Monday, May 18, 2015

On Bad Crowds

Don't chant gross shit at anyone, whether it be the Dubstep Cowboys or not
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The first Philadelphia NXT house show on Thursday was a mostly-rollicking good time that featured tremendous action, character work, and some fanservice, especially from one Triple H. While some of the in-ring decisions were questionable, most of the consternation about the show came from chants in the crowd. Obviously, the bombardment of obscenities made the show uncomfortable for fans who brought small children, and the boilerplate terrible chants like "Sasha's ratchet!" and chanting for anyone BUT Sasha Banks or Charlotte in the main event are all bad in their own right, but the crowd sank to a new low when it chanted "Blake sucks Murphy!" at the Dubstep Cowboys in the opening match.

This incident was not the first red in the ledger of either a WWE/NXT crowd or a Philadelphia assembly. In fact, the latter has gotten such a poisonous reputation for being a "bad" crowd that the stock reaction is just to say things like "Philly bein' Philly again." It's understandable to a point, because while Philadelphia crowds aren't the only bad apples in the bunch, one could make the strong argument my hometown is the worst place for vulgarity and bigotry. But the answer to such a thing is not to tsk-tsk anyone in a Philly crowd, or shake it off as a cultural anomaly. To do that makes that person a part of the problem. It'd be hyperbolic to say that they'd be as big a part of the problem as the shitty hecklers, but that line of direct thinking is not conducive to helping wrestling shows becoming a safe space for children, women, LGBTQ fans, or minorities in general.

When people start singling out solitary bad crowds, it not only ignores that it's a systemic problem, but it might embolden the kinds of fans to chant things that may not be on the most egregious level like Philly's chants sometimes are but are still insanely problematic. Besides, "[x] sucks [y]" was a chant that originated in San Jose the night after WrestleMania (just because it was heterosexual in nature and not homophobic doesn't make it a goddamn lick better), and Full Sail University's regular NXT crowd was the first to chant "Sasha's ratchet!" Terrible, regressive shit happens at more places than just in stereotypical hotbeds. Sure, it may not happen loudly in other places like, say, non-Mania Atlanta or what have you, but what good is pointing that out? Do those crowds want cookies? Instead, the focus should be on those crowds remaining not gross.

Additionally, work needs to be done to stem the tide and change things in these crowds so that they can be safe for all people including families. That starts from the top. The disclaimer didn't say anything about people being ejected for abusive language, which tells me WWE only cares whether fan actions cost them money directly rather than indirectly. For those who say that a disclaimer doesn't really do anything, Chikara has spent over a decade running in the cradle of shitty fans, and honestly, its Philly crowds aren't nearly as problematic as the typical "ECW" crowd. They're not perfect by any means, but before the show, Gavin Loudspeaker announces that Chikara is family-friendly. That goes a long way. Enforcing that policy may be extremely difficult for a crowds that WWE tends to draw, but again, nicking at least one of the morons starting these chants could go a long way in deterrence as well.

Self-policing goes a long way too, although it's also not 100% effective. Many of the gross chants were met with counter chants that were meant to shut up the assholes and focus on giving heat to heels for reasons other than their demographics, whether explicit in the case of Banks or innuendo like the Dubstep Cowboys. Of course the more belligerent in the crowd kept trying to get those chants started, but that's what happens when large swaths of the extreme right wing in this country lay their platforms on being outwardly hostile to anyone who is not in the typically empowered demographic. I'm digressing, but that doesn't mean self-policing isn't effective or appreciated.

Wrestling gets a rap that it's for the unrefined classes of America, but when the companies outwardly market to them and those unrefined people wear their grossness on their sleeves, it's hard to argue against it sometimes. That's why both companies need to change and the decent fans need to be more vocal. Wrestling, whether WWE or at the local VFW, needs to be accessible and it needs to be safe for all fans who wish to partake. That starts by pushing back against the awful fans and realizing that it's not just happening in singular places that are easy to ostracize like Philadelphia.