Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Discussion about Rape and Wrestling

Cabana went too far, but he sparked needed talk
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
It only takes a few dumbasses to ruin everything for everyone. Beyond Wrestling has gone from obscure fight club-style wrestling outfit that worked mostly in wrestling schools and with other companies to a major player on the indie scene, and its shows come with critical acclaim from nearly everyone who observes them. However, with great fame comes scrutiny, even if it's the root of a few dumbasses who ruin it for everyone. The cretins in question reacted to a spot at Uncomfortable on Sunday done by Officer Colt Cabana, the law enforcement alter ego of the world's most famous indie wrestler that is usually confined to Juggalo Championship Wrestling. Cabana got behind Dan Barry and dry-humped him. A certain portion of the crowd in response chanted "Rape! Rape! Rape!" lighting the fuse on a powder keg of awfulness and embarrassment.

The chant in question was in reference to a very specific kind of rape, the kind that happens in prisons and that is thought of to happen by men on other men. The spot that brought the chants on is something that is part of Cabana's routine whenever he's in front of a Juggalo crowd for comedy. Rape is never funny, but you don't need me to tell you that. Maybe you think it's not okay to joke about when it happens to women, and you'd be absolutely correct. But prison rape is just as grotesque, and in a way, it's treated a lot less seriously than the epidemic levels of sexual assault perpetrated mostly by men on women in civilian society because convicts already are erroneously believed to have no rights. It also happens in all situations, by guards on inmates or by inmates on other inmates, same sex or heterosexually. It's a problem, one that shouldn't be made light of.

So why does Cabana still make light of prison rape to get a chuckle and a rise out of the crowd? He claims to love wrestling, but yet this spot seems to me to appeal to the worst kind of wrestling fan, the one that gives everyone a bad name. Sure, one can blame the fans for taking that next step, but at the same time, to discount the stimulus and blame only the reaction is extremely one-sided and shortsighted. If the gross thing didn't happen at the show, then how would those gross fans react? You can't say that they would have found something else to be awful about, because human behavior is complex and can't be judged in arbitrary vacuums. I can only judge what I am given to judge, not what I can imagine.

Some fans/commentators have taken to placing blame on other sources, like Barry, Bill Carr, and Supercop Dick Justice for participating in the match with Cabana and Beyond Wrestling for promoting the match. Honestly, I can at least provide character testimony for Barry and head booker Denver Colorado (the man, not the place), enough to fill up three posts even. They're good guys, but as the smoke clears, none of what I say matters. They have to get out in front of what happened, and to their credit, both guys are answering questions and engaging critics on Twitter. I also recognize that engaging in conversation over what happened is the least any decent human being should do. Yet, the frequency at which people engage in conversation, which requires both talking AND listening, seems dishearteningly low. The tendency to throw out absolutes and throw people under the bus, especially by those in a position of power against the oppressed who don't have the kind of stroke in society, makes me sick in the extreme cases.

Of course, in this case, I do feel it safe to make two absolute statements. One, if you are the kind of person who would chant something gross and vile at a wrestling show like "Rape!", then you should probably sit in a corner and think about what makes your behavior abhorrent and disgusting. Don't go back to a wrestling show until you realize that chanting that not only trivializes prison rape, but also could be a trigger warning to victims of that heinous crime, no matter what the context. Second, the one person who absolutely has to answer questions here is Cabana. This incident isn't the first time I've seen him work shtick that I thought on the wrong side of the edge. His act can run pretty homophobic at times. Still, regardless of whether his resume before Sunday was pristine or not, it still baffles me as to why anyone would think an issue as sensitive as rape should be handled by the wrestling equivalent of a Borscht belt comic.

Then again, modern comedians struggle with the issue. The number of comics and comedy fans who choose the hill of Rape Joke to die on is both staggering and disappointing. If comedy, a generally progressive artform among the critical elite, can have people within it struggle with discussion of rape without getting snippy, then why should anyone be surprised that trying to discuss it in wrestling is even more difficult? Still, if the principals at the heart of this discussion open up to listen to each other and especially to those who may be upset by the material in question, then nothing is impossible.

Conversation means not trying to accuse others of having an agenda. It means not distorting an issue to frame a mostly progressive and welcoming company as a place where women now feel unsafe. It's not being reflexively defensive of an artist's right to free speech as if free speech was the issue here. And it certainly doesn't mean saying "Welp, that's what wrestling is!" and ignoring it like change can't be enacted from the ground up.

Beyond Wrestling is in a unique spot because a lot of what Colorado does influences the rest of the scene, but he's close enough to the fans to listen to what they have to say. I hope that everyone, from Colorado to the fans to the wrestlers to Cabana himself can engage in conversation, listen to what rape survivors, prison or otherwise, and women in general have to say about experiencing the kinds of horrors that the dumbasses who ruin it for everyone celebrate, mindlessly or not. Beyond can be edgy and hip and the next best thing in wrestling, but it won't matter if anyone is made to feel unsafe or if they feel as if their discomfort level is too much.

And even if that discomfort level comes from the dumbasses who ruin it for everyone, then they need to be talked to at least. Maybe it's up to the decent folk in the crowd to speak up and stop gross chants as they're happening. I don't know what the exact solution is, but I do know wrestling fans should not be allowed to be stuck in the dark ages and thus shut out entire demographics. And something as heinous as rape probably shouldn't be used as fodder for a comedic spot in a match until society gets how badly the act is ignored and underprosecuted, both in and out of jail. If that time is "never," then yeah, I'd be oddly okay with it.