The art of the promo

« previous post | next post »

One of the assignments in ling001 "Introduction to Linguistics" is a Final Project, which is a piece of original linguistic analysis. The results are often excellent, as these examples from five or six years ago indicate. One especially successful example was Jared Fenton's 2014 analysis of "The art of the promo", about the monologues delivered by pro wrestling "superstars" in order to generate audience interest.

This analysis gained new relevance in 2015, when Donald Trump began using the same techniques in the political arena. So Jared recently wrote a piece for Medium, "Will WWE Techniques Help Win Trump Two Elections?"

A short introductory quote from that article:

WWE is a multi-billion dollar corporation dedicated to providing televised “sports entertainment” in the form of wrestling. It is an open secret that WWE is fixed; management predetermines the personality of every “superstar” (wrestler) and the winner of every wrestling match.

Each week, approximately 11 million fans in the United States tune in to WWE. They are enthralled by the soap opera-like storylines written for the superstars. […]

WWE teaches its superstars how to rhetorically “sell” audience members on these storylines, and just like the audience of soap operas, the WWE audience does not mind that the content is predetermined. As long as the stories are good and the characters are believable, WWE fans choose to suspend their disbelief, cheer for those who are peddling what are, at their core, falsehoods, and continue to support WWE.

When I was a teenager, one of my friends got a summer job training with a professional wrestler, back in the days of the WWWF. My friend was a serious amateur wrestler, and he was puzzled and somewhat disappointed to find that the training was basically a combination of group gymnastics, improv, and rhetoric.

From time to time, I later worked with people who were dedicated pro wrestling fans, and I always wondered why they were so enthusiastic about following a sport that they surely knew was totally fake — Jared's analogy to soap opera makes perfect sense as an explanation.

That willing suspension of disbelief must be an essential part of audience reaction to stuff like this:

There'll be no heating in the winter
no air conditioning in the summer
no electricity whatever the hell you wanted
right now you have it made you're so lucky
You are so lucky I'm your president

Though in some cases, fans do seem to buy into the plot

See also Trump's WWE page, and some of his past WWE videos: "The Battle of the Billionaires"; "Contract Signing" at Wrestlemania 23; "Trump buys RAW"; "Trump sells RAW".

For some additional relevant concepts and terminology, see "Useful terms from professional wrestling politics", 10/24/2019.


  1. Cervantes said,

    October 31, 2020 @ 11:15 am

    Well, professional wrestling is a form of theater. People know that Broadway is fiction, as are their favorite TV shows. It shouldn't be puzzling that people watch them anyway.

    I think the same is true to a large extent of Orange Julius. It isn't a question of whether people literally believe the nonstop bullshit that he spews, his fans just enjoy it.

  2. Dan Romer said,

    October 31, 2020 @ 11:33 am

    Back in the day, this was called "bull shit" or BS for short.

  3. AntC said,

    October 31, 2020 @ 7:25 pm

    So politics (or at least Federal politics) is fiction for entertainment. It's crucial to its entertainment value that it appears to be fact — just as 'South Fork' appears to be a ranch.

    Then if the nearly-fact turns into sending actual Americans into a foreign country to shoot and actually get shot; or into letting an actual pandemic spread and Americans actually dying …

    The pandemic ravaging South ForkThe White House is entertainment gold. Is anybody going to die? See next week's exciting episode.

    I'm not following how the followers of this form of entertainment can reconcile the believing it's fake with the actual getting shot/dying. There are Americans I know of (if not actually know) who are now dead. I'd expect Trump supporters to actually know people who've died.

    I'm not following how the Christian Fundamentalists believe the politics is fake. Aren't Trump's morals (I use the term loosely) something beyond make-believe?

  4. Lukas said,

    November 1, 2020 @ 8:05 am

    *I always wondered why they were so enthusiastic about following a sport that they surely knew was totally fake"

    Almost all of the entertainment we consume is fictional. That's what makes it interesting. Star Wars would be pretty boring if it was based on reality. "No spaceship left our solar system, and the Force doesn't exist. The End."

    Same with WWE. Real sports drama isn't nearly as interesting as the fake drama their writers come up with.

    [(myl) "Almost all of the entertainment we consume is fictional" — except, normally, sports. People get upset at the idea that sporting events, amateur or professional, might be fixed. So I was committing a category error — or my friends were…]

RSS feed for comments on this post