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Closer to the Harts

Mythology in wrestling often works too easily—it’s too clean and too neat, and too useful to build complex narratives on. Everyone is performing, and what is real becomes less important than what sells. Even kayfabe becomes a kind of play acting. Kayfabe has recently acquired a more mosaic meaning—it describes less the integrity of the reality in the ring than what can be mutually agreed upon to seem conveniently accurate. It generates a set of contradictory and competing narratives, where the clarity of the ring becomes blurrier and more amoral.

Think of Vince McMahon as a robber baron for the new gilded age. Evidence suggests it is incredibly unsafe to be a modern wrestler—more concussions, more lethal stunts. If that is the case, then like Primitive Baptists, we must return to the past and look for a purer and cleaner kind of wrestling. Having grown up in Alberta, and having friends from the prairies and cousins who talked about it as a kid (my mom always forbid wrestling, so I didn't get into the game until I was older), my ur-wrestling is Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling.

Stampede Wrestling’s fans thought that the promotion was representative of a midwestern purity, and this narrative functioned in opposition to the money-powered, city slicker urbanity of McMahon's exploitative capitalism. But Stu Hart was not that pure, and his relationship with the WWE intermingled dynasties.

Stampede Wrestling’s character emerges from the stories that are told about it. It was founded as a local wrestling promotion in the 1950s in Calgary by Hart, who became heroic in my hometown. Its agreed-upon reality ignored the international qualities of the process, ignored how Hart inherited and trained wrestlers from the States, Mexico, Japan, and Europe, unless he needed to foster some kind of boosterism. The domestic aspect of his promotion became one convenient way of distinguishing him from McMahon.

Stu Hart was raised on a farm in Fargen, near Saskato...