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.