MY MESSAGE TO THE PRO-WRESTLING JOURNALISTS & PODCASTERS OF THE FUTURE
- INTRODUCTION -
At the end of 2016 my weekly podcast, The Work of Wrestling, will go on hiatus. During that hiatus I plan on restructuring the show so that, in the future, it will be distributed in a highly focused, seasonal format. I do not yet know how long that hiatus will be and I do not yet know how long those seasons will be, but I am excited about the prospect of reinvention and return.
While I still plan to continue writing about wrestling whenever the mood strikes, it feels like a good time to offer a "see you later" (rather than a goodbye) to The Pro-Wrestling Community, particularly to the younger writers & podcasters currently honing their crafts. You are the ones who will take up this mantle, drag it kicking and screaming it into the 21st Century and beyond, and change the way people think about professional wrestling (for the better). Your passion, your ingenuity, and your progressive perspectives will be needed for our Community to evolve.
This is my message to you...
- NOT JUST ENTERTAINMENT -
I first started writing about wrestling in the summer of 2012.
What began as a weekly, angry, "funny" Raw Review on a friend's blog evolved into this website and my podcast where I analyze professional wrestling from an arts-criticism perspective. Since that first Raw Review, not a day has gone by where pro-wrestling, particularly the WWE's brand of pro-wrestling, didn't occupy a prevalent space in my mind.
In all that time, I discovered that everything I'd ever learned studying film, philosophy, political science, social justice, theater, and writing was applicable to professional wrestling. I discovered that Wrestling Arts Criticism was even more effective than I could have predicted, that using this style of criticism to explicate promos, analyze classic matches, examine inequality, and try to understand the psychology of viewers yielded positive, edifying results for both myself and my readers & listeners. This perspective made pro-wrestling seem both ancient and new, an important cog in our ever-changing storytelling machinery. I certainly made some mistakes in my analyses, rants, and arguments along the way, but I learned from those mistakes, and have made efforts not to repeat them.
I learned that like any narrative medium, pro-wrestling is an expression of an individual's priorities and interests, and in the larger sense pro-wrestling is a reflection of our culture's morality (or lack thereof). Like any other narrative medium, pro-wrestling uses the tools of its craft (the spoken word, athletics, the Three-Act-Structure, music, video-editing, writing, improvisation) to push audiences toward The Moment of Pop (catharsis).
That means pro-wrestling is incredibly relevant to individuals and to society, and therefore deserving of more than the disrespect it so often elicits even within The Pro-Wrestling Community. One of the cures to that disrespect is to champion the truth.
The truth is that pro-wrestling is art.
Just writing that and saying that is important, hence why I begin almost every episode of my podcast with, "I believe professional wrestling is an art". I wanted my listeners to absorb that message every time they hit the play button. I wanted them to want to hear me say it, for that phrase to be an affirmation of something right and true and good. It's an idea that has steadily become more ingrained in the pro-wrestling community, and it has started to affect the way people think about and discuss the medium.
Where people once defended pro-wrestling by saying, "It's entertainment!" or "It's not fake, it's scripted!", they are now emboldened to say, "It's art". Another (more effective) tool has been added to their conversational tool-belt.
That's an improvement because "Pro-Wrestling is an art" is an accurate claim, and it's likelier to inspire dialogue among fans and non-fans than more familiar arguments.
- WHY YOU SHOULD STOP BEING PRETENTIOUS -
Thinking of pro-wrestling as art is not an improvement because it gives fans the opportunity to be pretentious pro-wrestling-aficionados, though. I can see, as the idea of pro-wrestling as art continues to gain momentum, the pretentiousness and exclusivity already present in our community mutating into the sort of snootiness that thrives in other arts like theater, poetry, opera, and film. "Pro-wrestling is an art!" must not become, "I understand why pro-wrestling is great and you don't and that's why I'm better than you!"
That pretentious perspective is a mistake, and it's a mistake easily made in a culture where "being right" is our most prized currency. We have to be careful not to let the exclusionary & reactionary nature of our fandom inform our idea of pro-wrestling's artistic merit. Art is the greatest of human inventions, and pretentiousness is the enemy of art. Pretentiousness is an affront to the very purpose and value of all art.
Art is one of the few things that is inherently meant to be for all, by all. The inclusiveness of artistic experience and art's ability to celebrate our differences while revealing our commonality is art's strength. Each of us, however we can, must combat the destructive, obnoxious, cliqueish behavior of all artistic communities, all fandoms, and resist the temptation to believe that certain arts are for certain people and that certain arts are of a higher caliber than others.
In film school, I heard people say things like, "Film is the highest art because it incorporates the best qualities of all the other arts."
In creative writing class, I heard poets snicker and guffaw at the idea of rap being poetry by another name.
In pro-wrestling, I've heard fans dismiss other fans as being nothing more than "dumb kids and superficial chicks" because they like a particular Superstar.
All of that is, very simply, stupid.
Such thoughts represent a break from intelligent discourse, a break from the reality of the arts, and a brazen willingness to remain ignorant.
Pretentiousness is a celebration of stupidity.
Shakespeare's best work, for example, is not superior to Steve Austin vs Bret Hart at WrestleMania XIII. They're on the same level because they're indicative of mastery in their respective artistic mediums. That statement isn't an unrealistic claim and it isn't a self-important badge of honor for "getting it". It's a statement of truth based on the facts of these arts, pushing us toward a deeper level of insight into how and why human beings tell their stories.
Pro-wrestling doesn't need to come up to any other art's level, we need to come up to pro-wrestling's level. The fundamentals of the craft need to be discussed accurately so that we do them justice. Imagine if we'd spent decades analyzing film as if it was carpentry; that analysis would be a cluttered mess. While all of pro-wrestling journalism is not a cluttered mess, much of it lacks focus and much of it lacks any awareness of the reality of wrestling being performance art. A summary of what took place on RAW peppered with the occasional opinion of "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" is not analysis.
It's not anything at all.
- SO WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN? -
None of this means that everyone who writes and talks about wrestling needs to suddenly transform into a "sociopolitical art critic". And it doesn't mean that a shift in our collective consciousness toward Wrestling Arts Criticism will negate the inherent appeal of a rumor or "dirt". All of this means everyone in their respective fields aiming for more specific, respectable targets.
There will always be dirt, regardless of whether or not I'm a fan of dirt. But a more respectful, diligent environment can improve the criteria for reporting dirt or "breaking wrestling news". Even some of today's dirt sheets are more than just dirt sheets, emphasizing the need for fact-checked research, contributing to an environment that encourages maturity in a realm so often mired in a blend of boys-club-chest-beating and outright lies.
We're getting better, despite what the angry and the cynical want you to believe, and we're going to keep getting better so long as we continue to make it so.
- WRESTLING IS ART, ART IS SOCIETY, WRESTLING IS SOCIETY -
In addition to these shifts in how we perceive and analyze the craft, we've begun the hard work of addressing often ignored prejudices in The Pro-Wrestling Community. Scores of WWE fans, unbeknownst to the wider world, started a feminist movement in professional wrestling with #GiveDivasAChance in 2015, and this evolved into #WomensWrestling at present.
Some might not acknowledge that this is a feminist movement because of the misinformation and the stigma surrounding the word feminism, but it is a feminist movement (a push toward equality for women), and that's good. This realization could lead some pro-wrestling fans to research the complex history of feminism and discover that "feminism" is not synonymous with "hating men", nor is it an attempt to castrate men and institute a matriarchy; such understandings of feminism are the result of misinformation.
The feminist social media movement in pro-wrestling, representing a vast and diverse community of wrestling fans and wrestlers, would go on to affect the WWE's language and the WWE's booking in 2015 and 2016. The company dropped the term "Diva" when referring to women, reinstated the WWE Women's Championship at WrestleMania 32, and has begun booking women in main event matches at pay-per-views and flagship shows.
This seemed impossible just a couple years ago. But it happened. And it happened because wrestling fans demanded it. A cynic dismisses this as nothing more than a business tactic, a cheap ploy to satisfy the "PC Police", and rake in some of that sweet Ronda Rousey money. I see the looks of inspiration on the faces of children at live events watching Bayley, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Naomi, Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Natalya, and more, and that makes me feel better about the future.
The work continues because the work is far from finished, though. More and more voices representing other marginalized and dismissed groups of people within our Pro-Wrestling Community continue to lend their perspectives to a previously homogenized critical landscape. Should this continue on its natural course, pro-wrestling will cease to be analyzed by the few, for the few.
It will be forced to acknowledge reality, answer for its more regressive traditions and antiquated perspectives, and evolve into a more egalitarian, maturer representation of our inherently diverse society. This will all be for the betterment of professional wrestling because it will result in new ideas, new discussions, and new heroes.
- THE END OF THE IWC -
None of this means professional wrestling will become a giant Kumbaya group meditation where pro-wrestling journalists do trust falls before discussing TLC and fans start huddling together in "safe spaces" before discussing the etymology of the word "smark".
But those destined to inherent Pro-Wrestling Analysis can choose, right now, how they want to help shape this community's future. What exactly do you want "Internet Wrestling Community" to mean twenty years from now? Do you even want that term to exist twenty years from now?
I believe we should all scrub "Internet Wrestling Community" or "IWC" from our minds right this instant. That phrase inspires an irrational degree of negativity and it's also laughably antiquated.
I believe we are simply The Pro-Wrestling Community, and that this Pro-Wrestling Community contains an array of perspectives, differing priorities, and combating ideologies. And that's fine. That's what a community is.
A phrase like The Pro-Wrestling Community eliminates the stigma that surrounds the internet, acknowledges that the internet isn't some newfangled form of communication, and it includes all those pro-wrestling fans and future pro-wrestling fans who derive joy simply from watching wrestling rather than engaging in passionate discussions about it on social media. The internet is so normalized that it does not require a formal designation as it relates to various fandoms. I don't ever recall hearing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe Internet Community (the MCUIC), because that would be stupid.
I do hear about "Marvel fans", however, and such a phrase adequately covers it. Eliminating phrases like "smark" and "IWC" from our vocabulary also lessons the likelihood that we'll veer into hypocrisy with our actions and our opinions. I've often criticized the internet and "internet fans" whilst using the internet to do so. That's never sat well with me. I knew there was something worth criticizing, but it was hard to use the language of modern pro-wrestling culture within my arguments without undermining my arguments. This paradox is the result of a phrase like "internet fan" being too broad a term to describe a very specific behavior of rudeness at live events and online. To claim, "These internet fans today are ruining wrestling!" is to ignore the reality that there are a lot of internet fans who are sustaining everything that's still good in wrestling. Specificity will be our friend as we move into the future.
A phrase like "internet fan" or "smark" also allows writers and podcasters to distance themselves from fans they deem undesirable, acting as if those fans aren't a part of The Pro-Wrestling Community. That attempt to establish a safe superiority is a clever way of ignoring problems within this community rather than attempting to directly fix those problems. Continuing to segment ourselves off into these hyper-opinionated sects of casuals, diehards, indies, or corporates has not been working, and such a path ignores that we are all still staring at the same squared circle and that we are all searching for The Moment of Pop.
Ending the destructive phrase IWC is an actionable idea that we can set in motion today. You can choose, in your own life, to stop saying and thinking that phrase. Making such a decision will eliminate whatever negative feelings it inspires; the ridicule and condescension with which people talk about "Internet Fans" can be cut out and replaced with a healthier acknowledgement that our community is more than a seedy message board and more than than an easily-pleased child.
We are The Pro-Wrestling Community (PWC), the good, the bad, the indifferent, and everything in-between.
- UNSUBSCRIBING IS EASY -
Another actionable idea for improving the future is to stop poisoning our minds with bad ideas and other people's anger. We can just stop listening to divisive, stupid perspectives that see fit to bludgeon our ears with their so-called righteous opinions. We can also protect ourselves from the sense of obligation social media instills in us (it's not necessary to reply to every Tweet, Follow everyone back, read every think-piece, listen to every podcast, and befriend ever follower especially if social media engagement makes you anxious or angry). Hitting the "Unsubscribe" button, the "Mute" button, and the "Unfollow" button is very easy and sometimes necessary. And you do not owe anyone an explanation for choosing to not engage in something you know is unhealthy for your mind.
And not buying someone's tee-shirt (voting with your wallet) is even easier.
Taking that time and money and allocating it to worthier, more gracious, and more intelligent commentators is beneficial to one's soul. Removing snarkyness (not humor, but snark), and pretentiousness from our voices and our writing is something we can decide to do today. In a world where everyone is ironic, cooky, snarky, self-deprecating, and funny, the path toward originality is being sincere, inviting, and confident.
Genuine is the new black.
I know I'm not the only one who's absolutely bored by the childishness and bitterness I constantly see and hear in the pro-wrestling criticism community. It seems, at least every other week, some commentator with a podcast or a newsletter is "calling out" or "burying" or "holding accountable" or "taking to task" some other podcaster or writer for something they said or did. And it's almost always rooted in something that happened twenty years ago in a promotion that doesn't exist anymore or its an exchange between two indy shows catering to their tiny followings, and the discussion is designed to appeal to the absolute worst parts of the audience's minds. Such writers and podcasters sacrifice their humanity when they engage in such shenanigans, forgetting that there's a human being on the other end of a Tweet. Everyone gets dragged down by that style of discourse (if you can call it discourse), and it operates like poison, draining you of hope, good ideas, and passion.
This certainly isn't true of all pro-wrestling criticism or journalism, but it's true of enough of it that it's worth changing. Having spent years listening to and reading the thoughts and opinions of the old guard, I've grown disinterested and, at times, disgusted by what I hear and read. It's just not as entertaining as they seem to think it is. The constant bickering and dick-measuring needs to stop; and it will. That style and that cheap trickery is going to die, and it's going to die within the next ten to fifteen years.
- WHO ARE THE NEXT PRO-WRESTLING JOURNALISTS? -
The people who are going to usurp today's commentary mainstays will come out of a completely different journalistic system. The prominent pro-wrestling commentator of 2030 isn't going to be a former WWE writer or a former WCW wrestler or even a kid who started out printing a newsletter in his mommy's basement. It's going to be a kid who started out writing blogs and amassing Twitter followers and talking into a Blue Yeti Microphone...in their parent's basement.
It's going to be some kid who loved pro-wrestling, not some guy who couldn't escape pro-wrestling.
The pro-wrestling critics of the future aren't going to be bitter about the booker who screwed them or the company that failed them or the writer who insulted them because they're not going to have that experience. And that's a good thing, because that means they're going to give people something different. They're going to be people who loved watching wrestling and decided they loved it so much that they needed to analyze it. They're going to be people who worked so hard at analyzing it that they became good at it, broke through a sea of mediocrity, got noticed by people in the business, and staked their claim via the internet.
While that system may not afford direct insight into the seedy backstage politics and cooky ramblings we all now savor, it is a system that allows for more unbiased and accurate analysis in terms of examining the way company's and performers tell pro-wrestling stories. It's a system founded more on joy and love than on frustration and resentment.
Analysts will be observers who grew up doing nothing more than observing, and they will have enhanced that power of observation by studying podcasts like The Art of Wrestling and The Steve Austin Show. Their perspective on wrestling will be purer.
Where some may fear this means everyone will just write bad blogs complaining about how awful Roman Reigns is or lauding how awesome Roman Reigns is, I see a future oriented primarily around a deeper appreciation for the objective value of wrestling. I foresee journalists with a wider range of backgrounds (film analysts, investigative journalists, poets, painters, musicians, television critics etc), exploring professional wrestling in ways that cannot yet be predicted.
All those commentators who currently operate from a place of negativity tap into an unsustainable resource within this community, because most people don't watch wrestling to be angry. For every complacent pro-wrestling fan who rants about how awful Monday Night Raw is, there are ten who are quick to defend it, quick to formulate logical arguments for their defense, and focused primarily on a message that's more appealing to the masses; pro-wrestling is fun, join in this fun.
I see future pro-wrestling journalists who grew up understanding the toxicity of the internet and doing what they can to fix it rather than profit from it. I'm not the least bit concerned that the hateful and the manipulative will dominate pro-wrestling journalism in the future, because such fans tend to be content complaining in one hundred and forty characters or less. That requires less effort.
And this future pro-wrestling journalism landscape will not be dominated by four or five "household names" and corporate content factories supported by the free labor of aspiring journalists. Those will certainly exist, but there will also be ten to twenty (if not more) prominent outlets for all different walks of wrestling life, adjusting to an ever-changing social media market. Websites that currently ignore wrestling will start adding wrestling-centric pages; and not just sports websites. Arts and media websites will be quicker to embrace this niche curiosity that taps directly into the nerd-culture-market and possesses a unique capacity for sudden reinvention.
The only standout voices will be those few beloved wrestlers who decide to shift their careers out of the ring and into a recording studio. Some of these wrestlers will achieve more success in podcasting and writing than they ever did in the ring. But in terms of the actual critical landscape, it will be more vast and more varied and representative of the larger community.
- CONCLUSION -
All of us can decide right now that we're not going to be jealous of each other, that we're not going to needlessly "call each other out" simply because we're petty or angry, that we're not going to bicker and moan and trade barbs and "bury each other" because that's what gets clicks and downloads. That's the old guard's way of thinking. People who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. That's not our way of thinking. That's the boring, regressive style of pro-wrestling commentary that is on its way out. Let's not reanimate that corpse simply because it's all we've known. Let's take the sarcastic quotes out of "journalist" and, instead, just be good journalists.
You, and your readers and listeners feeling good about wrestling...that's what sells, that's what gets clicks and downloads. I know this because it took me two solid years of writing bad articles about how angry RAW made me before I smartened up, and started writing more about why I loved wrestling. That's when people started taking notice of my work. That's why you're reading this right now, and that's why people will read your work in twenty years.
The pro-wrestling journalists of the future can help set the tone for a more intelligent, respectful Pro-Wrestling Community that prides itself on fact-based knowledge, inclusiveness, and useful insight.
What I've described is not some unattainable utopian vision. It's inevitable, because it's already in the works. The first steps have been taken, history is on our side, and all that's left is the work.
I encourage you to do that work, in your own way, however you can, and I genuinely wish you the best in all your future endeavors.
For more information on starting your own website or podcast Subscribe to The Work of Wrestling podcast in iTunes by clicking here, Stitcher by clicking here, or GooglePlay by clicking here, and download episode 70 "Trade Secrets". It gives you the quick guide you need for starting your own blog or show.