WE MUST CHANGE: A MESSAGE TO ALL PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING FANS
Writer's Note: You should know before you read this that upon reflection, and particularly after listening to the response this article elicited, I regard this piece as unsuccessful (to put it kindly).
It is divisive and entirely ineffective, a testament to one person venting frustrations about a specific and relatively tiny group of obnoxious pro-wrestling fans that mistakenly lumps all "smart fans" together for a lengthy finger-wagging. I did not adequately distinguish between obnoxious "smart" fans and those similarly "smart" fans who are kind, thoughtful, and respectful with their fandom.
My goal was to work toward creating a less contentious community. This article had the exact opposite effect.
After I heard a conversation it inspired, the failures of this piece resulted in me not only realizing there are better ways to write about this issue (including, perhaps, not writing about it at all), but also seeing how there actually are others in the pro-wrestling community with better, more reasonable solutions to the problem. It led to experiencing that all important contrarian point of view.
CLICK HERE to be redirected to a podcast titled The Last Mark Standing hosted by Trina and Damian. They're two passionate podcasters and pro-wrestling fans with a perspective I'm sure you'll enjoy, as they are unapologetic in approaching pro-wrestling analysis in a different, incredibly thoughtful way. They're also just good at what they do; a great balance of personalities that keeps the show consistently entertaining.
After reading my article, I encourage you to listen to their response, especially because they offer ways for dealing with disrespectful fans that are really eye-opening. Listening to it, I found myself agreeing with their critiques and thinking, "Yeah, this guy Tim Kail got it wrong" as if it wasn't even about an article I'd written. It was like some crazy person had produced this piece that I fundamentally disagreed with. It was the reminder I needed that the first draft of anything is never the best draft, and that approaching things from a less emotional, more reasonable perspective is best (especially when you genuinely want to convince people you're right about an issue).
We in the pro-wrestling analysis community have the opportunity to shape what it will become in the future. Let this exchange between myself and The Last Mark Standing be representative of that future, where people actually listen to each other rather than needlessly slinging dirt (a practice that far too often defines the internet itself). I've taken their critiques to heart, and I wish them the best with their show.
I will embed their podcast episode about this piece at the end the article so you can listen once you're finished reading.
I also recommend you read my earlier piece on NXT fans, it's much more specific and much better: "BE SMARTER: A MESSAGE TO NXT FANS".
Thanks for reading and listening, support good indy podcasts, and have a nice day!
WE MUST CHANGE: A MESSAGE TO ALL PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING FANS
There is an epidemic in modern professional wrestling.
It is strong and only getting stronger, mutating into increasingly complex strains with each passing day.
That epidemic is entitlement, specifically the sense of entitlement the modern “smart” professional wrestling fan possesses in abundance. “Smart” doesn't merely refer to one’s awareness of professional wrestling being a performance art (or “staged” or “a work”).
Today, “smart” refers to a fan’s awareness or in-depth knowledge of pro-wrestling’s inner-workings; how a match is executed, how characters are created, how promotions are run, how stories are told, how the “backstage politics” of an organization factor into a performer's career, how moves are properly “sold”, how in-ring psychology manipulates crowds, and even an understanding of the audience that a particular promotion is targeting.
This “smartness”, resultant from how accessible pro-wrestling minutia has become via podcasts and dirt sheets, is the root cause of fan-entitlement. As some knowledge has become more accessible to a passionate fandom, that passionate fandom has come to formulate deeply ingrained expectations related to their chosen pastime that they previously wouldn't have had.
A “general audience” does not experience any form of entertainment with specific expectations in mind or any deep concern for the behind-the-scenes “who”, “what”, “where”, "when" and “why” that results in what they’re experiencing. Your average viewer is only interested in whether or not something is fun to watch. They care about whether or not the sausage tastes good, not how it gets made. They tend to be much easier to please as a result. Their “dumbness” or “casual” viewing tendencies permit them to have a purer emotional experience of a product. They might not appreciate what they're seeing as "deeply" as an aficionado might, but they never run the risk of regarding their opinion of an experience as superior to the experience itself.
The smart fan is not only interested in how pro-wrestling gets made, they’re so deeply invested in how it gets made that they’re unwilling to accept anything less than a form of wrestling that meets all of their expectations or prescribed notions of perfection. The smart fan has been conditioned, through the seemingly vast yet decidedly tiny “internet wrestling community” to view pro-wrestling through a cloudy, narrow lens. Gone are the days of “fans” watching shows with the pure intent of experiencing joy or escape.
"Nothing good has come from telling these insipid few that they're right to be rude."
That kind of viewer has been alienated in the same way the new-kid at school struggles to find a good place to sit during lunch. The cliques have won.
This is the Era of Expectation.
Today's "smart" fan views wrestling based entirely upon whether or not it meets a list of requirements arrived at by a collection of misguided, juvenile “connoisseurs” whose knowledge of writing, acting, athletics, and psychology represents a minuscule fraction of what’s actually required to judge art and entertainment accurately. These hosts infect others around them, teaching any and all who might listen that being a wrestling fan means being an easily bored, easily disinterested, reliably complacent keyboard coward who yearns for a sense of significance by way of clever Tweets, memes, and gifs.
Today’s "smart" fan goes so far as to believe that they are integral to the “making process” of pro-wrestling and that pro-wrestling exists purely to satisfy their specific needs rather than existing as an independent form of storytelling they're meant to absorb. Pro-wrestling has permitted itself to mutate into a "choose your own adventure novel", hoping desperately that its audience will make “the right choice”, inevitably conceding to that audience's whim, always playing catch-up should that audience choose to go a different way with their emotions.
This kind of “smart” fan (in any medium of art/entertainment) represents a minority. The level of mental and emotional dedication it takes to be this kind of fan is proof enough that it's a minority of the viewing population.
Most people just don't have enough time to live, think, and behave this way.
Yet the "smart" fan-hive-mind provides a comfort and an audacity to believe its views represent a majority. When pro-wrestling caters to that minority (essentially transforming them into a majority and allowing them to “win”), pro-wrestling becomes smaller in its scope and smaller in its appeal. It becomes less diverse and more specialized, dictated less by the time-honored tenets of its medium and more by the prejudices of its niche-viewership.
When mainstream pro-wrestling reassures this kind of audience-member that they’re unwavering opinions are not only correct but irrefutable facts, this kind of viewer gains more and more power, and their sense of entitlement becomes even more bloated. Their emotions become their experience of pro-wrestling rather than their experience of pro-wrestling inspiring emotions.
They’re encouraged to believe that buying a ticket gives them the right “to do whatever they want” when they attend a live event. They prattle on endlessly in online forums about their “right” to “boo” and “cheer” whomever they want to, that they’re not “heard” by the system, that the company isn't "listening", that the only way to let creative know they’re “doing it wrong” is to “boo the booking”, believing, wholeheartedly, in their rightness and their power despite how undeniably limp, feeble, and innocuous their efforts are.
Has any Monday Night Raw crowd ever staged a walk-out?
Has this reliable band of two million entitled viewers galvanized to affect any real, lasting, positive change?
Have they stopped watching altogether?
Have they cancelled subscriptions en masse?
Have they written a single good, convincing article that anyone has ever cared about or remembered?
Or have they just kept chanting "What?" while lamenting the fact that "their guy isn't getting pushed"?
Have they just gone on muddying the waters between booing a talent and booing a writer?
These "smart" fans who claim to love professional wrestling, these "smart" fans who claim to support today’s crop of indy athletes groan during “rest holds”, call out “hot tag” when they know a hot tag is coming, check their cell-phones until they see a "high spot", and chant “This is awesome!” because they think their stamp of approval is more important than having an honest reaction.
“Whatever they want” has proven to mean inserting themselves unnecessarily into segments and “hijacking” shows like Monday Night Raw, contributing nothing but negativity to the proceedings.
Nothing good has come from telling these insipid few that they're right to be rude.
It’s very easy to know exactly what this kind of fan will think and feel about any given subject because this fan shares a singular, predictable perspective. That perspective is born out of a shared belief that what they think and feel and say matters more than a pro-wrestler’s concussion, torn ligament, or broken bone.
Sacrifice in today’s professional wrestling is not for a pro-wrestler’s benefit, it’s “for your entertainment”.
It's for "This is Awesome!"
That is, very simply, dangerous to the talent.
When a human being is encouraged to believe that their opinion or contrived reaction is more important than what inspired it they become bloodthirsty animals who lose touch with reality and gorge on the pleasant fiction of their irrefutable rightness.
The classic defense of these obnoxious wrestling fans is anywhere and everywhere in the pro-wrestling community; it comes even from those who dislike such behavior.
“I’d rather have a rowdy, slightly obnoxious crowd than one who sits on their hands”
“Yeah, they might be annoying, but at least they’re excited to be there”
“I might not like what they’re chanting, but hey…they bought that ticket…they have the right…”
The time has come for human beings to stop making excuses for the poor behavior of other human beings.
I want to be proud to be a wrestling fan.
When I hear what "smart" wrestling fans say and when I read what "smart" wrestling fans write, I am not proud to be a wrestling fan. I am ashamed to be mentioned in the same breath as these people.
Ironically, it’s no mystery why crowds are the way they are today; it’s not because they’re actually "smart" or because they're doing anything of their own volition - it’s because they’re as dumb and easily manipulated as any mass audience.
If you believe that buying a ticket to a live event gives you the right to be an asshole who interrupts promos and ignores the efforts of the wrestlers and the business you claim to love, it’s because a company far more powerful than you once convinced you to believe that. That idea, born out of entitlement, is not natural. It has to be implanted in you by someone who understands how that idea is going to get you to buy more tickets. In the past, that company had you convinced to sit there in your little seat (the only thing that ticket entitles you to) and watch a story unfold. Today, likely because that company believes it will make them more money, you've been convinced that your bad behavior is best for business.
It is not.
I do not expect that behavior to change until members of the pro-wrestling community make it known that this current environment is nothing short of a disgrace. The behavior of many professional wrestling fans is blatantly unacceptable and yet we let it go by with an ironic wink and a smile because we're all too busy being fun ironic millennials too cool to care about anything too deeply.
It is time to reign in that ridiculous behavior, to confidently change this environment through self-monitoring, and for inattentiveness and outright rudeness to no longer define what it means to be a wrestling fan.
The quality of any promotion's product is not pertinent in this matter. This is a problem in the pro-wrestling community itself and it has nothing to do with our likes and dislikes as it relates to any particular television program. This is a problem with us, and it's time we were mature enough to recognize it and take steps to change it rather than lay blame elsewhere for our behavior.
The responsibility to improve our community and its reputation lies with genuinely smart professional wrestling fans to challenge those who would turn our good time, our art, our entertainment, our professional wrestling into a pitiful shadow of its former self.
Entitlement is the belief that one is inherently deserving of some form of special treatment, a privilege, or a perk regardless of whether or not it’s justifiable. That entitlement is what we hear every time a smart pro-wrestling fan decides to hijack a show rather than watch it. That entitlement gets in the way of useful constructive criticisms leveled at professional wrestling, transforming pro-wrestling journalism, pro-wrestling theory, and pro-wrestling performance into a low-brow backyard bitch-session.
Being "dumb" has become an asset in the internet wrestling community, the only way to enjoy anything about it.
That alone should be encouragement enough to find a cure for this epidemic, to convince pro-wrestling aficionados to be fans again, and that the time has finally come to genuinely respect the magic of the squared circle and all those who make it magical.
The rallying cry of this delusion, disrespectful minority unwittingly aims to undo that magic, manifesting itself in chants like, “You still suck”, “Please retire!”, “What?!”, “You fucked up!”, “Boring!”, and “You can’t wrestle”.
Such chants only apply to the people who chant them.
And now here is The Last Mark Standing Podcast about this article: