Even in an era when wrestling has been exposed as predetermined ad nauseum, kayfabe is thought by many to be vital to the industry. Believed to be a corruption of the early 1900s carnival slang for "fake," "kayfabe" refers to an adherence to the reality portrayed in wrestling storylines. For generations, kayfabe was the bread and butter of a sport whose practitioners and promoters thought being seen as legitimate was crucial to drawing fans and making money. Heels and faces never traveled together (good guy Mr. Wrestling famously returned to the ring only weeks after being injured in the plane crash that hurt Ric Flair and retired Johnny Valentine simply because rumors spread that he was on board with them), and outlandish personalities like The Sheik only dropped character around close family members. Even though those days are gone, kayfabe is important for maintaining suspension of disbelief. After all, nobody wants to watch a show if they're being reminded that it's fake - that lowers the stakes and makes the whole thing seem unimportant. Those problems don't stop WWE from doing it, though - their current attitude toward kayfabe is just the latest step in a slow progression that's exposed pro wrestling for decades. Still, some incidents were worse than others. Here are 12 days that killed kayfabe in pro wrestling:
12. August 1, 2005 - Matt Hardy Airs His Dirty Laundry On Raw
Matt Hardy was fired from WWE in the spring of 2005 after he used his website as a pulpit to criticize ex-girlfriend Lita and ex-friend Edge for having an affair while he was injured. Fans caught wind of the situation and, finding it unfair, began to fill arenas with chants of "You screwed Hardy" and "We want Hardy." Eventually, Vince McMahon realized that a program between the two was in his best interest and he re-hired Hardy. After a few well-executed sneak attacks on Edge that drove the story forward in realistic fashion, Hardy was "reinstated" by McMahon on Raw. He proceeded to cut a promo on Edge and Lita, explaining the situation and his feelings of betrayal. Not only was his promo coming from a place of honesty, but by repeatedly referring to Edge as his "friend" and saying that he had "betrayed" him, he basically admitted that all of their previous bad blood - including the classic Hardy Boyz-Edge and Christian tag team feud - was fake. That wasn't the last time WWE would sacrifice prior storylines to serve current ones - during the DX reunion, Triple H would repeatedly mention that Shawn Michaels had been his best friend for over a decade, despite having been at each other's throats from 2002 to 2004. Reminding fans that old programs were fake doesn't get them more involved in current ones as much as it prevents them from entering the fantasy realm.
Scott Fried is a Slammy Award-winning* writer living and working in New York City. He has been following/writing about professional wrestling for many years and is a graduate of Lance Storm's Storm Wrestling Academy. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/scottfried.
*Best Crowd of the Year, 2013