Now before I start I would like to mention that i'm part of the group of people that dislike the use of terms like ''smark'' or ''mark'', but for the sake of this article I will shed light on these terms:
A smark is an insider term used to describe a Wrestling fan that pay attention to information on behind the scenes happenings, fans that fancy themselves as being smarter and more informed on the business than a mark . Smarks usually share two distinctive traits, those that fancy themselves purists with an appreciation for the art of wrestling, and those that enjoy analysing the wrestling bubble, disecting it's intricicies and being very critical of business and political aspects.
A mark is an insider term to describe a fan that willingly allows themselves to but strung along storylines for entertainment purposes, and are ether purposefully suspending their disbelief,or they genuinely believe that what they're watching is real. Marks are often more emotionally invested in run-of-the-mill storylines as they're generally not concerned with long term ramifications or circumstances that occured off camera. They'll usually eat up 80% of what their promotion feeds them unless it's unavoidably awful.
A diehard fan describes the core fanbase of a wrestling product, this type of fan can be a smark or a mark, but what sets them apart is their devotion to wrestling.No matter how bad the product gets, there's a good chance that this crop of fan will stick around in hope that things get better. Many diehards have been watching since a very young age, and considers wrestling to be a big part of their life. These are the types of fans that aren't ashamed to call themselves wrestling fans even when it ain't cool, and usually know a shitload of trivia on their favorite product. It's very seldom that a diehard misses a single episode of their favorite wrestling television show or PPV
A casual is the oposite of a diehard, best described as fickle viewers. These are the people that tuned into wrestling when it was at the peak of it's popularity, but didn't stick around when things started to suck. Casuals are also the parents that bring their kids to live events just to make them happy, but wouldn't go otherwise. Casuals generally have no problem missing an episode of RAW, or tuning out when a segment doesnt catch their attention. Casual fans usually only give a shit about the top faces being promoted, and their trivia knowledge is usually limited to storylines and events that are heavily promoted by a promotion. Casuals can also fall into the smark/mark categories, but they're very seldomly smarks given the investment of keeping up with latest news and rumors ect.
For decades before Vince openly admitted to Wrestling being fake, many fans considered wrestling to be real. Even throughout the late 80s to early 90s, you still had a strong crop of marks. When the WWF product became remotely unwatchable by the mid 90s, alot casuals quit watching. Still, the WWE had it's core audience of diehards that stayed loyal tot he company they loved. Back then, it was extremely uncommon for a crowd to start random chants during live events voicing their disaproval for an angle or chanting for Rick Rude to get pushed, all VInce had to measure in terms of crowd reactions were cheers, boos and indifference. Later on,promotions like ECW were treating their audience more intelligently, and captivating them with worked/shoot promos that seemed legit. This, coupled with the genesis of dirtsheets being easily accessible to anyone that seeked them adamantly, really started a new wave of fans known today as the smarks. While fan participation was a key component in ECW's product, it never really manifested itself in the WWE. Even when the Attitude Era came about, it consisted mostly of casuals and diehards that went along with the product because it was doing more right then wrong. Crowds rarely took it upon themselves to completely shit on a segment and dominate it with chants that pissed off WWE management, you'd get the occational ''we want Taz'' chant at MSG when big news leaked, but it was seldom. When fans actually took it upon themselves to get behind a wrestler, it was usually consistant and that wrestler was ensured a solid spot within the company that reflected their fan support. Skeptics of the product had the option to support rival promotions, and didnt waste their time with WWE if they werent pleased. Therefore, Vince rarely had to deal with the unpredictability of a counterculture group starting chants to f'up whatever mindcontrol tactics creative bestowed upon their viewers
By 2001, Vince is now the sole mainstream wrestling promotion left standing, and diehards now have no choice but to watch WWE. The rise of the internet medium brought forth an opportunity for Mr. and Mrs. Anybody to become a smark. Now, everyone with the desire and a fully functionable internet connection could smarten up to the business. Things didn't help when VInce took his company public, eventually turned it PG, and aimed his product at a younger demographic. While it made sense on a business level,what he was doing was completely insulting the intelligence of his diehard demographic, a demographic made up of more smarks than ever before.
Now you'd think that these fans would make themselves vocal enough to change Vince's perception that smart fans are regulated to the small niche found at ECW ONS's Hammerstein Ballroom, but today, fans dominate arenas with completely random and inconsistant chants. One day fans are cheering ''lets go Ziggler'' ,the next week they boo the hell out of him and then the week after that they treat him with utter indifference. Same can be said for higher tier guys like CM Punk and John Cena, they get polarising reactions every town they go. Daniel Bryan gets loud YES! chants in London, and a crowd in North Carolina couldnt give a shit.This very missed opportunity to show the WWE brass that this crop of fans have the pulse on what people really want.
So why is this happening? has today's internet age created a community that suffers from attention deficit disorder? Are fans today skeptical to get behind something firmly in fear that it'll go absolutely nowhere? Is a place Chicago really made up of smarky diehards that will go against the grain, while Virginia is made up of nothing but casual marks? Can this be blamed solely on the amount of children that make up the live audience?
If I was in Vince's shoes, I'd be hesitant to give crowds what they want since it changes on a regular basis. Fan's inconsistancy really makes it difficult to distinguish a genuine love for a performer and a flav of the month trend started by fickle smarks just to counteract whatever WWE is doing. Vince listens to what generates revenue and ratings, and i'm sure the WWE plays favoritism with the stars they spent years to build like Cena and Orton.
So my question is this - Are fans to blame for the current state of the wrestling business? When you confuse a promoter enough with inconsistancy and incoherence, that promoter will ultimately end up doing whatever the hell they want to do. While the PG environment is not appealing to everyone,at least that crop of kids can be controlled easily and they're buying the merch, but my point is not whether the PG movement is a good or bad thing, my point is that smark rebelious movements are too poorly organised to force WWE into a real change. If this group of people stopped complaining about one thing only to adapt to it and move on to something else, then maybe they'd be taken a little more seriously.
Or, Is the WWE really not giving a shit about fan opinion because they think that it it'll harm the image of their featured stars and overall brand?
If you enjoyed this article, please check out the other 2 in my ''Analyse this'' series
Analyse this: ECW breathing down WWF's neck circa 1993-1996
Analyse this part 2: Vince McMahon, still a Genius, or has he lost touch?