Frequently over the years Pro Wrestling has been described as a “Soap Opera for Men”, this has come from the mouths and fingertips of fans and detractors across newsletters, podcasts and message boards. While I agree with the sentiment I can’t help but feel many admirers of the theatrical pugilism of the squared circle and the greater wrestling business in general greatly miss the deeper point of what that statement means. Case in point is some of the fervent backlash to the current Jeff Hardy story taking place on SmackDown, people are outraged that WWE would be running a storyline based on Jeff Hardy’s personal battle with addiction and even feel as though Jeff himself is being mocked and bullied by them daring to run with such an angle.
As far as I am concerned that is not the case.
When you look at Soap Operas however they have been tackling such serious issues since their inception, some of their biggest ratings coming from storylines that have featured horrifying life events from Gang Rape and coping with Cancer to Abortion and the AIDS epidemic. There is no life event that any human could struggle with that these shows haven’t dealt with and many times very tactfully, showing the strength of the human spirit and the bravery and pain that can be overcome in the face of these horrible things. That no matter what your story is, no matter where your life leads you that you can overcome.
The main difference between the two at this point in history is the dissolving of kayfabe in Pro Wrestling, it is no longer just a story acted out by athletic performers that the fans know nothing of but the character played on television. Now every aspect of the wrestling business seems to be paraded around like the industry and the performers within it’s lives are an open book for us all to peer in upon. The “dirt sheets” report everything from contract negotiations, injuries, scandals and everything in between and with such a grand revealing wrestling promotions had no choice but to embrace the fact that the illusions they once weaved behind the curtain were all out in the open, including all the demons that some of their biggest performers have gone through in their personal lives.
Jeff Hardy is one of the performers who was hitting his struggles at a time where secrets in the industry were no longer being kept, he was at his biggest when anything and everything going on in his personal life could not be handled privately but instead were being banded about all over the internet. He faced public scrutiny for every single mistake he made. His suspensions were public, his substance abuse issues were public, his release was public, every single detail of his struggle was discussed and he was called out at every single turn. He was called a choke artist, people said he had blown his shot. He was called a junkie, people said that he was a f*ck up who could have had it all if he had just walked a straight line and that if he ever got straight he was likely just to f*ck it up again. After all Jeff Hardy had slipped in his recovery before.
Now, on television Sheamus is saying exactly the same thing about Jeff Hardy as all of those detractors. In fact Sheamus is such a nefarious and disgusting villain that he wants to do everything in his power to prove that Jeff Hardy doesn’t have what it takes to walk tall and stay sober. It annoys him that Jeff has once again pulled himself up from his addictions, it makes his blood boil that Jeff Hardy hasn’t just given up and allowed himself to be consumed by his demons. Sheamus wants Jeff Hardy to fail. The angle strikes a chord even more because we all know that Jeff Hardy really has kicked, clawed and climbed his way back to this place through dedication to getting himself better and living a clean life. Not a fact that the WWE or likely Jeff Hardy himself ever wanted us to know but by the way of the industry in the modern age neither of them have had a choice about.
Jeff Hardy the man IS Jeff Hardy the character, he is perhaps one of the most real and most relatable characters in all of Pro Wrestling to reach the levels that he has. This story is not to berate or bully Jeff Hardy but instead, like all good Soap Opera storylines, is about the triumph of will over the human condition. This is a story about the hero who has not lived the perfect life and who wasn’t dealt the best hand overcoming his biggest naysayers. On top of that this storyline is to show that real people, with real issues just like the ones sitting watching at home and hopefully soon to be filling arenas again, that they can overcome the obstacles that face them in their lives too. That as long as they have the will and the drive that no matter what anyone says they too can get things in order and kill the demons that haunt them every single day.
Some people find their hope from the words written on the page in revered classic novels, others through the beauty they see in art that lines their walls painted by wizards of the brush and some are inspired by the triumph of characters over the ugliness of life as it plays out on television in a Soap Opera.
Or, a Soap Opera for men.
I have no problem with Jeff Hardy or the WWE telling it’s viewers that story.