Once when he happened in some connexion to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’. This was an idea that had literally never occurred to him. —1984, Chapter 5
The only thing that wrestling fans agree on about TNA Wrestling is that no other wrestling company works this way. They don’t agree on much else, but this one is solid. No wrestling company treats its talent like TNA does. No wrestling company produces its programming like they do. No wrestling company writes and promotes stories and wrestlers quite this way. Whether you’re on the side that thinks this is bad or good, you agree with it. They’re an island unto themselves.
Wrestling companies have long had invasion angles, so much so that ‘invasion angle’ itself has become a trope. When TNA began the Aces and 8’s story last summer, fans largely rolled their eyes and said “Here we go again.” They said this because TNA has executed an invasion or insurrection story roughly every 18 months of its existence.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever. —Chapter 3
The writers of TNA Wrestling have a belief, one that holds steady with scrutiny: it’s better to be at war than at peace. Wrestling is—by design—art about conflict, and how one solves the presented problems at hand. TNA’s direction is that the most interesting conflicts are those of war. The company is constantly in danger of outside groups looking to tear it apart, or inside groups who have banded together to usurp the establishment.
George Orwell’s 1984 explains a motivation for presenting a product like this: by keeping an audience constantly on edge, the theory goes that they’ll stay glued and become invested in the saving of the world.
This paragraph from 1984 describes the universe TNA has created better than anything I’ve read about the company:
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. —Chapter 3
Other wrestling companies convey a sense of justice. There is struggle; there is strife, but if your heart is true and your will strong, you will win. Bad guys lose, good guys smile, and everyone goes home happy. TNA does not operate like this. When a hero wins, it is often for only a moment: a new villain (or perhaps the hero himself, corrupted by power) comes to pass, and the long, hard world gets smaller and less wondrous.
TNA’s first group was “Sports Entertainment Xtreme” (this is a company in love with pun acronyms). The less said about this group the better, as it was the least enjoyable part of TNA’s first year. I only bring them up to illustrate that an invading and disruptive force existed in TNA from nearly the beginning, and that invasion stories are more or less an essential part of TNA DNA.
Raven’s “Gathering” group was the next group to try to tear TNA apart. Overlapping with S.E.X., the group were a band of villains for several years before Raven himself became a hero and took care of them. Jeff Jarrett’s “Planet Jarrett” group took over TNA in 2005, which TNA felt was such a “cancer” that they brought in Sting, a man famous for decimating invading stables. Sting’s character in TNA to this day is that of a sentinel; a great knight defending the homeland. But even he wasn’t immune to occasional bouts of power and corruption.
In 2007, Kurt Angle created a small stable, flanked by AJ Styles and Tomko. That held his power in the company for a while, but as the group slipped, so did his spot. So in the summer of 2008 he put together a larger, more formidable group: the Main Event Mafia. The group was comprised of Angle, Nash, Booker T, Scott Steiner, and Sting, who held the World Championship until losing to Mick Foley in spring 2009. The Mafia was already falling apart by that time (wars are generally short), but it was pretty well done by the summer. Foley, who was in charge of the company at the time, immediately turned into a bad guy and threatened to hold the entire operation hostage, as you do.
Perhaps it is the constant war that makes the TNA Heavyweight Championship so cursed. Unlike other titles in the wrestling world, TNA’s big prize is a beacon of evil, corrupting literally every single person who’s ever held it longer than a week. It promises power, but doesn’t actually contain anything.
That curse was no clearer than in 2010. Hulk Hogan’s arrival to the company signaled a new narrative, a subtle boil that fermented at Bound for Glory of that year, when Jeff Hardy became a villain, taking possession of the World Title as the leader of a new group: Immortal. Created by Bischoff and Hogan, Immortal was a grand takeover, meant to change the entire course of the company. It was largely successful; the TNA of today is nothing like it was before Hogan showed up. Of course, the war was internal, fake, and an illusion. Sting, ever the valiant sentinel, put Hogan back in power only a few months after he took him out.
What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy? —Chapter 3
The latest war is between an invading group of mostly outsiders: The Aces and 8’s, who’s visual appeal is ripped directly from Sons of Anarchy. The Aces and 8’s has suffered from comparisons to the nWo, but that group never took this long to get around to things. It was three months before the group had a single identifiable member, and nearly a year before their leader was revealed. This slowing of the narrative suggests that TNA is hoping the group will remain at war with the company for quite some time. The Aces and 8’s share a little bit of every invading stable in TNA: a quest to destroy the status quo, a band of guys large and small in wrestling success, a clear and identifiable cause, and an equally clear road to implosion.
WWE offers stories for as many kinds of fans as it can fit, often stepping on the toes of certain groups to appease others. Ring of Honor, Chikara, ACW, and other large indies offer more focused approaches, entirely ignoring certain segments to appease one or two. TNA offers exactly one thing: wars. If you like your wrestling to feel like it’s constantly on the brink of collapse, constantly under siege and subterfuge, then this is your show.
Critics of this approach suggest that constant war is draining, not only to the performers, but also the fans. Two recent periods offered brief respite. AJ Styles’ several-month run as champion in late 2009 was utterly refreshing, as was Bobby Roode’s historic reign in 2011-2012. Both periods offered significant wrestling feuds, but no large groups or conspiracies. Both ended because a war was about to begin. In watching the shows from these periods, you can almost feel the anxiety from the commentators and performers that this is all a bit dull, a little rote, and wouldn’t it be nice to have wolves at the gates again.
In the six years I’ve been writing about pro wrestling, TNA Wrestling continues to be the most interesting subject. So few writers try to wrap their heads around its unique eccentricities, and simply paint everything they do as a failure. But the company continues to grow, to shift, to evolve. Can you say that TNA hasn’t changed significantly more in the last five years than WWE? How about ten years? It’s astounding how lithe the company can seem at times. And yet, through all their production shifts and talent comings-and-goings, there is always a new war.
The object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war. —Chapter 9