Monday, June 11, 2018

How Anthony Bourdain's Example Can Help Improve Wrestling Discourse

Bourdain's entire career is a template for building community over a common interest
Photo Credit: David Scott Holloway/CNN
Anthony Bourdain passed away last week by his own hand. A few other writers who are smarter and better than me tackled his eulogies well, and this is a wrestling blog (well, The Wrestling Blog) and not a food blog. It's not to say Bourdain didn't touch the world of pro wrestling. I mean, he was a member of Titus Worldwide, for crying out loud. His death, however, got me to thinking about wrestling in a roundabout way, or more specifically, his thoughts on a specific area of culinary prowess did. His thoughts on craft beer...

I read that passage and noted that goddamn nerd Bourdain described was me, or at least it used to be me. Well, I'm not the guy at the bar with the notebook comparing IBUs of certain beers or trying to scribble down mouthfeels or flavor notes through interpretation of an admittedly unrefined palate. I was the guy at the wrestling show transcribing notes, blow for blow, trying to get as many details as I could while missing others that were way more memorable or important.

Obviously, drinking a beer and viewing a live wrestling show are two markedly different experiences if only that the former is consumed on your time and the latter delivered at whatever speed the workers are going. However, they are the same in that they're sensory events, meant to be experienced with impressions and emotions and not through gleaning data to prove a hypothesis. You aren't supposed quantify numbers with beer or food or any kind of consumable item. It's meant to be a communal thing. You eat a slice of pie or a lamb tagine or this dumpling from some corner of Southeast Asia you just heard of today, and it fills you with a strong feeling and more importantly the desire to share in prose, be it vulgar or refined, with as many people as possible. It's fundamentally what Tony Bourdain was all about. Every show he's ever been on spanning two networks has been about going to a location, trying the food, and talking to people first about said food and then about their lives. He knew how to build community, to build rapport, and food was his canvas.

Wrestling might be more of a niche interest than food. To be fair, nearly anything in the world is niche compared to food, seeing as it provides the required nourishment for human survival. However, it provides the same stimuli for reaction and the same impeti to share those reactions with other people, sometimes in unison right when those events happen in front of you. I am still as guilty as anyone else in looking at that bigger synaptic picture and trying to assign a value to it (TWB 100 vigilance never ends!), and yet a lot of what drives my fandom, my greater point of view in watching and continuing to be immersed in wrestling is looking for that internal spark, the thing that moves me to smile, pump my fist, hoot, holler, or feel the skin stand up on the back of my neck and shoulders at what trained people are doing inside a wrestling ring. It's why I stopped bringing a notebook to live shows, and why I've consciously tried to hone my review-writing style over the years to be driven more by reacting to the stories the wrestlers were trying to tell, or at least my interpretations.

The Wrestling Observer-style of recapping shows — noting finishes, crowd reactions, possibly giving a move-by-move recap, with the only editorializing being a few words at the end and a star rating — has done so much to cannibalize critically writing about what is truly an art. I could lament how much influence has been trusted with a rape apologist and a misogynist in Dave Meltzer, but the more and more wrestling grows into accepted popular culture (even if the dollar amounts from prior boom periods don't match up traditionally), the more and more I see writing like Meltzer's exist in a bubble. More people get into wrestling writing with an ear for the artistic, and outlets are moving past star ratings and crowd noise for something less tangible and more open to interpretation, for discussion, for community.

Community is the key word here. Bourdain wasn't with the crowd when he went building rapport with people in the Global South that even most leftists in America might feel skittish fraternizing with. The only people he didn't like were the bigots and the monsters in charge of the state of world affairs. While it's not exclusive to wrestling fandom, even looking at niche, isolated microclimates on Twitter, people reject building community with others for the tritest and most insignificant of reasons. However, it would be nice if wrestling had like one talking head who was influential enough and did work in bridging gaps and accentuating how wrestling can build a community among the fans instead of trying to quantify which wrestler has accrued more snowflakes over the years as a sign of their worth. That's how Bourdain's spectre looms large over wrestling, or really, over anything. The stunning desire to be right should never overshadow the catharsis one feels at vicarious artistic experience, and the more people who get that, the better everyone will be, whether at a dinner table or in a wrestling arena, and all places in between.