is no reason for its continued use.

The term is almost exclusively used as antagonistic, as it's used as an othering technique. It separates those of us who are "smart" from those who are not. When a fan uses the phrase "I marked out", it is almost a shameful confession, almost that they are ashamed of becoming immersed in the storytelling. They are saying, "I felt like it was real." In almost all other fiction, no one is ashamed if they feel for the characters, when they're drawn into the story. The hardcore fan has even birthed a variation on the term, the "smart mark", someone who is not a wrestler, but knows that it's scripted. The core of this problem is the chip on the shoulder of the average wrestling fan constantly trying to defend the "fake" nature of wrestling. It is in the odd position of being a work of fiction that portrayed itself as real athletic competition for a long, long time, and still is such a unique art form that it blurs the line, often purposefully.

At its core, the term creates an implication that good wrestling, that if it works, it's telling us that we are dumb, that we are naive, that we are gullible. It perverts the goals of good fiction, and manipulates the fans into apathy. When there is a correlation between enjoying the art for what it is and being a fool, how can there be an expectation of anything but cynicism?

Finally, the term obscures criticism of the storytelling. Anyone who's a mark couldn't possibly understand the reasons why certain creative decisions were made, and aren't qualified to make those judgments. They "think it's real". This is a ludicrous designation, and we're finally getting to a point of wrestling journalism that allows for real criticism. Critics of any kind of fiction are often held in disregard by practitioners of the art, but rarely does it go to the lengths that wrestling companies and wrestlers do in smearing them. Fans of your art form shouldn't be considered dumb for buying into the fiction. They should be treasured. Creative choices are an interesting part of wrestling, and encouraging a dialogue about them is beneficial, not dangerous.

The term mark creates distance between the wrestlers and the fans, and creates a divide among the fans. It is an artifact of a legacy of deception that is no longer necessary, and only propagates the antagonism present between wrestling and its fandom. It's insulting to fans. We need to get past the shame of belief, of immersion. We need to allow for honest criticism. We need to abolish the mark.