There’s a term in internet journalism to describe forums and comment sections as movers of web content : "dark social". Although the term comes from a lack of transparency -- their links don’t tell the webmaster how exactly people were referred to the article -- it’s still perfect to describe much of the ways in which people interact not just with each other, but the content they consume.There is perhaps no place where this is more true than the world of professional wrestling fandom.
Even a glance at the comments sections of most prominent pro grap sites -- though, this site seems to avoid much of this, a testament to Geno and his merry band of editors/moderators -- or god forbid, the dank doldrums of forums, leads the reader into a world often filled with what could most charitably be described as a "homogeneous" point of view.
Bryan, Punk, Tyson and Dolph good. Cena, H, Michaels, the McMahons and the Ryback bad. Alberto del Rio indifferent. X is being held back because of politics and Y is being pushed because of a prominent friendship. ECW was revolutionary and real wrestling is performed in Japan, but only performances that are impossible to find easily.
Now, not every person on every forum thinks these exact things, and to be honest, all of the positives are at least somewhat valid, and while asinine, the negatives are fundamentally harmless. But, as is the case with most things -- especially those which come up through the type of communities that forums offer -- it’s the idea that things can be judged on a objective scale, and how we reach those conclusions, that are the problem.
CM Punk may say he’s best in the world, but for the realm of abstraction in which wrestling exists, an argument can be made that the Second City Saint is "highly overrated". It wouldn’t be a particularly good one, but given enough time in a room with enough typewriters, a group of monkeys may be able to come up with coherent points that form a "logically accurate" argument. They’d likely center around things like "considering his independent background, he’s not the best ‘in-ring’ guy", "his promo range is from ‘shouty emoting’ to ‘shouty jokester’ to 'shouty angry'" and "he has a tendency to sandbag dudes he doesn’t like".
That none of this can be quantified is a problem, but even that speaks to the underlying issue: things shouldn’t be viewed on a overarching continuum of good or bad. The concept of "good" and "bad", especially when tied to artistic mediums is silly, at best. These things -- like movies or paintings or even entirely commercial enterprises like television shows -- should be judged differently.
Take, for instance, the WWE title match from this year’s Money in the Bank PPV. After a nearly universally acclaimed build, Mark Henry and John Cena battled in, what to me was, an amazing match. Mark and John weren’t attempting to recreate the excitement of the Money in the Bank ladder matches that bookended the PPV, or even trying to remind people of the brilliant work Cena did against Punk two years earlier at the same show. While it seems like I am saying "this is good", what actually being said is this: they were trying to tell the story of the Unstoppable Monster against the King of Odds-Beating, which, in my opinion, they told it brilliantly. And since, in my mind, the goals of wrestling are to 1) make money 2) tell a story and 3) make it look "believable", one could say did as "good" a job as could be expected given the parts involved.
Now, this is just a personal opinion on one match, but it’s an example of how you can judge things with some eye towards transparency about a personal idea of what constitutes "good" and "bad" -- inasmuch as they exist -- in art. And, how those concepts exist within the piece of work itself, not how it fits into the broader framework of the medium on some universal continuum.
Of course, several people who comment on this article will mention how much they did or didn’t like that match. Which is fine, because people are free to have an opinion on almost anything (America!). What will likely be missing -- or "would have been" if it hadn’t been specifically mentioned -- will be an explanation of "why". But that’s something wrestling fans need to, as a community, "get over".
"Getting over" it is pretty simple, too. Instead of attaching the concepts of "good" and "bad" to performances, there needs to be a shift of judging things -- inasmuch as it needs to be done -- based on how successful they were in achieving what they were trying to accomplish. Like a difficult skateboarding trick, wrestling is often just as much about the journey to the spot as the spot itself. We need to start embracing the journey, and the idea that we all have different destinations we are looking towards when we watch.
And this change starts with comments section and message boards. Beyond saying that they like or dislike something, "the internet" often avoids articulating why it felt the way about do about the things it prefers, or how that informs the way it looks at other things in the same medium. This might come from a concern over not fitting in -- posters are worried that they’ll be ostracized for liking how much wrestling reminds them of interpretative dance or that they enjoy Sheamus-Mark Henry matches because they secretly wish every wrestler was the 6’4" and 290+lbs -- one that our minds more often runs into. And it’s a fear that goes pretty far in explaining why the internet is a breeding ground for the insular group think that pervades much of the enormous wrestling community found there.
In psychology -- by way of neuroscience -- there is something called "motivated reasoning". It’s the brain tick that allows people to think that Kevin Sullivan killed Chris Benoit, and it is pervasive throughout human thought, muddying our perception of nearly everything. Essentially, your brain becomes trained -- because of evolution and through things like deliberate practice, indoctrination or how information that is presented to you initially -- to physically believe certain things. Which is to say, your brain -- serving an evolutionary need -- believe the things that it believes best help it survive and either ignores or actively seeks to discredit new information that contradicts it, and rapidly.
The best way of challenging your brain into new modes of thinking, to get away from the fear, is to try new things. Taking different opinions and mindsets into the viewing experience. When you watch it, try to think about Why someone might actually find the Great Khali-Triple H match from SummerSlam 2008 enjoyable. Try to think about why people like everything they like, and most importantly, talk to people with an open mind about it. Ask them questions about Why they like the things they do instead of trying to explain to them why they are wrong based on what goes on in your own head.
And instead of complaining about what Triple H is doing or Damien Sandow failing to cash-in the briefcase, try to understand what the company is attempting to do in the larger context of the show, and judge it from that perspective. Stop trying to find (R.) Truth, and look for "truths".
Or you’ll just end up being one of those people who can watch John Cena and STILL think he can’t wrestle. And that’s just bad.
Nick Bond is the Editor-in-Chief of Juice Make Sugar and the Managing Editor of The Classical. He tweets @TheN1ckster, which is his self-appointed third person nickname because The Nickster lacks the ability to process shame.