While I show you what a real man looks like….
Jobbers fascinate me.
Ok, back up. Hold on. Let me explain a jobber. And no I don’t mean a wet paper ball that you throw from the back of the classroom at the blackboard. As with everything in life, it can be explained by the concepts of professional wrestling…..
Let’s first break the kayfabe and acknowledge that inside the ring it is a co-operative activity in which two athletic performers act out a series of moves to progress towards a predetermined ending (called a “work”. On the rare occasions where no winner is planned, it’s a “shoot”). If you didn’t already know this, perhaps you’re reading the wrong blog. Professional wrestling companies are faced with a surprisingly intractable problem: how can you persuade large audiences to pay money to watch a contrived “fight” between two co-workers? It’s tough enough for boxing or MMA promoters to do that with real fights.
The answers are found in pantomine. The pro-wrestling industry structure blends together the lessons of travelling carnivals, pantomime, and soap opera so that you have four levels of show:
1. Weekly digest: Every week there is an edited highlights show broadcast on free-to-view television on a slot watched by children, such as the Saturday morning Superstars Of Wrestling I used to devour as a child. This is the “roper” (in hustler parlance) which draws a steady stream of new interested viewers and introduces them to the characters and the storylines. It’s always a few days after the event and teases more than it shows. This is so you upgrade to the…
2. Weekly live content: At least once a week on subscription cable is the standard show (WCW Nitro, WWE Smackdown etc) where all the wrestlers have normal matches and progress storylines (“feuds”). These shows are in themselves satisfying with full live matches and bring in revenue for the company (and likewise involve high costs to create steady new content). However, one thing you will never see is the matches you really want to see – the payoff bout between two stars that settles a feud. They’ll almost fight, often interrupting each-other’s matches with sneak attacks (“run ins”) or mouthing off until friends drag them away (“a pull apart”). This is because the 6 week storylines are all designed to naturally reach their climax at the….
3. Pay Per View event: This is the big moneyspinner that you’ve invested six weeks of your life anticipating so you can invite your friends around, crack open the beers, and enjoy four hours of highly scripted entertainment that is the pro-wrestling equivalent of a porno money-shot compilation in which all storylines are resolved, good triumphs over evil, and a clear champion is crowned.
That’s the 6-week structure to the industry and in the spaces between these TV programmes are the off-TV “house shows” which function like a rock band on tour, pulling in money from live gates and on-site merchandising. So we have a basic ecosystem in which free shows attract new viewers (without this the industry cannibalises itself like boxing did in the 1990s when all the stars went exclusively to PPV) and the subscription shows monetise them, with the PPVs creaming off the most-dedicated. In the 1980s it was common for performers to be wrestling six nights a week sometimes crossing timezones. A punishing schedule and the reason so few of them live beyond 50 years old after succumbing to a cocktail of drink, painkillers, and leisure drugs.
But what of the performer hierarchy?
Well, PPVs need heroes to bring in the money and we call them “babyfaces”. Think Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin. Most feuds involve a babyface being sneak-attacked by a viscious good-for-nothing (“heel”) until he decides to sort him out and restore karma to the world. The goodness of the babyface’s heroism is in direct proportion to the dastardliness of the heel’s villiany. This brings the most cheers (“pop”) when the hero openeth the can of whoop-ass.
Consider the problem – how do you prop up both the hero and the villian so both are credible opponents?
Enter the jobber.
Just as in professional boxing where a prospect can only advance to a TV-marketable 20-0 record if you have perenial losers willing to diminish their own records for a payday, in wrestling you have jobbers. A jobber is the opponent who agrees to lie down for (“put over”) the wrestler who is being pushed towards stardom. At the entry-level of the pro-wrestling TV food-chain that’s the anonymous little guy in dorky trunks who gets squashed by the famous guy on the Saturday morning show. All the stars feed on these jobbers to rack up wins and in the case of the heel, an aura of invincibility.
For one performer to win (and thus build his reputation) another must lose. If you keep having stars pair off in the weekly subscription shows then you can diminish one guy for every guy you elevate – which is bad for business. Hence pro wrestling relies on a steady stream of jobbers.
The unsung heroes of the industry.