Recently, I had the pleasure of joining some of the Geek Versus crew in attending a special screening of DC’s animated adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal Batman graphic novel, Batman:The Killing Joke. It was a one-night-only theatrical presentation on the eve of the film’s Blu-ray/DVD release.
Before and after the movie, I was able to meet many of the fine folk that make up the Geek Versus community, most of whom are loyal listeners to the flagship podcast Geek Versus Week (on which I’ve previously been a guest). My more notable contribution to the Geek Versus brand, however, comes in the role of being “the guy who writes the wrestling articles”.
Without question, this is a distinction I wear with a modest sense of pride. I’ve gone on record admitting that I may not be the super-oracle of wrestling knowledge.
I enjoy, rather, being the maven that bridges the curious and casual to the vast world of professional wrestling that exists beyond just what bubbles up into the mainstream ether. Who wouldn’t enjoy a gig where one gets to indulge their personal leisure preoccupation to a degree that most people in our everyday circle lack the (very understandable) patience and/or interest to tolerate?
I assure you this is a boundary I’ve involuntarily tested on plenty of people in my life, and the results haven’t always been favorable.
Among the members of the Geek Versus community I had the fortune of meeting after the film that evening was a gentlemen who made a comment which gave me a bit of pause.
To paraphrase, he suggested that he “stopped watching wrestling at about 8 or 9 years old” because “basically, I grew up”. Whether he meant it maliciously or not, it confused me enough to make me wonder why he felt it was something that needed to be said to “the guy that writes the wrestling articles”.
The exchange was generally polite. I responded with a few standard defenses about wrestling being performance art and how it’s just a thing I’m into while actively choosing not to litigate my fandom any further and so on.
In hindsight, it was was a pretty harsh shot to take from someone I’d just met, though, and seemed like a curious stance for someone with whom I’d essentially just watched an hour long Batman cartoon with.
Now, asserting that wrestling is the domain of the the young is certainly not something I’d never heard before.
For many people that aren’t wrestling fans, especially those that don’t indulge in geeky things in general, it’s for some reason widely accepted that wrestling is produced strictly for teenage boys.
While it’s true that a large contingency of wrestling fans consists of adolescent dudes, it’s certainly not the entirety of the fan base. Far from it.
Framing wrestling this way is wildly off the mark, but that’s not the part of this exchange that kicked my critical thinking gears into contemplation mode.
Since the advent of the internet, it’s become more socially acceptable for proper, post, and cusp Gen-Xers like myself to hang on to our childhood interests well into adulthood. What may have begun as youth-fueled captivation has grown into complex emotional relationships with these various fictitious constructs that themselves have also become more sophisticated over time.
Engagement in the realm of fantasy beyond our adolescence that carried a negative social stigma in the 20th century has been normalized, both through the disparate and often introverted “geeks” gaining the ability to connect with one another in the internet age and a bit of icky consumer capitalism exploiting our nostalgic longing for our prodigal heroes’ adventures to continue.
We did it, fellow members of my generational cohort. Not only did we make it more socially acceptable for adults to continue to read comics, collect toys, spend long periods of time gaming, and make superhero movies mandatory engagements. We’ve also convinced the entertainment industry that we’ve got enough discretionary income to make our once niche interests insanely profitable. Our lifestyle that was once seen as infantile is now punk rock chic.
So here’s my quandary: Why the fuck do I so frequently have to keep defending professional wrestling to dudes walking around with a Batman t-shirt, Legend of Zelda tattoos, or rotating pics of various anime characters as wallpapers on their phone?
Obviously, I’m not taking a shot at these accessories considering I’m also someone that falls into this archetype. We’re on the same team.
My question is why the entire concept of professional wrestling regularly warrants aggro-dismissal by so many of the very same people that would be marginalized two-three decades prior for having equally geeky interests.
What is it about wrestling that inspires nerd-types to look down their noses at wrestling fans, yet it’s perfectly acceptable to argue with each other about whether or not Thor could beat Superman in a fistfight? Wrestling fans ask these type of questions about wrestlers all the time, and guess what…
We get the answer all the time! We can actually see it happen in person, often multiple times with different outcomes, and cheer it on within earshot of the performers who will likely react accordingly. Darth Vader ain’t out here getting kicked in the head 250 nights a year while listening to me boo his opponent out of the building. What makes his tragic story more tangible than a dramatic wrestling heel turn?
This is often where we’re informed by the non-fan that “wrestling is fake”, right?
You know what else is fake?
Y’all, Batman is fake. The Joker is fake. Spider-man is fake. Star Wars is fake. Star Trek is fake. Pokemon is fake. Full House is fake. Seinfeld is fake. Akira is fake. Cinderella is fake. General Hospital is fake. Nightmare on Elm Street is fake. Warcraft is fake. Overwatch is fake. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are fake. Game of Thrones is fake. Big Bang Theory is fake. Grey’s Anatomy is fake. Lost is fake. Pornography is fake. Godzilla is fake. Count Dracula is fake. Count Chocula is fake. The Count from Sesame Street is fake. The NBA playoffs are starting to seem fake. The Kardashians are fake. Keeping Up With The Kardashians is fake. KISS is fake. Santa Claus is fake. Clowns are fake. Hamlet is fake. Romeo and Juliet is fake. Seriously, every single Shakespeare play that’s ever been produced is fucking fake.
There’s a big difference between willful ignorance and suspension of disbelief for the sake of the experience. Modern wrestling fans aren’t the witless carnival side-show marks they once were. It’s more a matter of flavor preference than foolish devotion.
Is wrestling scripted? Of course!
Is it choreographed? To an extent, but it’s primarily improvised within the parameters of each wrestler’s move set, time allotted for the match, and geared towards the scripted finish. Not unlike how jazz works, to be honest.
Do they really hurt each other? Probably a lot more than outsiders realize.
It’s theater, y’all. There’s nuance and pathos and the stories are being told with body language and acrobatic stunt-work more so than dialogue and special effects.
That’s not to suggest that there’s not also a bit of the latter, as well. Is there a lot of bad acting in pro-wrestling? Yep.
You know where else there is lot of bad acting? Yes, you do know where else there is a lot of bad acting and have probably had to endure it many times because it involved someone wearing a superhero costume or space exploration suit or running from some sort’ve supernatural killer after getting caught trying to have sex in the woods.
It’s all fiction, guys. It’s fine.
What’s real is the visceral reaction we have to the stories we experience. I’ve experienced joy, anger, frustration, beauty, excitement, fear, and a plethora of other emotions watching professional wrestling.
I regularly laugh out loud, occasionally cry real tears, and have literally jumped for joy into another grown man’s arms because of professional wrestling. That’s just as valuable as any other work of fiction that’s moved you to emotional extremes.
This idea that wrestling is trash-art for children and idiots is antiquated and, frankly, severely ignorant. It’s okay to be indifferent to something if it doesn’t inspire your interest, but to call into question the maturity of the wrestling fan because they enjoy something you don’t is a dubious position to take.
What I get from wrestling as an adult is much more sophisticated than what I got from it as a child, the same way that what I got out of seeing Batman:The Killing Joke the other night is more sophisticated than when I read it the first time as a teenager.
Maybe what needs to grow up is the negative attitude non-wrestling fans have towards wrestling, particularly in the geek community(s). It deserves common respect, especially from those of us that hold our childhood heroes and their stories dear well into our adult lives, regardless of how the stories are told.
I’m not suggesting it’s worthy of fine art status or some other grandiose position of cultural regard, because it certainly has it’s fundamental flaws.
However, the constant uphill battle of explaining why pro-wrestling is a meaningful adult pastime is exhausting and should seriously be unnecessary by now.
Put simply, to quote my buddy Rob Springer from the Being Awesome podcast on the Radio Free Cybertron network: “Let people like things.” It may not be your thing, and that’s completely okay, but that doesn’t negate the perfectly valid reasons those of us that enjoy it have for making it ours. Tranquilo.
Versus The New Half-life is a satirical feature series documenting the experience of modern geek life beyond the 18-34 demographic. Are we simply nostalgia driven super-consumers refusing to embrace adulthood by indulging childhood fantasy or have the expectations of being an adult changed? Writer J. Aaron Poole over-analyzes various geek fandoms to explore common themes and appropriate behavior from limbo as an indubitable grown-up under the age of 40.
J. Aaron Poole is a 21st century writer, musician, and geek culture advocate. He is a member of the American Sociological Association with an academic interest in the relationship between media, technology, and modern culture. Currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia, Aaron can be found making absurd comments on Twitter, PSN, and other social media platforms as @JAaronPoole.