It is often stated that the ultimate tribute to Andy Kaufman’s career as a performance artists was how many people refused to believe that the comedian truly had passed away in 1984. Kaufman had spent his career creating and performing elaborate rouses that were executed so remarkably that even his death was met with a great deal of skepticism, and to a significantly lesser degree still is, despite a death certificate being filed with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
The above performance by WWE wrestler CM Punk is arguably just as remarkable.*
A little back story on the performance**:
In the past couple years, the WWE has made a fairly conscious effort to separate itself from the adolescent nature of yesteryear, in an attempt to become a more family-friendly product. Even going as far as becoming a TV-PG program in 2009 (down from TV-MA during the height of their ‘Attitude Era’).
The shift in environment, combined with the misuse of his character has forced the real-life CM Punk (Phillip Jack Brooks), whose almost unanimously regarded as the most talented performer in the company by the WWE’s internet subculture, to opt against resigning with the company.
This is where real life meets, ahem, art, as the WWE creative team has decided to incorporate these real life events into their programming: Developing a story line which allows CM Punk the performer to speak out against what has been frustrating him in real life on their live weekly shows.
This was supposed to lead up to a pay per view match against the personification of the new family-friendly era, John Cena; A modern day superhero whose winning percentage closely resembles the Harlem Globetrotters’. In a ‘sign o the times,’ Cena, hilariously, won his last title defense with the assistance of a “fan” (a clear plant) who threw soda in his opponents eyes after the villain had swiped the fan’s souvenir cup, blinding him long enough for Cena to capitalize.
The plot represents what I assume is an everyday dilemma for the creative forces behind the WWE: CM Punk representing the internet community always hoping for the ‘highest quality’ of entertainment, and John Cena representing the t-shirt buying, action figure using community who always prefer a happy ending. We were scheduled to get the resolution to this conflict at the WWE’s next PPV Money in the Bank in three weeks.
But that’s where things get hairy, and brings me back to the original point:
What makes CM Punk’s performance so incredible is that – in the year 2011 where EVERYTHING leaks to the internet and everything seems so black and white – no one is quite sure what exactly happened during this interview. Was it real? Was it fake? Was it planned a certain way, but the performer took things too far?
During the performance he not only goes into some pretty dark places (Going into the ‘politics’ involved in the entertainment, mentioning -albeit significantly smaller – competitors by name, insulting the companies CEO and his family) and then goes into acknowledging how significant it is that he’s doing this when discussing the ‘fourth wall’ . Delivering each word with genuine disdain and anger that has to make even the most skeptical observer question what they’re viewing.
And an entire day later, outside of the company saying they’ve suspended Punk (which isn’t saying much either way), no further information has been released. No one can say if it was definitely scripted, not scripted, or somewhere in between***. Which is atypical for any kind of entertainment product in this day and age, but especially in the world of Pro Wrestling where further details such as this seem to come out in minutes.
The general consensus online seems to be that the performance was a work, but one thing I question is this: Are these people saying this because it’s honestly what they believe, or is their subconscious forcing them into this opinion because it’s a lot easier admitting Andy Kaufman was actually dead than admitting you were fooled once again.
*Admittedly, this is a bit of sensationalism. It’s not the same, but it is arguably the closest thing to an ‘Andy Kaufman like performance’ I’ll ever see.
** While I’m admittedly a wrestling fan, its incredibly rare that I watch Monday Night Raw (I’m the WWE’s dream fan, the guy who chips in for their big PPV’s despite pretty much never viewing their free programming). So a lot of this is second-hand and through research.
*** While I’m not sure it was scripted, I feel fairly confident in saying that it was. At the end of the day, I don’t think it really matters. It’s compelling, and entertaining stuff.