Even during its peak periods, professional wrestling has never been accused of being “hip.” One of wrestling’s coolest factions, the nWo, consisted of 40 year old men using hip-hop slang. Wrestlers wore fanny packs far past the point of acceptability and selfie promos complete with colorful graphics are currently popular in WWE.
Much like the superstars they watch, some wrestling fans have a tendency to be behind the times. Not with the latest news or gossip, though — an embarrassing photo or a video of a face yelling obscenities at an obnoxious fan will be online and discussed within minutes. When it comes to wrestling vernacular however, fans are behind the times with the biggest example being the word “mark.”
— Bully Ray (@bullyray5150) June 18, 2018
Wrestling’s roots can be found in carnivals that once traveled and ruled America. People who worked rigged games (or “carnies,” an insult that still has a place in today’s wrestling culture) would hunt for “marks” — people who thought they had a chance to win the games and spent money to do so.
Professional wrestlers appropriated the term to refer to their fans. People would pay money to watch the matches, thinking they were watching athletic contests in which wins and losses were determined by skill. The wrestlers kept up the act and never let on that what fans were watching were athletic exhibitions that were determined by promoters.
This arrangement went on for decades until it became common knowledge that wrestling was scripted. Whether you blame Vince McMahon, the internet, or Dave Meltzer, the fact is, wrestling has been more entertainment than sport for quite a while now. For the most part, the only people who now truly believe that pro wrestling is real are very young children. The word “mark” is essentially obsolete, and yet it somehow has become an insult that fans hurl at each other.
Now, calling someone a “mark” is not always a bad thing. There are “WWE marks” and “Okada marks,” while the best moments cause fans to “mark out.” It’s when it’s used as an insult or to suggest you are a better or more knowledgeable fan that it’s ridiculous. As for “smark” — or “smart mark,” Brian Pillman put that word to rest a long time ago:
Warning: Filled with NSFW language.
Years ago, Jim Cornette stated in wrestling’s old days the workers were backstage and the marks were in the crowd but now the marks were backstage. Corny was referring to ECW and has probably said something similar about the indies, but his words have proved to be prescient. What Cornette did not know is the workers of his time would become the marks.
Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash are known for what great workers they are (in the realm of backstage politics and when speaking to those outside of the business, not in ring). Since leaving the business, both men have become marks for themselves. Hogan has seriously stated that he would work over 400 straight days in a calendar year. Meanwhile, Nash is like the guy who asks a girl out on a date only to be turned down and then say he really didn’t want to go out with her anyway. Big Sexy has created a cool persona where he now says he was only in wrestling to make as much money as possible and did not care about anything else.
In today’s wrestling fandom, there is no place for “mark” in the traditional sense. Instead, its meaning has gone back to the its most original definition. A “mark” was a person who spent money. Whether it is the WWE Network, New Japan World, attending live events, or buying shirts, everyone who follows wrestling regularly spends money. We all have access to the latest news and are rarely surprised, but each and every one of us is a mark.