Kayfabe in Politics and Media Manipulation

Eric Weinstein and Donald Trump

After getting word of videos about Eric Weinstein’s interpretation of kayfabe on Twitter, I found Frame Problems after a brief search and gave these three videos a watch. I found them interesting as they stretched the application of kayfabe to politics, economics, and mainstream media as far as they possibly can. I had always been interested in Eric Weinstein’s opinion of kayfabe being a crucial component of the cognitive toolbox. As a part of the pro wrestling industry, I wanted to take a closer look at this take on kayfabe and how understanding it can enhance how one interprets mainstream media and public consciousness.

I can’t believe I hadn’t seen these videos before since they’re right in my wheelhouse. Any discussion of applying pro wrestling logic in anything outside of pro wrestling will always get my attention. Never mind being red-pilled, blue-pilled, or black-pilled — I believe kayfabe in the real world is like being ultraviolet-pilled. It greatly helps in understanding the concept behind kayfabe and how it creates suspension of disbelief even in people who are either not aware of it or even resistant and skeptical.

You can say that they can’t help but get worked.

Eric Weinstein

Take note that I don’t wish to completely nuthugging Eric Weinstein here. He can sound pretty insufferable at times, as if he really likes smelling his own farts. But he does put forward some really interesting ideas, which is usually enough for me to listen to someone. Some see him as a revolutionary thinker, while others see him as a crackpot. Perhaps we’ll truly see how much his ideas hold water decades down the line. In any case, I wanted to mention that here beforehand as a disclaimer in case the topic got you thinking that I only want to lick this guy’s taint.

I like him because he’s an academic with a deep interest in topics outside his specialty, similar to Noam Chomsky and Jordan Peterson. Also, he thinks Michio Kaku is out of control, which I find hilarious. Anyone with that level of intellectual courage to willingly expose oneself and somehow come out with non-derivative observations or opinions about subjects outside their scope of expertise will always pique my interest due to how interesting or how wrong they are.

I’m not saying they’re unequivocally right. I’m saying they’re interesting and their ideas may be worth looking into. Eric Weinstein and his brother Bret Weinstein certainly fit that category.

Take note that while he referenced the history of catch wrestling here to elaborate on the origins of kayfabe, he had no idea who Farmer Burns was. If you’re really into catch wrestling, you’d know who Farmer Burns, Frank Gotch, and the Great Gama are. His knowledge on the subject is precursory and surface level at best.

If you’re really serious about catch wrestling, you should do the Gotch Bible regularly.

But it’s interesting that he defines kayfabrication as the process of taking “something boring and dangerous“ and routinizing it. He compares fighting to war, which is also boring and drawn out most of the time and is certainly dangerous. It’s like the reverse of what happened in World War I, which was the de-romanticization of war as a result of the advent of photography and communications technology. They’re trying to make war attractive again through populism, hypermasculinity, and nationalistic jingoism.

Before we proceed, here’s something to balance it out. There are people out there who think the Weinstein brothers are intellectually-dishonest clowns with delusions of grandeur. A lot of those criticisms are valid, but do know that they’re prominent human beings who dedicated their lives to academic pursuits and are willing to let their opinions be heard.

If you don’t want haters, just don’t do anything and stay invisible. But that’s no fun.

Pro Wrestling as Simulacra

Jean Baudrillard unleashed upon the real world his magnum opus Simulacra and Simulation in 1981, digging into the nature of reality amid the symbols we see and use to navigate our society. He especially looks into the symbolism of culture and media that shape our understanding of our shared existence in modern civilization.

That philosophical treatise would later inspire The Matrix, a movie Baudrillard himself famously disowned for not really getting the point of what he was trying to say.

The gist of his thesis is the delineation of our shared reality and its offshoots into four stages:

  • Stage 1: The genuine article — a faithful image or copy. It’s the “reflection of a profound reality”; a good appearance in what the author called “the sacramental order”. In other words, this is as real as shit can get.
  • Stage 2: A perversion of that reality. It’s an unfaithful copy which “masks and denatures” reality as an “evil appearance.” Instead of faithfully revealing the reality to us, it hints at the existence of an obscure reality that it can’t fully encapsulate.
  • Stage 3: The absence of a profound reality. It pretends to be a faithful copy, but it’s a copy with no original. It claims to represent something real, but it’s merely a suggestion of that representation; no actual representation is taking place.
  • Stage 4: Pure simulacrum, where it has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. It has become its own thing and created its own reality. You can see a remote resemblance to what could’ve been the original, but whatever pretension to reality the simulacrum attempts is seen as devoid of critical self-awareness and only does so due to sentimentality. It has entered the realm of “hyperreality” — as if it’s “realer” than reality.

You can add Stage 0 as the Platonic Ideal — the pure concept of the thing we hold in our minds.

I’ve talked about the automobile-centric YouTube channel Regular Car Reviews on this blog before, about their reviews of cars that ordinary people drive. They go into why people drive them and how those regular cars affect their daily lives and society at large through the lens of philosophy, sociology, politics, economics, and dick jokes. They’re so good at it that they’re head and shoulders above Dr. Jordan B. Peterson in explaining what postmodernism is.

As I mentioned in that post, they have a video where they do a pretty good job at explaining Baudrillard and what a simulacra is by using the Toyota FJ Cruiser as an example.

You can say the same about pro wrestling:

  • Stage 1: Real fighting involves violent physical confrontation that can result in permanent harm and other consequences.
  • Stage 2: Sanctioned fighting with rules and regulations (i.e. combat sports) is the simulation of what we’d consider a “real fight” while avoiding grievous injury in the spirit of competition.
  • Stage 3: Theatrical fighting (i.e. stage fighting, movie fighting) is the simulation of a real fight or sanctioned fight for entertainment, depicting violence that can be comprehended and even enjoyed by its audience.
  • Stage 4: Pro wrestling is theatrical fighting that has become pure simulacrum — the simulation of a sanctioned fight that’s almost completely divorced from the realities of real fighting, sanctioned fighting, and even other forms of theatrical fighting due to the need to depict realistic violence without inflicting permanent harm upon its participants and without the luxury of physical separation from the audience (pro wrestling matches are live; movies are produced; theater plays are pantomime). It depicts “hyperreal combat” with its own set of rules, tropes, and even subcultures.

I intend to go into greater detail on this subject in a separate blog post (which I have been mulling over for six years now).

Primer to Kayfabe: Post-Irony, Meta-Irony, and Post-Truth

Before we get into the Frame Problems videos, let’s take a detour with this seemingly nonsensical idea of post-irony, meta-irony, and post-truth. If you don’t have any idea on what this is or don’t care for it, then you likely either don’t get Gen Z humor or are at your mental limit when it comes to understanding what’s true and what’s not.

However, I do think it applies as it goes into the assertion that the human mind can’t go past more than three layers of lies and untruths.

  • Layer 0 is honest and sincere, also known as pre-irony. There is no sarcasm, irony, or dishonesty involved. The intent of the message is to be a truthful statement.
  • Layer 1 is basic sarcasm or irony. It requires awareness of the truth to function. Traditional satire works this way, depending on the audience knowing the intent of insincerity for humor.
  • Layer 2 is post-irony or meta-irony. This can get pretty complicated to explain as it has different applications, depending on the intent of the message.

Post-irony is the return to sincerity from irony, either deliberately or by accident. It’s like the irony of an irony. Perhaps it can be karma, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or deliberate confusion.

Post-irony can be meant to expose people who take themselves too seriously — “for the lulz,” as 4channers would say. But it’s not the only reason for it.

Meta-irony is the muddling of sincerity and irony. Not much separates proper meta-irony from bad satire. It can seem sincere, but the intent can be ironic.

Meta-irony is all about the blurring of the lines between truth and irony to the point that you aren’t able to distinguish between them. It can be neither, or it can be both.

This video by oliSUNvia does a pretty good job at explaining meta-irony with the furry example. The statement is meant to raise suspicion while also confusing the listener into overthinking whether the person who said it is indeed admitting to being a furry or just kidding.

The resulting confusion is the joke in itself, suspending the listener between feeling bad about thinking the speaker has a taboo fetish and certain that they indeed have that taboo fetish.

A worked shoot has a similar mechanism. Just think of CM Punk’s infamous pipebomb promo. It’s still being debated a decade later. It’s now known that the promo was planned, but the things he said may not have been. Whichever parts were worked and which were shoot, only CM Punk and Vince McMahon know for sure. That blurry line between work and shoot is why it hit so well.

Online trolls also work the same way. As they hide in anonymity, they battle against other strangers on the Internet to rustle jimmies. Some of them are serious about their positions, while others only defend them to bother the normies. You don’t know for sure if they really are serious or just trolls doing it for the aforementioned lulz and get a sense of superiority by being the rustlers instead of being the rustled.

Some right-wing figures have since adopted a similar strategy, challenging their detractors to public debate not merely to beat them with facts and logic, but also to look more “civil” than them and win by default through better-looking optics.

The reason why I have to talk about this is because I think it’s a good way to make this idea of kayfabe pervading in politics and news media sink in for ordinary people. That’s because both those things are meant to sway the hearts and minds of the masses.

With all of that out of the way, let’s finally get into the videos by Frame Problems.

How Politics Became Pro Wrestling

I remember how my mother would talk about how the presidential candidate (who won) is really kind. I found that interesting as the landscape of Philippine politics seems to be full of players who appeal to ordinary people’s tendency to get parasocial.

They become really attached to the personalities on noontime variety shows and genuinely loathe the villains on their favorite soap operas. Therefore, when a senatorial candidate introduces himself while dancing to a catchy tune for his entire campaign ad, he wins.

I remember back in the 90s while in an SM department store with my mother, a woman passed by a standee of Aga Mulach and squealed at the sight of his image. It wasn’t even the man himself; just a cutout. That moment has been seared into my brain.

Meanwhile, our pro wrestling page gets inundated by bashers who think calling us fake is an exposé, like they’re police raiding a drug lab or Tulfo publicly dressing down a rando on his show for being terrible to another rando on a viral video.

These are people who can’t seem to reconcile the entertainment factor of pro wrestling with its cheesiness — thinking it’s fun to point out how silly it is while also being unwilling to understand that the silliness is the whole point of the exercise. Some even act offended by it.

Of course, they would vote for flashy candidates who promise the impossible. People want to suspend their disbelief and hold onto their faith for a utopia built for them by a messiah. Politicians sell themselves as that messiah by advertising fantasies, much like how pro wrestling weaves fiction to entertain the marks.

Politics have their marks. Religions have their marks. Capitalism has virtually everybody as marks. Those who enter such fields as professionals are smarks. If you get to make a living out of being a smark in the real world, you’re on the right track. We are all suckers for something. That’s how it is to live in a civilized society.

When Fake Growth Leads to Real Violence

When Richard Nixon announced the abandonment of the gold standard, ending international convertibility of the US dollar to gold, the world’s reserve currency technically became money in itself. Before that, it served its original purpose as banknotes that can be traded for gold, which is the real currency that the civilized world trades with.

It was a major part of a series of events colloquially known as the “Nixon Shock” — a pivotal moment in history that transitioned the US and the world from the post-WW2 prosperity in the mid-20th century to a more bleak economic outlook. That move would further solidify the US dollar’s status as the main means of trade for the entire world.

Its role as the “petrodollar” made it even more indispensable until very recently.

Before that, it looked like the party was never going to end. Science kept advancing, technology kept evolving, and the economy kept growing. People could feasibly buy whatever they need and want as long as they can pay for it. Past that, they then have to take out credit, which a lot of them did and still do. The cycle of debit and credit goes on.

As long as the economy keeps growing, it can keep funding science; as long as science keeps advancing, it can keep growing the economy.

When that turning wheel starts slowing down, quick solutions are sought after to get it back up to speed. That’s when violence comes in. That’s when the global superpower finds an excuse to occupy an oil-producing nation. That’s when a big nation invades a smaller nation without reason. That’s when another big nation claims an entire sea for itself.

It also doesn’t help that fiat currency has since become a simulacrum on its own, turning from a representation of value to having its own value held up only by pure belief in the institution.

The kayfabrication of that violence rests mostly in how it’s portrayed in the media. How are you able to convince the masses that they don’t need gold to preserve their wealth? How do you sell the idea of invading another nation over and over again?

The Four Quadrant Model That Explains Media Manipulation

This part of the blog post is going to get contentious. As I was writing this, I realized that the video below is quite biased towards more right-leaning viewpoints. I don’t think that means it’s automatically right-wing and thinking of it as such would prove the points made in it to begin with. I just added this as a preface to state that the takeaway of this section is the model itself.

This one was hard to watch because it uses as an example Ben Affleck’s infamous conniption against Sam Harris in Real Time with Bill Maher, one of the cringiest moments on one of the cringiest shows on television. I used to be a fan of Bill Maher, but then my brain grew a few more folds and I suddenly found him unbearable to listen to. Smug liberals never fail to make me somehow like right-wingers.

So, a contrarian thinker went on a smug liberal’s show and got confronted by a rich, far from sober actor with Dunning-Kruger syndrome who had no business being there.

Eric Weinstein introduces different acronyms to describe what happens when mainstream media is manipulated for propaganda and perpetuation of the status quo. Let’s parse through them and try to understand what he’s talking about.

EGO: Embedded Growth Obligations

The capitalist economy is supposed to keep growing. This infinite growth paradigm can’t be sustained forever because we live on a planet with finite resources. But as the population keeps growing and the people keep wanting more, there is no choice but to look for riskier and more convoluted ways to grow.

GIN: Gated Institutional Narrative

Also known as the media narrative, this is the story that’s propped up by the status quo for purposes of promoting and perpetuating the EGOs. It’s the story that the mainstream media is continuing to program their viewers with.

Cartoon on Gated Institutional Narratives

DISC: Distributed Idea Suppression Complex

This one is a doozy. Basically, the DISC is the structure that protects the GIN from being picked apart and criticized. While the mainstream media is proliferating the GIN, it’s the DISC that maintains it. Only something like a catastrophic event can displace the GIN while the DISC is around, after which a new GIN is put in place and the DISC protects that in turn.

The Four Quadrant Model

Eric Weinstein's Four Quadrant Model for Identifying Media Manipulation

Draw a cartesian plane. The X-axis has the support of the GIN position on the right and opposition to it on the left. The Y-axis has the semblance of moral virtue on top and moral vice on the bottom. The conflict is about wanting to be “on the right side of history.”

On the upper-right quadrant are the ivy-covered dupes, who tend to be cultural elites who are highly educated and support the GIN based on its idealistic moral justification. They are the foot soldiers of the DISC; the gatekeepers who enforce “the right opinion.”

On the upper-left quadrant are the contrarians and independent thinkers, who come from outside the institutional mainstream. They oppose the GIN, but not for the morally-suspect reasons the dupes allege. They would then try to explain themselves, but eventually run into the sacred cows of the GIN and say something that triggers the dupes.

On the lower-left quadrant are the troglodytes, who are the actual boogeymen that the dupes are always on the lookout for. They’re the bigots and racists that the politically correct are afraid of in the first place and are the centerpiece of this conflict.

Their existence of troglodytes provides fuel for the GIN to keep going. The dupes don’t want to become like them and the contrarians have to keep defending themselves to not be labeled as them. When the dupes see smoke, they believe there’s fire, so they label the contrarians as troglodytes on reflex simply because they hold an opposing view.

On the lower-right quadrant are the rent-seeking elites, who sit back and watch with popcorn in hand as the dupes and the contrarians battle it out. It’s their EGO that the GIN is meant to propagate, and the DISC helps them maintain the status quo.

I want to improve this with a mnemonic device of DCBA — Dupes, Contrarians, Barbarians, Aristocrats. Acronyms/initialisms are my preferred mnemonic device for memorizing things.

Troglodytes is a particular term, but we can also just call them “brutes” or “barbarians” since they’re seen as unga bunga seeking to destroy society with their bigotry and discrimination. Rent-seeking elites can be disparagingly called “aristocrats” since they act as if they were born superior to everyone else while being of no real use to the world other than to waste the energy of the sun.

Let’s Apply the Model at a Smaller Scale to a More Recent Example

Take note that I’m likely not doing this as Eric Weinstein intended. I’m just shoehorning it into whatever I can find, so take this with a whole shaker’s worth of salt. This is going to get clumsy.

EDIT(21JUL2023@12:05PM): The more I think about these two examples I give, the more I realize that I missed the mark. They’re not the proper application of this model, even though it can be reappropriated to create a different, albeit adjacent framework. It’s either I need to learn more about it or it’s not that good to begin with.

As of this writing, the SAG-AFTRA strike is ongoing. Writers in the film, television, and other adjacent industries are having labor disputes with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents over 350 American film and television production companies. This strike has put major productions to a halt, rendering Hollywood practically barren for the first time in a very long time.

I’ve been seeing posts on social media of people disparaging the writers for protesting. They argue that the writers who are clamoring for higher pay have allowed lambasted titles like Velma, She-Hulk, and Forspoken to come out of the woodwork.

The gated institutional narrative is that the writers are being paid what they deserve in the first place, so there’s no need for them to strike and they just need to make better stuff that people actually want to consume.

The contrarians are the writers and actors who are striking against Hollywood’s institutions for better pay, work conditions, and benefits.

The dupes are those dweebs who think the writers are getting what they deserve, especially with all the “bad writing” they’re seeing in TV shows, movies, and games. They hate that the media they’re consuming are not exactly to their liking.

The stigmatized narrative is that the writers are trying to get paid more for shit writing and being woke. Other industries have also been seeing anti-woke sentiments lately.

The troglodytes are the writers and producers who have been pumping out the stuff that people have been hating on in the first place — they do exist, but they’re not the majority.

The rent-seeking elites are the Hollywood studios that are underpaying writers while making billions from the productions they help create.

It somehow works and I’m able to make it fit, although it does take some mental contortionism. Perhaps I just need to practice and get better at using it. I’ve been able to apply it to a couple of public issues I’ve encountered since.

In those subsequent applications, I saw that not all the GINs are gated and institutional as the label is also applicable to popularly-held opinions at large. Not all the dupes are ivy-covered as I’m also seeing the slightly more unwashed masses getting into the picture. Not all the elites are merely rent-seeking; most of them are just unscrupulous.

Let’s Flip the Script

Here’s another example. There’s that issue with DDB Philippines losing their contract with the Department of Tourism for fumbling their “Love the Philippines” campaign.

The GIN is that it’s over plagiarism charges. That’s not really a gated institutional narrative, but a popular narrative that got out of hand as the issue went viral.

The contrarian narrative is that there’s nothing wrong with using stock footage as it’s commonly used in advertising anyway. DDB just screwed up in using the wrong kind of footage for the locations they were supposed to advertise.

The dupes are the netizens who disparaged both DDB and DoT for using stock footage from locations outside of the country to represent tourist spots in the Philippines.

The stigmatized narrative is that both DDB and DoT don’t care at all and just made the ad as a front for skimming government funds.

The troglodytes are the unscrupulous marketers who employ dirty tactics in bad faith like outright plagiarism, exploiting freelancers and even applicants for free work, and so on.

The rent-seeking elites are the government, who continue to perpetuate the corruption that has pervaded since time immemorial.

You see how it’s somewhat applicable, but doesn’t exactly fit in the same way that Eric Weinstein designed it for? It seems that if you’re applying it to social media instead of mainstream news media, it still fits somehow, but not in the same way. It’s missing the need to promote the EGO as it’s understood that it’s all part of the system that is perpetuated by EGOs.

This is where I really lose the plot, so bear with me.

It’s still media manipulation, but the narrative is being controlled by the majority of netizens who just want to use any excuse they can to hate on government institutions while also ignoring the nuances of the issue. There’s also something similar going on lately with PAGCOR’s new logo that was said to have cost ₱3 million, yet looks like scuffed branding for a petroleum-based product.

Or it could be a GIN perpetuated by those government institutions to have an excuse to kick DDB Philippines to the curb. There seems to be a lot of political shenanigans going on behind the scenes, as it always is when this country’s government is involved. I’m not an insider, so I can only speculate.

‘This Will Make You Smarter’ by John Brockman

This book was published 11 years ago, so perhaps it can use some updating. However, the numerous ideas in it are still worth reading about. Just know that it’s a very dense book as it’s a compilation of 150 concepts from various scientists that, in their own opinion, can expand your mind and make you see the world more clearly.

It’s like Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferriss, but not as easily outdated.

This is where Eric Weinstein gave his answer of kayfabe as a concept for improving one’s scientific thinking. That answer gained a lot of attention due to its uniqueness and lateral thinking. Serious academic types perhaps scoffed at it, or maybe I don’t know enough serious academics to distinguish whether they’d turn their noses up on it or somehow entertain it.

To think that something from pro wrestling can be considered scientific in any way may seem ludicrous to a lot of people. But as the years passed, much of what was said in his essay would come to pass, especially when a WWE Hall of Famer became the President of the United States of America. Then a pandemic happened, even more people thought of vaccines as poison, and some of them even started following a guy named Q.

Q is like that anonymous general manager who sent messages to a laptop that Michael Cole read from in WWE RAW all those years ago.

Maybe I’ll write a post about this book once I finish reading it.

Got Feedback?

Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.

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