Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Victims over Loyalty: An Essay on Michael Elgin

Elgin doesn't deserve your defense
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
It seems that every other day, some new story is coming out about a domestic abuser or a rapist. The dominoes have mostly fallen in the entertainment industry, but the stories have started to leak out in wrestling as well. Sean Orleans, a low-card indie wrestler in the St. Louis area, was accused of sexual assault by a female fan in the area. Orleans worked a lot for Michael Elgin in Glory Pro Wrestling. The accusations came to light initially in September, but they weren’t noticed by most people until November, when the accuser brought them back to light with the rush of accusations and action against them in Hollywood was in full swing. Elgin immediately tweeted from the official Glory Pro account that Orleans would not be booked for him anymore, and he’d seemingly said all the right things in public since then. “Seemingly” and “public” however are the operative words here.

As it would turn out, the public show of concern was just comprised of crocodile tears for Elgin's real feelings about the victim. A Twitter user named @VicVenomBytes had a brusque exchange with the victim, and that was enough for him not to believe her. He became a sounding board for Elgin in direct messages, where his concern for sexual assault victims turned out to be window dressing for public relations purposes. In those DMs, Elgin repeatedly reiterated how the victim was not trustworthy and perhaps even had it coming, going so far as to call her a whore. This all would have probably stayed secret had Elgin not unfollowed VVB for whatever reason. Out of spite or some twisted attempt at getting that follow back or whatever, VVB posted screenshots of those DMs, exposing Elgin as a rape apologist.

This action set off a chain reaction that saw both him and Elgin deleting Twitter, Elgin un-deleting so he could post ham-handed explanations that were centered around rehabbing his image rather than making amends towards the victim, him deleting again, the victim posting texts that corroborated Elgin's abusive at worst and passively negligent towards the safety of other people at the absolute best. One such text showed Elgin bragging that he "never has bad matches," that Jeff Cobb hanging out with his friends in New Japan is worse than wanting to meet with sponsors, and most damningly, that as soon as the accuser challenged him on an opinion, he talked down to her and put pressure on her to agree with him.

Seeing as though VVB isn't exactly a bastion of honor and that a lot of this has been revealed through leaked private messaging, the temptation to dismiss it all is strong. However, abusers and abuse apologists oftentimes hide behind public personae, carefully crafted to get as many people to believe that they're your friends and not artists looking for a fiduciary edge. So many people believe that because they conflate art with the integrity of that person's character. It still happens to this day with [REDACTED]. Try bringing up that Chris Benoit is a fucking piece of shit who murdered his family and then committed suicide to escape all responsibility for his actions, and you'll get a brigade of people arguing that he was a great wrestler and that you should separate art from artist at best and that he couldn't have murdered anyone and that it was a jealous Kevin Sullivan or whoever who perpetrated it in a massive coverup.

If people will do Olympic gold medal-worthy mental gymnastics to defend a murderer, a crime that is actually seen by a consensus of humanity as bad and that is prosecuted close to adequate levels by the legal system, imagine how much greater the numbers of people willing to bend and twist in defense of someone accused of a crime that isn't seen as a crime by a large part of society and that is prosecuted at woeful levels. Roy Moore in Alabama is about as ghoulish and repugnant as politicians go, and yet people en masse will not only defend him, but vote for him to serve in the US Senate despite the fact that he's accused of assaulting numerous girls below the age of consent. Imagine how much greater the support would be for a wrestler who has convinced legions of fans as part of their marketing that they're your friend.

To say wrestlers are not your friends is the knee-jerk reaction here, but it also implies something sinister, that if they were your friends, you’d be wholly justified in protecting them if they’ve raped or battered someone. This mindset has taken root too strongly in a world where loyalty in the face of shit behavior is seen as a positive. If you want to know why so many louts and wastrels gain influence and wealth in society, your answer is that somewhere along the line, loyalty was considered a better quality than thirst for justice, that one can excuse actions that are destructive to any amount of bystander lives as long as that person lines up with your goals, whether they be political or as piddling as wanting to see that person do the wrestles because they like how those persons do the wrestles.

That's why when shit like this breaks, people crawl out of the woodwork to cry about lost bookings, as if Elgin being able to work for, say, Limitless Wrestling in Maine (who was one of the first promotions to cancel on him, and in a delightful twist of irony, replaced him with Cobb) is more important than the accuser's right to live her life without someone sexually assaulting her within a business she's a fan of and having someone above her rapist attempt to bully her into silence over her concerns. Even if Elgin lost all his bookings, his loss of revenue wouldn't be a greater injustice (nor would it be an injustice at all) than the fact that one of his wrestlers assaulted a fan and he tried forcing her into silence and acceptance. However, he's not going to lose all his revenue streams, because he works for New Japan Pro Wrestling, a company that still employs Tomoaki Honma in the face of his domestic assault accusations and that willingly booked Sami Callihan even after accusations of domestic violence surfaced about him. The cycle continues on and on, and it continues for the benefit of powerful men with their victims used to grease the wheel.

Change only starts when the consumer wakes up and realizes that a product isn't more important than a person. It doesn't matter if Elgin wrestles in an aesthetically pleasing manner, just as it doesn't matter if Johnny Depp makes movies you like or if Josh Leuke can help your favorite team win the pennant or if Jimmy Page has sick guitar licks, man. Everyone has to do their part to shut these people out and make sure that future generations move towards ethical production of art by people who aren't going to demand you shut up if they or one of their peers abuses you in any way. I fear that will be impossible under capitalism, and that even under other, more progressive economic systems or governments that it would still be a tall task. However, nothing worth having is ever easy to attain. Trust me, it's worth working towards.