Monday, December 23, 2013

The Airing of Grievances: Burn the Strawmen

Ah , fictional character played by Jerry Stiller, your holiday is awesome
"I got a lot of problems with you people." -- Frank Costanza

Today is Festivus, a holiday for, as the above-quoted fictional character intended, the rest of us. The Festivus pole is set up with care down by Florida State Capitol (fuck you, Gretchen Carlson), the Feats of Strength are lined up for RAW tonight (or maybe they aren't, I haven't read spoilers). However, I have grievances, and I feel the need to air them. Today is the perfect time in which to give them life.

Normally, during this time of year, families head outside to build snowmen, but all year long, I see folks within the wrestling community building effigies using a different building material. The strawman is as old as verbal discourse itself, a key tool for the purveyors of rhetoric to aim their rage with efficacy in terms of riling people up. However, when making accord or accurately describing what someone is actually feeling about a certain subject, all a strawman accomplishes is providing tinder for destructive flame wars, mainly because those strawmen are set up as groups of fans.

Whenever WWE especially does something polarizing, I see terms like "smark" and "IWC" bandied about in regards to the fan reactions to them, always in a negative connotation. I've been aware of both of those terms for as long as I've had an awareness of a wrestling fandom deeper than simply watching it, but I've never really been able to pin down a meaningful definition for either. The word "smark" seems to be a wrestling fan who isn't a "mark" but who isn't in the business, but that includes an entire cross-section of people. "Internet Wrestling Community" literally means everyone who is on the Internet who likes wrestling.

So, the folly in setting up strawmen with those names should be apparent, but at the same time, what reason would someone have for compartmentalizing a group of people who think differently from them? Well, the whole basis of debate and conflict in recorded human history is based off putting everyone who doesn't agree with you in a neat box for easy attack. But wrestling discourse is not deciding on healthcare or disputing boundaries. It is literally talking about what sweaty humanoids in varying degrees of clothing pretend fight on top of some plywood enclosed by steel ropes. Why should anyone care about who disagrees with their take on the show?

I get that basic human nature pulls people towards wanting agreement with their point of view. I know from experience. But wrestling talk is not a matter of life or death. If civility and temperance could be used to make political dialogue better, then why the fuck is anyone trying to play sides or be hostile in terms of interpreting what Vince McMahon and his braintrust are providing? Either you agree with your fellow fan, or you don't. Smarks do not have a uniform profile from person to person because they are not a type of person who exists. IWC is a wrestling promotion in Pittsburgh.

Furthermore, trying to discuss wrestling in terms of who prefers what out of a company is lazy and robs said discourse of any critical meaning. If all the "smarks" are complaining, then maybe they have a legitimate gripe from their point of view. Instead of dismissing, why can't people explain why they're defending the product that McMahon (or Dixie Carter or Hunter Johnston or Mike Quackenbush or Jedo and Gado or any promoter/booker/auteur) is producing? Dismissal only leads to fighting. Fighting over interpretation of a wrestling show is borderline sociopathic.

Everyone who is a wrestling fan has one thing in common, and that is a shared passion for the art. The type of wrestling or the companies watched are irrelevant. Aside from that passion, the book on every individual wrestling fan is different. No two people think exactly the same way, and that is perfectly okay. Wrestling is not meant to be interpreted one dogmatic way. If Brandon Stroud doesn't want to play wait and see with WWE or root for only the undercard heels, that is his prerogative. He lays his opinions out bare and actually shows his work. If Sawyer Paul (GET THE K OUT!) doesn't think titles are worth anything, he's allowed to think that, and by golly, he actually has reasons for it other than "SMARKS BE CRAY CRAY IF THEY DON'T AGREE." If you, yes you, have an opinion that is different from anything else you've seen in print or heard over bandwidth, then go crazy with it.

When you start to attack others for opinions by dismissing them in the army of the strawmen though, or even worse, when you invent an opposition group to an opinion that you've formed in your head among the throbbing hordes of commenters on the Web who may or may not do the same thing, then that's where I start to get testy. You're entitled to your own opinion, but so do I, so does Danielle Matheson, so does Dylan Hales, and so does everyone the fuck else. If you want to talk about wrestling with me, then you had best be prepared to talk about ideas and tropes and wrestlers and companies. Having a conversation about what a group of fans may or may not like is boring and intellectually lazy.

Basically, you should do you, and when you come across someone you don't agree with, you should battle that person with civility and above all else a basic notion of why you feel the way you do. If your best answer is "Well, I like it because it's not what the smarks like and the smarks ruin wrestling," then go home and think about the life decisions you've made to get to such a flawed perspective.