Monday, June 15, 2020

A Looming Epidemicological Sword of Damocles

There is no way in hell Reigns should come back until there's a vaccine
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Earlier today across the world's largest ocean, New Japan Pro Wrestling became the latest company to forge ahead with no crowd with its Together Project show. Of all the mainstream companies, they have been the most judicious about producing their shows in the time of COVID-19. Things have slowed down around the world. Countries like Vietnam introduced stringent restrictions from jump, and they were relatively unaffected. Other nations like New Zealand dealt with the virus as it infiltrated through their borders, and now they're virus-free and returned to a relatively normal way of life. While Japan is less like New Zealand and more like other pragmatic nations such as South Korea and Germany, it has reached a level of efficacy dealing with the virus that New Japan decided now was the time to start operations again.

However, can there be a normal, new or otherwise, in the time of a novel disease that not only wreaks acute, short-term havoc but is now showing to have longer-term chronic issues after it has been "treated" and put in remission for survivors, without a reliable vaccine? While I applaud New Zealand's efforts in containing the virus and flattening the curve, seeing a stadium full of people in close proximity to each other makes me a little squeamish. All it takes is one person infected with the virus to cause another spike in countries that have nipped it in the bud so to speak. Remember how South Korea battled the virus at first and then got it under control? A single asymptomatic carrier of the virus in Seoul went clubbing, infected 100 people at least, and may have exposed an additional 5,500 people. True safety cannot be achieved until there is an effective means of protection, and this only works in places where the government cares enough about people to have treated the virus seriously.

The United States has had, by far, the worst response to the virus out of anywhere on Earth save possibly other nations run by autocratic despots like Brazil. Politicians knew about the virus' landfall in the States, and their responses ranged from "calling it a hoax" to "not telling any of their constituents and using the info to make illegal stock dumps and purchases for personal enrichment." When it first started to ravage the population, not even a day passed after affected areas started being issued shelter-in-place orders before those politicians bitched and moaned about reopening the economy. The goal was never keeping the population safe for the people in the highest levels of administration in federal government nor in state governments of places controlled by toady Republicans. Florida is one of those places, because it granted wrestling, which to be truthful even as an outlet written by someone who loves the medium is about as essential as a skin tag with the current environment, essential business denomination.

As much as I'm looking forward to watching New Japan, ANY New Japan, I'm wondering if this will trigger escalation in America that might put wrestlers here in danger. It wouldn't be New Japan's fault until they themselves started filing crowds back without taking any precautions or before a vaccine were to be developed. However, America's business leadership mirrors the federal leadership because the country elected perhaps the avatar of its greed and haste as the President. Just as business owners and administrators are eager to put their labor back in harm's way after no real reduction of risk, no curve flattening, the President will look at countries reopening after putting in hard work and think that they got to where they were through happenstance and not careful planning. The New Japan plan includes allowing the gradual reintroduction of fans, and when that footage of paying customers in various arenas in Japan wafts across the Pacific, you know Vince McMahon will be horny to get someone, anyone in the crowd who paid to be there faster than you can say "you're an independent contractor, Harry!"

WWE has already been impacted by the virus. Even discounting the fact that a couple of their wrestlers may have tested positive for it at some point in the beginning of the pandemic, it has cost them through precaution its arguable biggest full-time star in Roman Reigns. While he denies it's the reason he's staying away, he's at heightened risk for not only catching but feeling the worst effects from COVID-19 because he's a recent cancer patient with a compromised immune system. What happens when McMahon starts selling tickets again and some jackass who also toted a gun on a state capital pays for a front row ticket and gets close enough to a wrestler to transmit COVID-19 to them through their spittle talk? Reigns is never going to come back under those conditions, nor should he.

All it's going to take is the wrong wrestler to catch COVID-19 from a fan in attendance to take the entire industry down. If WWE goes down, it's taking the whole place with it at least domestically, and if you don't think that's the case, take inventory of how people view wrestling in America. It's so closely tied to the market leader that you're just as likely to hear someone refer to all graps as "WWE" in the same way they refer to all bleach as Clorox or all tissues as Kleenex. The worst part is there's nothing anyone can do to control it because if McMahon decides he wants fans at SummerSlam with no flattened curve or no vaccine, he's going to get there with help from his WWE Hall of Fame buddy in the White House. As seen with the armed protests at government buildings, it doesn't matter if all the "good" wrestling fans like you and I stay away from events. People in this country have an unjustified sense of entitlement that allows them to wave their "freedom" around like a serial flasher waving his penis around to unconsenting victims.

Wrestling is at a crossroads right now, whether people want to believe it or not. If you don't think McMahon would be pennywise and pound foolish at this point, congratulations, you have ignored the history of nearly every wrestling promoter in the history of the sport/medium. COVID-19 has a real possibility of destroying American wrestling, and all one can hope for at this point is that McMahon has cooler heads surrounding him, telling him that people doing big events in New Zealand or Japan with people in the crowds has a lot to do with how they handled it. Realistically, you can't hope for a capitalist that McMahon might listen to, like his son-in-law or daughter, to have a humanitarian agenda anyway. What wrestling fans have to hope for is that someone starts talking sense and keeping this push to reopen the economy suppressed. What the country needs is more testing, more payouts from the government to be able to afford basic necessities, more debt relief/abatement, and less pressure to expose themselves to a disease that could fuck them up for the rest of their lives, if not kill them. As of right now, that proposition isn't a slam dunk.