I watched for a little while years ago, even then, I was just a casual fan, but I’ve never come across anyone who actually thought it was “real”. I used to have the same issue, but I realized it’s just a matter of suspension of disbelief. When I watch a movie, I know that’s not actually happening, and if they do a good job selling it, I enjoy the film more. That’s also what makes for good wrestling. If a wrestler does a convincing move or does a good job convincing me he was hurt, and they do a good job of managing the ebb and flow of the match, with a little bit of that suspension, it can be compelling. It’s like watching a real sport, except you know there’s going to be real drama and momentum shifts, where if I’m watching football, it might be enthralling or it might be a snooze.
The stories are a big part of it too. Think of a big boxing match or a big game between two rival teams. The media will hype it up and it becomes interesting. You become invested in supporting your favorite athlete or team. Regardless of how the match actually turns out, they use how it was promoted and where the story is going to go to help make a good match that fits the narrative. You can create underdog stories, comebacks, flukes, cheats, all kinds of things.
And the best part is, unlike in sports, where I have a favorite team, a few others I like, a few teams I hate, and a bunch of teams i’m indifferent about, with wrestling, a huge part of the fun is getting in with loving the face and hating the heel. That is, there’s always someone to cheer and always someone to boo. And unlike a team that might just be a rival, those heels play into it and make you want to hate them.
So, yeah, it is kind of low brow, and it plays heavily into a lot of that tribal sort of “us vs. them” mentality, but it can be fun. Even today, though I don’t watch, I’ll occasionally stop if I’m flipping through channels and see a match. If a friend were to invite me over to see a pay-per-view, I’d be down for that too, and I’d get them to explain the storylines so I could get into it.