Fundamentally, kayfabe was the backbone of the wrestling industry. The line that separates the private life from the professional one is particularly thin for old-school wrestlers. An old code determined that a wrestler should never “break character”, keeping up the illusion at all costs. By mastering the “working marks” (all events portrayed as real), the industry’s secrets are never revealed.
Semantically, kayfabe refers to a suspension of disbelief. The specific details about the origins of the concept are unclear. The only certainty is that it originated as carny slang, an example of a lexicon developed to allow “performers” to communicate without outsider’s knowledge of what was being said. Professional wrestling is as old as kayfabe itself, both share the same cradle, the carnival circuits. Kayfabe channelled the transition of wrestling from competitive catch into entertainment, a spectacle developed on the merger of athletics and theater.
Here we find a paradoxical system: while perpetuating a lie, the rigid structure of kayfabe defines the rules that will determine how certain people live their lives. The lie transcends itself, turning a hoax into an ideology. If the world is in fact a stage, the theatrics of wrestling are a gold mine in terms of allegorical potential. Maybe kayfabe’s self-determination has the basic principles that constitute free will. Maybe old-school wrestling and the old American Dream share the same ethics.
Another approach to the concept is to treat it as an ultimate manifestation of life as art. An act brutally true to itself, a coded lie that snowballed, and culminated in the most honest manifestation of dishonesty. We are not interested in judging dishonesty, we want to concentrate on possible allegorical applications of a system immersed in sublime charlatanry.
The corporatization of wrestling has gradually been turning kayfabe into a historic relic. Never nostalgic, we want to save an anachronistic term from extinction; hence our issue on the future of kayfabe.