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The Internet Wrestling Community (often abbreviated to IWC) is term used to describe a group of people on the Internet who write articles and commentaries on professional wrestling. This has evolved since the days of newsgroups and has evolved with more access to the Internet, and has had a notable impact on the industry as well. It is a generic term that refers to all the smart mark, or 'smark' (see below), pro wrestling fan sites, news sites, and their associated message boards and forums.
The IWC focuses mainly on the "behind the scenes" issues and real life stories as opposed to the scripted content that is seen on TV. A person who considers themselves to be in the know about the wrestling industry is referred to as a "smark" versus a "mark" who at worst believes that everything in professional wrestling is real. Typical IWC members would probably call themselves "smarks" which is a combination of the two terms because they do follow trends and developments in the wrestling industry but at heart still want to "mark out" at the scripted entertainment.
Background and History
Before the Internet, wrestling fans would have to either call hotlines provided by the wrestling organizations or subscribe to newsletters (sometimes called "dirt sheets") to get insider information (i.e. who's getting pushed, who's moving from one organization to another, etc.). When the internet became more readily available, some of those who called the hotlines and/or subcribed to the newsletters would post this information on their own websites for free. Those who did not want to pay for these services now had free access to this information. Accuracy of information on the web varied, but the more reliable websites gradually gained in popularity. The main places the IWC gets their information is Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer and Wade Keller's Pro Wrestling Torch. Their newsletters were at first in print and have now gone on-line. Early wrestling websites, including Tuesday Morning News and Micasa, would mainly post bullet point facts from these newsletters or promotion hotlines. As the IWC evolved, more websites would report the news and add their own opinions and analysis and some of the more controversial became well-read. Today, many websites include forums where there is much more participation. Some of those who wrote well have gone on to become feature writers on the main websites.
The internet also created an easy way for people to post results from Pay Per View events immediately so fans who did not buy the PPV would not have to wait until the next night or week to find out what happened. Fans who attended a television taping could also e-mail a web site the results (called spoilers) allowing more fans to know what happened in advance.
The IWC developed mainly during the Monday Night Wars. It gained a sort of mainstream acknowledgment when CBS Sportsline created Wrestleline which was relatively short-lived. Some of the popular web sites during this time (aside from 1Wrestling.com) included OhMyGod.Simplenet.com, TheSmarks.com, and WrestleCrap.com.
As broadband Internet access grew, and file-sharing became popular, the IWC followed suit; there are currently (as of 2006) numerous file-sharing and Bit torrent sites devoted to pro wrestling multimedia. Despite a current downturn in the ratings for wrestling on television, the IWC is still very active, which has allowed popular wrestling sites and Forums such as 3 Count Wrestling Forums,WrestlingForum.com and TheSmartMarks.com, to cover not just pro-wrestling, but many other aspects of sports and pop culture.
Some IWC writers have even gone to Iraq to write about the Iraq war.
The IWC is often credited (and criticised) for "breaking kayfabe" and bringing wide exposure to the inner workings of the business. The degree to which this is true is hotly debated, though few deny that there was an impact. Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) garnered a large following in part due to the IWC's focus in the 1990s. The IWC's primary impact on the business, outside of mere exposure, was similar to the effect of the Internet on any other aspect of modern life: bringing together formerly isolated individuals and disparate groups of people to discuss their mutual interests. The Internet also allowed inside information and rumors to spread quickly throughout the fanbase, and these effects could be seen on weekly television. In many cases, what would have been considered a major shock to fans a decade ago would be almost common knowledge to today's fans (notable exceptions being Eric Bischoff's debut as General Manager for WWE Raw and Kurt Angle's TNA signing).
Since wrestling shows are scripted week-by-week (often hours before a live show airs), storylines, wrestler's gimmicks and wrestler's pushes could be affected in almost real time due to the speed and volume of information available. The most notable example of this occurred in the weeks and months following Matt Hardy's termination from WWE. He posted on his personal website that his real-life girlfriend Lita had cheated on him with and left him for fellow WWE wrestler Edge. Following this, crowds increasingly chanted "We want Matt" or "You screwed Matt" whenever Edge and/or Lita were in the ring, despite the fact that their then-current storyline feud was with Kane. WWE eventually brought Matt back in to feud with Edge, and this entire series of events would likely have not happened were it not for the IWC and the Internet itself. Though some suspect the entire event to be a work on the IWC, its impact is hard to dispute. One of the earliest examples of the impact of the IWC was the reporting of the WCW Disney tapings. Many wrestling fans were able to find out a lot of information about how events would unfold due to six months worth of television taping.
Criticism of the IWC
Criticism of the IWC ranges from the resentful and stereotypical to philosophical discourse about the demise of kayfabe. Some members of the business take issue with the IWC's high volume of criticism and "armchair booking", since few members of the IWC are believed to have practical experience with professional wrestling. IWC members maintain that ability to perform or be a part of the show is not a barrier to criticism, much as with movie or food critics. Furthermore, much of the IWC's commentary seems directed to its own readership, and may have relatively little impact on the casual fan, to whom most promotions cater.
A common subject of discussion amongst the IWC is workrate versus Sports entertainment, alleging that the non-wrestling aspects of WWE programming are the likely source of recent television ratings decline. This thinking is consistent with the average IWC member's preference for solid in-ring action over excessive talking and backstage skits. Despite this debate, some of the highest-drawing, most popular WWE superstars in the last twenty years, including Hulk Hogan and The Rock were never as well known for their wrestling ability compared to their charisma. Fans tuned in for their storylines, colorful characters and stables (such as D-Generation X and the New World Order (nWo), rather than to see absolutely authentic, technique-driven wrestling matches. This is most obvious when segments like This is Your Life Rock or the WWE Diva Search (typically panned by the IWC and containing no wrestling at all) receive high ratings for their segments during the show.