What you see when you’re not looking

When you’re removed from a community you see it with different eyes. You spot the stuff you missed before because you were caught up in the same old arguments. Sometimes you observe heartwarming things that you’re proud to be associated with, and sometimes you spot themes that are far less endearing.  The least appealing traits I’ve been watching lately are bad spin and its closest bedfellow, promotion snobbery.

Dara O’Briain has a brilliant segment in one of his stand-up shows about how much he despises music snobs and so-called guilty pleasures. “Music snobbery is the worst kind of snobbery. Oh, you like those noises? Those sounds in your ear? Do you like them? They’re the wrong sounds! You should like these sounds in your ear!” Dara clearly never spent time with wrestling fans. We’re champions at snobbery. We are the worst.

Over the past six months or so I’ve sat back and watched fans make other fans feel bad about their wrestling viewing choices. The barbs seem even more spiteful when that choice is WWE.  During the interval at the WWE show we mentioned in our last post, I checked Twitter to find that people attending indie shows that night were trashing the very event we were watching. Who were they to tell me it was awful? They weren’t even there! We were having a ball.

Taking the most popular route is selling out, right? No. It’s just enjoying something that a lot of other people also happen to like. Equally, there are just as many mainstream fans who believe if it’s not on TV it can’t be good. I know, because before I experienced my first indie show almost 10 years ago I used to be one of them. I would encourage everyone to explore beyond their usual boundaries. Hopefully you’ll find something new. If nothing else it gives your favourite promotion some perspective. But if you decide that what you really love is the mainstream, that’s alright too.

In that same section of his show, Dara O’Briain goes on to talk about how infuriating it is that people who dip into the mainstream are forced to call it their guilty pleasure because it’s just not underground enough. The thing is, though, we’re wrestling fans. There is no cool.

A few weeks ago I found myself watching a documentary called Allotment Wars. Bear with me. I watched agog as gentle gardeners sabotaged others’ competition crops, raided plot holders’ sheds and called the police on a youngster who found himself a tenner in rent arrears. A couple of old friends fell out two years ago. You could feel from their interviews that the fight and their continuing rivalry had left them both burning with rage.

Out loud I shouted “What is wrong with these people? None of this actually matters in the grand scheme of life!” I scoffed at their silly bickering over carrot soil and congratulated myself on being too well-adjusted to be involved with a group that deals in such juvenile squabbling. Of course, until I remembered that if there’s one thing that can be desperately uncool, petty and all puffed up with misplaced importance, it’s being a wrestling fan.

The older you get the more people shoot you that ‘Wrestling? Really?’ look. The older you get the more awkward a positive response feels.  None of us got into this big ball of ridiculous to score cool points. I’m trying to avoid a High School Musical moment here, but if we’re all in this together why are we so intent on playing games of one-upmanship?  Who are we trying to impress? It’s weird. Your thing is not better, it’s just different.

The worst byproduct of this behaviour is bad spin.  Bad spin is what bad politicians do. They make themselves look the more progressive option by rubbishing the competition. Most of the time they’ll say nothing about what actually makes them so wonderful. As long as they’ve planted that ’them bad, me better’ message, the job’s done. It’s lazy and transparent.

I hate seeing this tactic in wrestling. Whether it’s tweets from well-meaning fans or promotions themselves, I want a wrestling company to do more to excite me than make hollow claims about being ‘better’ than WWE. I don’t want to hear that your show is superior to another popular thing if you can’t even tell me why. I want to know what sets it apart from the rest and makes it unique amidst a world full of weekend wrestling watching options. Otherwise, it just feels like you’re covering up your failings by clinging on to your opponents’ faults. It turns me off.

We all watch wrestling for different reasons and we switch promotions to alter our experiences. A tiny indie show will never deliver the reliable gloss of Monday Night Raw. Monday Night Raw will never achieve the unpredictable intimacy of a tiny indie show. I don’t want them to out-do each other. I want them to put every ounce of energy into being the best at the very specific brand of wrestling they deliver, whatever that happens to be.

It’s completely possible to love both equally, just like it’s fine to listen to Katy Perry one minute, then jump to that band you saw with 19 other people in an unlicenced indie club. It’s alright if you like the PG era. It’s fine if you also go elsewhere for something more grown up sometimes. If you thought WWE peaked when it was still called WWF, that’s fine. But it peaked in 2002 for you. The kids in the front row right now have no idea what you’re talking about. The Attitude Era is an overpriced vintage t-shirt for them and that’s okay too.

If you were stood at an ice cream stand with a friend and they chose a different flavour to you, you wouldn’t throw their cone in the bin and insist that only your flavour’s worth eating. What you’d probably do is encourage them to grab a spoon and have a taste of yours. Let’s do more of that. Let’s cut each other some slack, understand where opinions start and facts stop, and pass out more sample spoons. The flavour doesn’t matter as long as we’re all having fun. Unless, of course, you want to buy me a TNA sundae. ‘Cause that thing’s gonna need an awful lot of cherries on top!