Just over one month ago, I wrote a piece for Dirtfork called “Rumble in Philly: The Ultimate WWE Experience”. In it I wrote about experiencing my first WWE live events after being away as a fan for nearly 15 years. While I try to focus on the many positives of wrestling, especially on social media, there are some elephants in the room that need to be addressed. Joshua Caudill wrote a piece just a few weeks ago about “The Era of Terrible Wrestling Fans“, that got him some heat, but for me as a returning fan, it spoke volumes of truth.
In my experience, the wrestling community has largely been a vibrant and wonderful place, but once in a while some people who need to be put in their place seem to pop up as with any fandom. There are many good fans that enjoy shows, build others in the community up, or help signal boost their favorite stars, but unfortunately there are some people that just ooze negativity 100% of the time in what should be a fun environment.
To give a little more background on myself that is necessary for this article, I have a history of briefly working in the field of Criminal Justice, aside from the financial industry and writing about sports like football periodically. I’m also extremely active on Twitter when it comes to voicing my opinions, and I try to generally be positive or at least be informative if I’m not posting a retweet on a more controversial subject. There is an old adage that mentions how in polite discourse, people should avoid talking about things like politics and religion. To an extent, this is in part due to how easy it is to fight when an opinion is different than yours. In wrestling (or any other fandom really) this also seems to be true to a degree when we start to discuss the different options we have available.
— WWE Creative Humor (@WWECreative_ish) March 27, 2018
15-20 years ago when I was originally a fan, we had the WWE (then-WWF) and WCW with the Monday Night Wars. For me specifically, Japanese wrestling was a world I never even heard of unless a star like Jushin Thunder Liger was involved, or an announcer or wrestler mentioned the country on television.
In trying to get back into wrestling, I had a significant time gap to make up for, a lot of videos on YouTube to watch, and a lot of websites to read to essentially get the basics down of some of these current options. I missed things like “Super Cena” because for me, John Cena was a fun Eminem imitation when I had stopped watching. When it comes to real time, I missed things like the “Summer of Punk”, the “Hall of Pain”, and of course “Ryback runs the world by coming up with anything remotely good and winning every title to universal applause”. I have since caught up on these things (minus that last one to be fair), but the comment section of YouTube, the depths of Twitter, and the comments on dirtsheets always tend to amplify the worst in people.
When I was a fan before, “What?!” chants were because Stone Cold Steve Austin was trolling someone, not because arrogant smarks wanted to hijack a show and ruin it for the kids. “CM Punk” chants were obviously nonexistent, and if I’m being brutally honest, I still don’t understand why they exist now, and I applaud the guy for doing different things that he seems to genuinely love doing. I have an “American Nightmare” and a “Vigilante Club” shirt (I’m a fan of the Arrowverse, why would I not love these two members specifically?), but it isn’t about “sticking it to the McMahons” or rubbing my nose in the face of some supposedly uninformed fans, it’s about being a fan of the people I’m representing in that instance.
Of course it’s true to an extent that fan reaction leads to better success for wrestlers, but at the same time, we are all their paying customers, we do not get to dictate their method of business. Professional wrestlers do not owe their free time to us (especially in the airports), WWE creative does not owe it to any of us to place Rusev in a higher position (as much as I’d like that), and attempts to make “Cancel WWE Network” trend on Twitter just make you look petty and ungrateful. Unfortunately as I’ve quickly learned, this negative attitude doesn’t just happen with fans, it happens with people who cover sports entertainment as a whole.
To the first point, I have had plenty of interactions, primarily through Twitter, with a large range of wrestling personalities. I have universally had positive interactions with other fans, writers, and wrestlers. Whether it is someone like Nia Jax, Jerry Lawler, Session Moth Martina, Joey Janela, or several others, I’ve gotten the random like or retweet once in a while and it has made my day. None of these people should be expected to owe me that interaction. They are human beings who are allowed to live their own lives.
Some of the misogynistic comments that get posted towards other wrestlers online (exhibit A: How people treat Chelsea Green) are as bad as what people choose to yell at wrestlers to their faces at indie shows (exhibit B: Also how people treat Chelsea Green). When it comes to issues like this, the onus should be on the community as a whole, rather than specific writers who take it upon themselves to be some sort of herald of righteousness, while in reality, being hypocritical in their own behavior.
I am far from perfect, but a part of why I haven’t gotten more involved in following the indies than I already am (I’m including NJPW in this, though that inclusion is a discussion for people who know more than I do) is largely due to the behavior of those covering them. Other fans have been a tremendous source of knowledge for me, but the writers have occasionally been as problematic as the worst types of fans. Recently there was an issue where an objectively important wrestling personality with an incredibly problematic history lost part of his platform. This was not due to his prior comments that I learned of through another writer publishing pieces of an old lawsuit, but due in part to that writer and primarily another fighting him over his treatment of someone who is not a wrestling personality.
That person is a victim of bullying due to the first personality’s “stans” (obsessive super fans like the one in the Eminem song, to call back to him again). His culpability in the behavior of his fans and stans for disgusting actions is a separate issue that I’m not addressing in this, as the other two writers have a following that included a few idiots making disparaging remarks and threats as well. While the person who lost their platform could be written about for days with the problematic behavior he has exhibited over the years, he actually isn’t who I’m taking an issue with in impacting my fandom. I should also note that I wish none of these people any ill will, and that my problems stem from their behavior online towards others, not myself.
When two of the largest writers who cover WWE happen to be fans of the indies, and act as a band of “white knights”, it places the focus on themselves rather than the behavior they are trying to call out as members of the community. The primary person in that past issue has a long history of being block happy on social media.
He tends to rightfully shame those who partake in disgusting behavior online, but never appears to hold himself accountable for shaming others, under the guise of doing it with people who aren’t wrestling personalities outside of his community role, or simply acting pretentious when someone tries to point it out to him, even in a civil manner.
The other writer tends to join the above-mentioned one any time the attacks target someone he doesn’t personally like. His behavior frustrates me to no end because I actually think he’s a very good writer. His pieces tend to be uniquely negative in their large approach (though he is capable of being positive), and he has a habit of copying the previous writer in a Twitter bullying tactic known in other circles as “dogpiling”.
Some people may use the quote tweet feature to bring attention to a certain tweet, but when it is done in a manner to draw purposeful negative attention, it encourages the loudest followers to attack the person they are disagreeing with. It is a major problem on other aspects of Twitter (like the political realm), and it seems to be seeping into other realms of Twitter as a way of ending arguments by using the masses
to call someone else stupid. While it is not typically recognized as targeted harassment by Twitter’s own policies, that is a discussion for elsewhere.
This writer tends to be sarcastic in his use of the tactic, and perhaps we just have a personality conflict. Unfortunately, his presentation often means his sarcasm demeans someone who doesn’t like what he specifically enjoys (exhibit A: NJPW’s Strong Style Evolved). A tendency to bury English-language commentary for the NJPW shows seems to be a common theme for multiple writers, and maybe to an extent it may be justifiable, but when you look to a writer for guidance on a product and this is how they behave, why would anyone bother to check the product?
While I’m trying not to be overly harsh with these assessments, there is one person who bluntly needs to be addressed for his attitude. Other writers have addressed his problematic history in covering women’s wrestling, but since there are plenty of people who do an outstanding job of covering that, it’s his condescending tone that I’m particularly taking issue with.
As mentioned before, an overly sarcastic attitude may not work on a medium like Twitter, but it is much worse when the person being sarcastic is also just smug to anyone who expresses a slight preference for something else. There is a running joke that if “a match takes place in the Tokyo Dome, it will automatically get 5 stars”, and while that’s obviously not true, implicit (positive or negative) bias in writing is unavoidable. Telling fans to “check my ratings” by typically subscribing to your paid content when they pose a fair and proper disagreement to a subjective rating is not a way to get people to pay you for content.
I personally am indifferent to star ratings for wrestling matches though for certain events I may check them out to see if the above writer thinks they’re worth watching, because ultimately they are subjective and biased to the particular reviewer’s preferences. When a person has over 55,000 tweets and the word “subjective” appears 5 times at the time of this writing, it’s clear they aren’t making this point well enough outside of the likely place of a paid newsletter. For those who care, 1 of those uses of the term is not related to wrestling, and 2 of those uses are about the same match where 1 mention specifically states his amazement with so many people agreeing with him about how good it was since it’s ultimately a subjective topic.
This man tends to act as if he is the late Roger Ebert, who once said “Any worthwhile review is subjective”, but doesn’t seem to go out of his way to actually make that point about himself. So on one hand, I have a writer I enjoy who trashes a product of a different taste for its surrounding aesthetics, and on the other hand, I have a writer I’m not a particular fan of who consistently expresses his love for certain performers of the same product, even if he is quick to immediately point out that other companies may have a higher rate of better quality matches in his opinion.
As a wrestling fan that grew up on the WWE, took a hiatus, and came back, it’s easy to get flooded in a sea of information. Through positive fans and indie wrestlers’ own self-promoting abilities, I have begun to follow people outside of the WWE and I’ve begun to root for the success of far more people than I would have expected to. We do, however, live in an era where terrible wrestling fans have as much access to a massive platform as the many positive fans that actually vastly outnumber them.
This negative aspect of the culture is made worse by the fact that major writers may amplify negative attitudes themselves without holding themselves accountable. I have loved getting back into wrestling, but we have to hold ourselves accountable for our own negative behavior when it is brought up instead of just pointing out others’ issues. The fans who try to hijack events don’t speak for everyone, the personalities who take no responsibility for their personal fans need to do a better job of condemning poor behavior (not just those I mentioned), and we all need to be better for the sake of our community.