Fake or Scripted?: Fact versus Fiction in Professional Wrestling's "Worked Shoots" from 1982-2022
Professional wrestling is not “real”– at least, not in the way that one might commonly understand reality. Unlike the wrestling seen in the Olympics, professional wrestling as presented on television programs produced by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and its newest rival, All Elite Wrestling (AEW), is a scripted product, with pre-planned matches and storylines. Despite this now-common knowledge, wrestling has recently become a serious topic of scholarly inquiry, with the Professional Wrestling Studies Journal being founded in 2020. This research specifically examines the “worked shoot” in professional wrestling: an event, originating and most commonly found in professional wrestling, that exists in the liminal space between fantasy (work, in wrestling parlance) and reality (shoot), layering the two in a way that makes it believably viewed as either. It asks, broadly, how worked shoots have changed over time, interrogating specifically the way worked shoots have changed in presentation, the different situations they have been used in, the purposes behind their use, and the characteristics of those wrestling personalities who have used them. This research was conducted via qualitative textual analysis of five worked shoot promos. Relevant discourse pertaining to reactions and response to the worked shoots, from traditional news publications as well as social media and wrestling forums were also analyzed to support this analysis. The textual analysis was also rooted in a historical analysis that examined the case studies both over time and as indicators of changing practices in professional wrestling in different key moments. The findings revealed through this analysis shed light on the changes in worked shoots over time. What was once a practice that dissuaded wrestling skeptics has become a tool to keep fans guessing. Today’s fans may know that most of what they see on wrestling shows is scripted, but worked shoots assist in their suspension of disbelief.