Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Give Respect to Neurodiversity

El Phantasmo fucked up
Photo via Wikipedia
Autism awareness has come a long way in a short time. When people didn't know what autism even was, those on the spectrum were ostracized, treated differently, or even in the case of the most extreme cases, given exorcisms. I would wager any chance that cases of demonic possession were just extreme reactions to nonverbal people. Even since the neurotype was given the name autism, public perception of it has mostly improved. Instead of being seen as a disease or disorder, people are starting to realize that autistic people just have a different mental computer than neurotypical people have. Granted, some people and organizations like Autism Speaks reject this and still treat neurodivergent people like they have an illness, but that attitude is slowly dying out.

Wrestling famously can be slow on the social uptake. WWE as recently as 2007 had Eugene roaming around on a regular basis, reprising the character on returns as recently as 2014. That's only one example. Other companies have been better at normalizing the experience for autistic people. You know, wrestling isn't just for the neurotypical. All Elite Wrestling, for example, has been proactive in this regard. With the strides taken to make sure wrestling can be enjoyed by those on the spectrum, it's baffling and disappointing to see El Phantasmo, winner of New Japan's Super J-Cup tournament, regress so blatantly:
I know El-P is a member of Bullet Club, the arch-heel stable that has made its bones on being "politically incorrect." And it's not like his target, Will Ospreay, is a saint here. That being said, you gotta leave that talk in the past.

There's heel heat and there's the kind of talk that makes people feel uncomfortable. New Japan Pro Wrestling doesn't wrestlers need to dip its pen into bigotry. It already has no fewer than three wrestlers who can get entire arenas to throw garbage at them without opening their mouths. To the best of my knowledge, Switchblade Jay White, Taichi, and KENTA (in the same fucking stable as El-P) don't need to make light of autism (or throw around racist or misogynist rhetoric) to get people to boo them. IT's not cheap heat, and what they do makes it clear their issue is with the wrestler they're against, not a whole group of people.

In theory, you could target entire groups of people and it's fine, but the unintended effect is you create an environment where a marginalized person who goes to a show where they expect to escape the bigotries being flung into their face are now getting inundated with it there. They aren't going to want to be wrestling fans if wrestling continues to give them heels who don't just "hate" the wrestlers they're feuding with, but also hate them. It can't be a good feeling. I don't know that feeling as intensely as a marginalized person, because the only thing I've ever really felt "marginalized" for is being fat, and honestly, I can deal with that because I have it good everywhere else, and it's something I can theoretically change. You can't change your race, your gender, or your neurotype.

Heat, like anything you can buy with money, is best when it's authentic and costs more than saying a slur. Cheap heat is flimsy and will break after a few uses. If you want to be a heel, you don't want your heat to break before you can even get to a low-tier title program, right? Attacking Katsuyori Shibata is the kind of heat that will sustain you for a year. Making light of neurodiversity as a way to attack someone will get you eliminated first in the New Japan Rambo if you're lucky. Autistic people are not just wrestling fans, they're people with thoughts and feelings that you can't just play with for your own amusement.