You know Matt and Jeff Hardy. Not personally by name, or even from their semi-legendary run as the Hardy Boyz during the Attitude Era. It's more that you know someone exactly like the Hardys. This is doubly so if you live in the South and were born sometime in the 1970s.
That kid you knew who smoked weed and drew skulls on his Trapper Keeper while muttering about how he was going to leave town the second he graduated? That's a Hardy. The boy who blew his allowance on a 1-2 shopping trip at Spencer's Gifts and Hot Topic? Hardy. The girl who got a misspelled tattoo, then went a second time to get the heart dedicated to "Tomy" turned into "To my mortal fuckin' enemies?" Pure Hardy. There are two Hardy boys, and yet the Hardys are legion.
From the day wrestling's foremost Hardys showed up on the national stage in the 1990s, they have channeled the kind of inchoate teenage angst that can't quite manifest in becoming a punker, politician, or club kid. For all its localized and specific class connotations, Hardyism offers a glimpse of what a specific slice of teendom, from a specific set of years, thought was cool.
Witness Jeff Hardy's creation, Willow, a character he portrayed in an indie federation started with his brother back in the mid-90s, and which has returned in TNA. There's something deeply grating about it—the voice, the costume, the parasol—which speaks to someone who took Neil Gaiman's Sandman way too seriously. Or Jeff's part-time music career, a wholly unremarkable endeavor mostly noteworthy for the fact that he's been indulged enough to have cut multiple albums.
This is not to cut the Hardys down so much as it is an attempt to get them into context. It's certainly not to denigrate their skills as wrestlers, as they're a pair of super-fun high-flyers with a half-disturbing, half-admirable willingness to disregard their own safety if it makes fans happy. For two decades, they've mastered a very narrow sense of uncool-as-cool that is deeply relatable to any teenager who can't quite go over the brink to counterculture. The fact is that, as uncool as their attempts at deep commentary on life's slings and arrows—well, mostly Jeff's, if we're being honest—can be, the Hardys are two of the most bracingly earnest men in pro wrestling. Willow is so goofy that the character's build-up reads more as cringe comedy than anything in pro wrestling's mainstream. Pro wrestling will make you embarrassed for performers on a regular basis, but this is something else.
Matt, for his part, is equally earnest, but in a way that more closely resembles a sad puppy than his more popular brother's attempt at blacklight poster profundity. Notoriously, when Matt Hardy's real-life friend and onscreen rival, Edge, ran off with his long-term girlfriend, hall of famer Lita, Matt was fired even though he was basically a hapless bystander in the situation. Edge was on the verge of breaking out as an iconic star and Lita already was; they were untouchable, even though the backstage code demanded a sacrifice. Matt got his job back shortly thereafter when fans freaked out about it and, more importantly, when he inexplicably offered to turn the messy real life love triangle into a wrestling angle. Vince McMahon was keen on it, Edge became a superstar by way of one of the most uncomfortable storylines of the modern era, and Matt maintained his midcard status. He was let go in 2010, whereupon he returned to his indie roots.
All of this serves as prelude to the inexplicable: the Hardys are currently feuding, and it is arguably the most entertaining and archly ironic feud of the past few years. More inexplicable is that they're doing it in TNA, wrestling's dumping ground for both hope and wrestlers who have outlived their usefulness to WWE. On July 5, they're going to carry that feud over into a backyard match in their tiny hometown of Cameron, NC. Fireworks will be involved.
The feud started in standard brother-versus-brother fashion. Matt, long overshadowed by Jeff, was, in his words, "broken" by him during a feud which saw Matt slowly losing his mind. Matt showed up dressed as Willow—a move rife with symbolism, since the character represents something or other in Jeff's psyche—and choked Jeff out. In the process, he revealed his new motif: giant poofy hair combined with a terrible and faintly Dinklage-esque accent from some unplaceable corner of Fantasy Europe.
A contract signing was set up at Matt Hardy's real life home and the video package is the out-of-ring wrestling moment of the year. It features dirt bikes, an argument over toys, sweeping music, a table bump on precisely the worst table to use, and a baby being thrown through the air. It's the pro wrestling equivalent of an especially beautiful B-movie.
All of it is laughable, but remember that the Hardys are and have always been earnest to a nearly painful degree. This is almost certainly being done with at least some ironic intent. But then you think back—to the music, to the affair, to fucking Willow, to their capability and willingness to jump off 13 foot high ladders to get that little spike of love from the crowd—and you wonder if it works so well because they're still so deeply earnest. It's impossible to say which is better: that they're orchestrating the joke or that they have no idea it's going on around them.
As it stands, this strange, wonderful feud is the jolt both TNA and the Hardys need. TNA is perpetually near bankruptcy and notably prone to bad decisions, but this Hardy feud—coupled with some good old-fashioned quality wrestling—has saved them, at least until next year's crisis. For the Hardys, they're suddenly fashionable once more, again thanks to how deliriously not-cool they are when they try to act cool. Jeff is rumored to be headed back to WWE, clean and sober, and he's got at least a few more good years in him; the attention will certainly seal a good last contract and probably that last WWE run. Matt is older—he's already 41—and probably won't go back, but he's cemented himself as someone who can carry a marginal storyline into the indies as he closes things out.
This is all a far cry from the Hardys' drug problems and personal issues, both of which defined the brothers for long stretches of their careers. Goofy or not—and it is goofy—their feud is the sort of wrestling we can enjoy as pure spectacle, but there's an understated feel-good story in there, too. The Hardy renaissance is here, and it is hilarious.