While watching WWF Smackdown tonight, I noticed something about the perennial question: "Is professional wrestling fake or is it real?"

That's a false dichotomy.

As far as I can tell, based only on observing things on TV, "perfessional wrassling" is both real and fake. I believe it's exhaustingly physical improvisation with a predetermined outcome.

I cannot doubt that, no matter how much of the rivalry and violence may be trumped up, the work these folks do demands athleticism in the highest degree. Even just pretending to beat the shit out of someone is a lot of work. At a minimum, what's real is the incredible effort put out by the wrestlers. They work at least as hard as any dancer or conventional athlete, showing agility merely by not breaking their necks.

On the other hand, the trash talk and rivalries among the wrestlers are probably scripted like a soap opera. As in any line of work, colleagues disagree with each other, but either these guys are so corn-fed that they can't help speaking in clichés or they've got most of their lines written for them.

The harm done in the ring, I'm guessing, is exaggerated. I think some injuries are genuine, but I think most punches are pulled, most impacts are softened, and most reactions are overstated. Occasionally, someone really is harmed. And in every match, people really are hurt -- that is, they feel pain as a result of their exertion and the fact that they're pretending to have been injured so far as to be unable to throw a pin.

Seen in this light, I think wrestling is a masculine fine art, just as ballet is a feminine fine art. (Say what you will about male ballet dancers and their visible packages; the form itself is unmistakably graceful and harmonious.) There's an element of improv, and an element of real violence, and taken together they form a spectacle unique in sports and in fine art.