Monday, September 9, 2019

Safety in a Violent Art

Bodom should be ostracized but he's not the only one
Photo via Internet Wrestling Database
For a sport-slash-art that is entirely based on feigned violence, pro wrestling requires an impeccable sense of protecting not just yourself, but the people with whom you're working. In the old days, when the wrestlers were convinced that maintaining kayfabe meant pretending it was real to anyone who asked, they had a code of honor that made sure they would protect their opponents (as long as a double-cross wasn't in the works). Bret Hart, for example, has famously said that he's proudest that he's never hurt someone during his career. I shouldn't say that that ethos has dissolved over time, and in fact I think it might have grown stronger. That being said, there are always exceptions to the rule. Take for example the incident in Defy Wrestling earlier this year when Los Parks assaulted a referee after the match. While the incident could be blamed on more than the aggressors in this situation, it was still a black mark.

Labor Day weekend, Revolution Pro Wrestling held one of its Summer Sizzler events, where the Tag Champions, Sha Samuels and Josh Bodom, assaulted referee Aaren Wilde after he mistakenly counted a pin that was supposed to be a kickout. Samuels bodyslammed Wilde, who was unprepared to take the move. After that, Bodom started legitimately wailing on Wilde, as seen in the video below. Warning, it's disconcerting:
Needless to say, Bodom was fired from RevPro, and Samuels was put on probation. I would've maybe sat the latter down a show or two, but the company bought his apology. Regardless of whether he meant it as a shoot or not, Samuels did a move to someone who wasn't expecting it, which is the definition of a shoot, no matter how much he claimed to be "protecting" his target.

Bodom's actions, however, are inexcusable, and what he's done in the aftermath - blaming Wilde, retiring from wrestling, deleting his Twitter - suggests that any account of the events coming from his mouth are probably bullshit. Granted, the video doesn't show how the beatdown started, so Bodom has plausible deniability in his claim that Wilde tried to take him down. However, Bodom's petulance in his reaction and the fact that Wilde just took an unexpected bump means that maybe if he did "lunge" at Bodom, it was a spasm or an attempt to try to get to his feet. Wilde has had to retire from wrestling as a referee. He now loses out on dates not only for RevPro, but for other prominent British indies.

Obviously, booking Bodom from this point out (and possibly Samuels too) shows a lack of concern for safety for anyone on the same show as him/them. There has been outcry already, just the same as there was when Sexy Star or Yoshiko shot on their opponents. Those wrestlers are safety risks anymore, but is in-ring safety the only thing you need to worry about as someone in the industry or as a fan at a show? What about people like Aaron Epic and Sami Callihan, who have domestic violence accusations levied against them? Or SHLAK, who has Nazi ties and has a violent personality? What about Chasyn Rance, who was convicted of going across state lines to commit statutory rape, or Brad Stutts, whose timeout from wrestling after it came out he was a serial creep and predator lasted maybe 20 minutes before people started using him backstage again? Do these people not make wrestling shows unsafe for women, Jewish folk, and other marginalized people who might be at the very least triggered with bad memories seeing someone they know is abusive?

The flipside to this argument is that wrestling, even though it is pantomime, is still a violent thing that attracts people predisposed to using violence to solve problems. People bemoan wrestling's turn to "art school kids," a ridiculous complaint if I ever heard one, but for every Johnny Gargano who asks in character why he's so violent, there are 20 other guys whom you wouldn't want to cross. It's the same thing with other contact sports. It shouldn't be surprising that the National Football League, for example, attracts so many domestic abusers and rapists, because it is a sport where 22 men crash into each other in ten second increments 150 times a game. The same goes for wrestling where the bumps are multiplied, condensed, and made more frequent.

Just because it attracts the violently intimidating though doesn't mean promotions and self-policing locker rooms shouldn't try to keep the predators out of the biz. Protecting your peers is more than just making sure that you don't intentionally hurt them in and around the ring, even if that's still a huge part of the supposed code. But the outcry against Bodom, Sexy Star, and Yoshiko should be directed towards the friends of otherwise well-meaning people in locker rooms who hit people as a fear tactic or who have been photographed with skinheads without remorse or a legit apology (when you say you hate antifa too when saying you hate Nazis, you're telling on yourself). I mean, if someone has no qualms hitting their spouse or partner or child, they're not gonna have any qualms about shooting on someone whom they feel has screwed up in a match setting, right?

No matter what, a safe space should not be derided or mocked. More and more, the establishment, whether government or "subversive" media or even your parents keep telling you that life is hard and you should deal with it, but the world is getting richer and richer and more and more ways to keep people safe are being developed everyday. Why should the people who shit themselves if someone identifies as a gender outside of the binary tell you that you have to sacrifice safety because some piece of shit doesn't want to face consequences for battering a supposed loved one? Everyone should demand an attempt at a safe place to be entertained or to live their lives. Wrestling is no different. So when you raise your pitchforks against Josh Bodom, make sure you keep that same energy the next time one of your "favorites" is accused of rape, domestic battery, or has photographs of them with known Nazis, okay?