Growing up, my brother and I did not get along. Like at all. Being six years apart in age was a pretty big gap to traverse, made even more complicated by the fact that we were different genders. There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot that we had in common other than DNA and sharing a bathroom. A 12 year old girl and a 6 year old boy wouldn’t likely hang out in the wild, so putting them in captivity together did not foster strong bonds. I resented him for being born and he wasn’t too thrilled with me either. There was a lot of arguing in our house – as the older sibling, I played mind games to drive my brother crazy and as the younger child, he responded with brute force. We drove our parents insane.
However, at one point we did coalesce around on thing that we could enjoy together – professional wrestling. We both found that entertaining and could be in the same room together and not try to kill each other while it was on. Saturday mornings there would be glorious peace in the house as we watched the double header of WWF Superstars of Wrestling and roller derby. It was the first common ground that the two of us found, even if I was old enough to know that it was all fake. Hulk Hogan, it turned out, was a big enough personality to appeal to both of us. While my brother was probably far more invested in the pretend violence, I was always more interested in the crazy storylines and the fact that some of these wrestlers were pretty attractive (not all, mind you. Some.) Even if we were getting different things out of it, it was still something that brought us together. Our parents weren’t going to shell out $60 for us to watch Pay Per Views, so we would watch copies that friends would record for us on a VCR.
As we got older and I went off to college we eventually found other things that we both liked – we both are massive Seinfeld fans – but we always would come back to professional wrestling. The 90s were deemed “The attitude area” as rival companies WWF and WCW battled it out for rating and supremacy by trying to outdo each other with outlandish storylines and crazy stunts. Pro wrestling was pretty mainstream at this time and I used to take my brother to a local sports bar to watch the Pay Per Views (he was in high school, I was out of college). This was, of course, the time of the rise of one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, so I come by my affinity for him honestly, having watched his entire career. Over time, we both stopped actively watching wrestling, but it was still part of our relationship as we both became adults. If a wrestler from our youth died (which happened with scary frequency), we’d share the news with each other. We crack jokes based on wrestling catch phrases and I’ve been put in a cross-face chicken wing hold more recently than you’d think. At different points we’ve drifted back into watching it for certain story-lines or simply because nothing else is on. Pro wrestling is a strange creature in and of itself; somehow no matter how much is changes, it also stays the same. There are wrestlers from our childhood who are still active participants in matches and story-lines. It’s not usual to see a guy well into his 50s (or older!) still throwing down. For us, it’s kind of like comfort food. Even when we’re not watching the weekly shows, we both listen to some podcasts about wrestling, which we will also discuss. We get along very well now that we’re both old enough to vote – it’s amazing what not living under the same roof did for our relationship – but for me I always think fondly about wrestling and how it was our only language through which we could communicate with each other when we were kids.
Since the cost of Pay Per Views (PPV) have come way down, my brother and I will still occasionally get together to watch some of them. Earlier this year we watched the Royal Rumble, which was always my favorite. Our viewing parties are kind a combination of us reliving our youth, being impressed with some of the sheer athleticism, and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yesterday, we once again got together to watch the biggest PPV of the year – Wrestlemania. Since this is professional wrestling’s Super Bowl, there are usually some interesting developments, whether it be surprise guests, crazy stunts, or big moments for story-lines/character arcs. This is the event that is designed more for the casual fan, so it wasn’t a big issue that I knew what very few of the matches were or the backstory behind these feuds; it’s all about the spectacle. It was a nice excuse for my brother and I to hang out even if the PPV didn’t necessarily hold our full attention throughout – my brother was busy putting together a baby swing for his child that is on the way, his wife was doing laundry, and I was regularly checking my work email and social media. But it’s hard to hold the focus of part-time (at best) fans for 5+ hours; the show went on WAAAAY too long and some of the matches could have been a hell of a lot shorter. Still, it was definitely worth watching for the few big moments that did occur: there was a marriage proposal, some impressive “bumps” though announce tables, the surprise return of the Hardy Boyz (who were popular back in the 90s), and what one has to assume was the final match of a legendary wrestler’s career, as the Undertaker shed his trademark costume before walking out of the arena one final time. The last moment was particularly poignant; though he was well past his prime and really should have ended his career several years ago, he has been a mainstay of WWE matches since 1990. Even if it ended with a whimper, that’s a career that needs to be recognized and I’m glad that I stayed up past midnight to see it.
The show wasn’t enough to make me pay anything more than cursory attention to professional wrestling going forward, but it made for an entertaining evening. I don’t know that the family that watches Wrestlemania together stays together (I’m actually pretty sure that’s not even remotely true), but it’s a fun little thing that my brother and I still get to do together. We may not do it every year, but it’s our own little tradition. It’s nice to relive childhood memories – even if ours are of people jumping off steel cages.