Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"It's Just Wrestling" Doesn't Cut Muster: It's Time to Raise the Discourse

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“It’s just pro wrestling.”

“Pro wrestling has always catered to meatheads.”

“You’re just going to have to lighten up.”

The above are the platitudes that I have personally seen be thrown at people who have complaints about the social oeuvre of WWE. They’re used as latent excuses for the company’s shitty attitudes towards anyone who isn’t a white, straight, Christian male. Excuse me if I don’t buy into it. The last time I checked, pro wrestling didn’t require you to get a special type code to prove that you would meet the standards for entry into the Skull and Bones before you had to watch it. It’s also true that pro wrestling ≠ WWE.

“Why do you watch WWE? Why can’t you support other companies that deserve your love?”

First off, who’s to say that I, or Danielle Matheson, don’t support those companies? I’d be willing to bet there’s far more evidence out there that suggests that we are “whole hog” wrestling fans, to borrow a term from the pitmasters in North Carolina. You know what though? That is completely and utterly irrelevant to this conversation.

The thing is, WWE, for better or worse, has a lot of things that we as fans like. There are people within the company that we support and who deserve our love, so let’s get this straw man off the table right away. Why should I have to choose between being aghast at the shit that The Rock says that is awful and supporting people like Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro, Damien Sandow, and even CM Punk? Am I wanting it both ways? Yes, I am, but the truth of the matter is that I shouldn’t have to pick and choose between watching a company that has my favorite wrestlers in it and one that is accepting of everyone regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or aesthetic appearance.

Furthermore, commenter Dylan Waco (Hales), made a point in the massive comment thread to Danielle’s that I thought was interesting even if I don’t agree with the implications of it at all. He argued that pro wrestling companies that do end up striving to do societal good can sometimes cater to meatheads who come into the audience looking to see some of their baser desires come true. He pointed to the commentary in the Ophidian/Saturyne match at King of Trios night 3, with one of the announcers flat out saying that Saturyne deserved what she was getting for getting in the ring. For as much social good as Chikara does, missteps like that end up sounding way worse than if it happened in WWE.

But the reason why I disagree with that criticism is because for the most part, Chikara is doing a service by building a fanbase that’s built upon reasonable people coming to their shows and supporting any wrestler in the ring, not just ones that have filled the archetypes of what a main eventer should look like. They don’t fall into the traps of catering to sexist, racist, or otherwise awful tendencies, because they know that “it’s just pro wrestling” is not a valid excuse in 2013.

Society is evolving. Slowly but surely, it’s becoming more and more unacceptable to live in strata where the color of one’s skin or gender decides what rights and privileges are deemed to you. Obviously, these social ills aren’t cured yet, and I’d argue that we still have a long way to go. But if society evolves, and if the modes of entertainment are supposed to reflect that evolution (if not reflect the evolution that society at large still needs to undergo), then shouldn’t pro wrestling companies also be expected to evolve too?

While I’m out and proud as a wrestling fan to anyone who may or may not ask, I am also aghast that people still think of wrestling fans as barbarians without any second thought. The biggest reason for that is that I can kinda see their point. I don’t want to generalize all wrestling fans as having the backwards mindsets that are stereotyped onto everyone, but then I see the general tone of critical responses to Danielle, and the battle I fight for my own respectability as a wrestling fan feels all the more uphill.

With every response not only excusing the Rock Concert as an inevitability, but as deserved because Vickie Guerrero is an awful character, I wonder if people just have axes to grind and were using this specific example to lay into what they thought of as “political correctness run amok.” Here’s a newsflash. I don’t think anyone defending Guerrero here will disagree that she’s an effective bad guy character because she has deplorable moral fiber. That being said, what’s so heinous about wanting some peace and quiet so she could do her job? What did she ever do to The Rock that would cause him such great annoyance to write an entire song about how awful she is to the point where the entire lede of it was about her physical appearance?

Yes, the same kinds of supremely terrible things were said about a man, Paul Heyman. Calling him Twinkie Tits and implying that because he hasn’t seen his penis in years that he’s an awful person is terrible too. The entire Rock Concert was an abomination before the Baby Bryan Danielson, but the rub is that Heyman doesn’t get the attention because he’s allowed to have a point. When he or CM Punk jab against Rocky, they come with facts and poignancy. Guerrero? All she does is make facial expressions and say EXCUSE ME, like she should accept her fate. To CORRECTLY analyze that isn’t making some bold white knighting statement that all women should be protected. It isn’t lionizing Guerrero. It is a statement of near fact that WWE treats women as second class citizens, and that it makes women fans feel like pieces of shit in theory. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’d watch a show that would make me feel bad like that for who I am.

Not tuning in won’t change that as long as people out there are willing to go to the wall to defend calling a woman a bitch because she is a bitch without thinking what the implications are or thinking about what she did to deserve that moniker. Saying that “it’s just wrestling” does nothing but excuse it. I ask you, why should we as fans just accept terrible people as our heroes just because? Why should I, or especially Danielle, shut up about it? Shutting up doesn’t change a goddamn thing.

That’s why we need to change the discourse. That’s why we need to work on finding a dialogue and trying to work through these things without devolving into an argument where one side asks that their right to use the word “bitch” is off the table. I’m not saying you have to agree with me in lockstep, because then I’d be no better than Vince McMahon. But I do want people to be open to the fact that maybe, just maybe, being a woman wrestling fan shouldn’t mean that you have a drastically different experience watching for the negative.


  1. Oh man, this week of wrestling blogging has been really shook my faith in my fellow commenters. I generally assume that since the people I choose to interact with on the webs are good and fun that most people are. That is clearly not the case.

  2. 1) Vickie is hot.
    2) People rag on Sting for getting betrayed and all that noise in the 90s, but wouldn't a thoroughly good guy be a breath of fresh air in the WWE now?
    3) You and others talk about how progressive ACW is, but their commentary during matches involving women is 10x worse than the issue you had with that Saturyne v Ophidian match.
    4) This is also really bad in tabletop gaming and other parts of nerd culture.

    The biggest issue I had with The Rock is that he's a popular guy getting a crowd of people to laugh and dog pile on someone who is not popular. Right or wrong this sort of attitude is just awful and makes me super uncomfortable.

    Much love, see you at NPWD, fight the power, etc etc etc

  3. I didn't comment on Danielle's piece because I didn't feel I had anything to add, but reading this now, maybe I should have done. I still don't have much to add beyond saying that while I might not agree with them on all the technicalities, I'm right behind both TH and Danielle on the overall point.

    To the people saying "Vickie Guerrero is a corrupt authority figure, why shouldn't The Rock make fun of her?" I say this - it'd be fine, *if* he was making fun of the heel shit she pulls. Making fun of her for being fat and over forty is not even slightly the same thing and if you think it is, you're deluded.

  4. All I have to say about this is, it's a storyline! I Watch every week and every week there is something like this! If someone wasn't okay with it then they wouldn't allow it to happen to them! I am 100% positive that if she said no that she didn't feel comfortable about what The Rock did, it wouldn't have happened! People Just need to stop taking this so seriously or turn off the the show!

  5. I was going to leave a huge comment laying out my points to this, but not going to get into this crap tonight. I will say this. I generally agree with you Tom, that some change needs to happen with how women are treated and portrayed on WWE television. I still however stand by my earlier statements. While being called fat and a Cougar may not be the same as calling her out on her track record (which Cena pointed out during the whole AJ/Cena affair BS, but it was quickly pushed under the rug), if it means Vickie has to take some crap from Rock, or someone else, I would say Vickie deserves it. If you think that makes me a bad person, well, that's your opinion. My wife of nearly 20 years thought the crap with Vickie wasn't that bad. She (like most of us) are tired of the Rock's schtick. And I think that's something we can all agree on.

    That being said, I don't exclude anyone from pro wrestling fandom based on what they think or whatever. Generally speaking, I like all wrestling fans. Even if I don't agree with some of your points. But it just seems to me that some are taking the things they see on WWE much too personally. And that's not an excuse or stance against change at all, it's an observation from someone who doesn't blog about wrestling, and doesn't deeply analyze it like some people do.

    1. Man writes column - "I pretty much agree with you."

      Woman writes column - 20 comments about how bitches are bitches

      Good game.

  6. I didn't comment on Danille's post 'cause it was a madhouse but I'll throw my 2 cents in here. Anyone that doesn't see the WWE's misogyny, racism and homophobia is being willfully ignorant. The lone incident with Vickie and the Rock MIGHT not have really been that bad, but it's just one more thing to add to this huge list of how the WWE is blowing it when it comes to dealing with women and minorities. A sin even more egregious when you consider that they're supposedly programing aimed at families and children.

    But whatever, I'm just a guy on the internet that likes watching dudes pretend to fight each other.

  7. Great post, couldn't agree more!

  8. Raising the discourse needs to be past the point of complaining about an individual sexist, racist, or homophobic things an individual wrestler in WWE aysbecause it goes nowhere. The Rock will be making movies again in three months and everyone will be back to talking about how awesome CM Punk is. When Cena made some diva cry for some reason there was similar outrage, perhaps larger. I saw people saying they wouldn't watch WWE again. But then WrestleMania season started and all the potential discourse raisers became 13 year-olds themselves.

    I don't have any illusions (I frankly think they're delusions at this point) of the WWE changing for the better when it comes to it's racism, sexism, and homophobia. It is these things because it's run by unaccountable, right wing millionaires who have been told they're geniuses for the past several decades, and who know they have the near undying support of most of their remaining fans, including the ones whose gender, race, and sexual identity they openly mock, including the ones who openly criticize them for this.

    Change can not and will not happen if the loudest voices for change are also the most diehard supporters of the company in it's current state regardless. Wal-Mart isn't going to change its practices if even its most vociferousness critics are spotted shopping at the company on a weekly basis, because there's no reason for those people on the fence to take the issue seriously. Different rules don't apply to wrestling fans. Do you want change or do you want CM Punk? If you want both, you're not going to get one and not going to enjoy the other that much at a point.

    1. “Raising the discourse needs to be past the point of complaining about [the] individual sexist, racist, or homophobic things an individual wrestler in WWE [says because] it goes nowhere.”

      Men who made the biggest buildings started out with a single brick.

      When people like TH and Danielle complain about one individual’s choice of language, it starts the ball rolling on a larger dialogue about how WWE itself approves of such language (and has for years), how the industry itself looks rampantly misogynistic and homophobic from the outside looking in, and how wrestling fans as a whole have generally allowed that culture to continue existing by virtue of its support of the industry.

      Sure, you could make the ‘larger’ argument first, but you’d have to present some specific examples to back your claims and theories up — and that goes back to the whole ‘complaining about an individual remark’ situation. You can talk all the live-long day about how pro wrestling bathes itself in a culture of misogyny and homophobia, but the generalized arguments won’t work as well as specific examples of that culture, and The Rock presented as good an example as ever on Monday.

      “Different rules don't apply to wrestling fans. Do you want change or do you want CM Punk? If you want both, you're not going to get one and not going to enjoy the other that much at a point.”

      …well, shit, I got nothin’ for this. Anyone else wanna take this on? I don’t have the intelligence or skill required. (I don’t mean that as a sarcastic dig at John, either; I really am a dumbass. Look at ‘Complete Shot’, for God’s sake.)

    2. "Men who made the biggest buildings started out with a single brick."

      We've been looking at that same brick for years. We'll be looking at that same brick for several more years. But this is not about building something, it's about tearing something down. Chipping at a brick here, a brick there, but spending most of your time doing renovations and telling people how awesome the building is not going to really change things. You need to take a fucking wrecking ball to it, or you're just deluding yourself, wasting your time, and probably unnecessarily stressing yourself out trying to have it both ways when you can't.

      "and how wrestling fans as a whole have generally allowed that culture to continue existing by virtue of its support of the industry. "

      By virtue of fans support for WWE, not the "industry" as a whole. Most companies have no where near the issues WWE has and the art as a whole should not be smeared by the gross misconduct of one company that represents just a fraction of the wrestling produced.

      "Sure, you could make the ‘larger’ argument first, but you’d have to present some specific examples to back your claims and theories up"

      That's not what I'm talking about. I'm pointing out that whether it's John Cena or The Rock saying something sexist or women getting fired for being pregnant or one of the best wrestlers in the world being used just as a trainer or them hiring untrained models and chastising the trained female wrestlers if they get to good, there's a context and consistency there that has to be at the forefront, not just blaming The Rock, or Cena, or Johnny Ace. Those people could disappear from the WWE tomorrow (The Rock will in a few months) and nothing will be different about the way the WWE treats women. Or CM Punk could come out and say something and everyone will forget how WWE treats women until the next week-long controversy. Repeat.