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Kayfabe Politics

May 12, 2011

Over at the Edge, Eric Weinstein writes:

we may fairly ask what rigorous system would be capable of tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears. Such a system, in continuous development for more than a century, is known to exist and now supports an intricate multi-billion dollar business empire of pure hokum. It is known to wrestling’s insiders as “Kayfabe“.

Because professional wrestling is a simulated sport, all competitors who face each other in the ring are actually close collaborators who must form a closed system (called “a promotion”) sealed against outsiders. With external competitors generally excluded, antagonists are chosen from within the promotion and their ritualized battles are largely negotiated, choreographed, and rehearsed at a significantly decreased risk of injury or death.

As applied to politics, I am partial to any metaphor that emphasizes deception, staged-conflict that masks deeper agreement, and a willing suspension of disbelief by consumers for the benefit of enjoying a spectacle in which their side might win higher status. Humans crave agonistic structures.  Indeed, there are fewer differences between Wrestlemania and televised presidential debates, national party conventions, and other electoral college party shenanigans than you might at first think. In some ways Wrestlemania is better because you have to buy it On Demand.

Weinstein concludes:

Kayfabrication (the process of transition from reality towards Kayfabe) arises out of attempts to deliver a dependably engaging product for a mass audience while removing the unpredictable upheavals that imperil participants. As such Kayfabrication is a dependable feature of many of our most important systems which share the above two characteristics such as war, finance, love, politics and science. Importantly, Kayfabe also seems to have discovered the limits of how much disbelief the human mind is capable of successfully suspending before fantasy and reality become fully conflated.

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