Netflix recently made a bold $5 billion wager on the resurgence of professional wrestling.
The allure is evident. Wrestling offers the dramatic flair of reality TV amplified to the extreme. It drips with Millennial nostalgia. And its enduring appeal lies in its adherence to ‘kayfabe’—the notion that while scripted, the performers remain committed to portraying their roles authentically, blurring the lines between reality and fiction both in and out of the ring.
In essence, the wrestling world, epitomized by legends like Hulk Hogan, operates within the realm of kayfabe, a concept that mirrors various facets of our increasingly digital lives where the boundary between spectacle and substance is becoming ever more blurred. This phenomenon extends to social media, AI deepfakes, and the broader landscape of national politics.
Netflix faces potential liability due to its association with World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) influential figurehead and promoter, Vince McMahon.
McMahon, aged 78, recently stepped down as executive chairman of TKO, WWE’s parent company, following a lawsuit filed by a former employee alleging sexual abuse and trafficking within McMahon’s family-run empire. Besides this legal battle, McMahon is reportedly under federal investigation for similar charges.
McMahon vehemently denies these allegations.
Despite his departure, McMahon’s indelible mark on the wrestling landscape, cultivated over four decades, is unlikely to fade easily, according to Abraham Josephine Riesman, author of the unauthorized 2023 biography “Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America.”
In an edited interview, Riesman discusses McMahon’s influence, the evolution of kayfabe, and the future of wrestling post-McMahon era.
(Note: McMahon has faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, with an ongoing federal investigation. He has not publicly addressed reports of substantial hush-money payments made to several women at WWE. In 2022, McMahon pledged cooperation with the investigation.)