Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Bad Actors and Knowing Your Worth

Ki's virus denialism doesn't make knowing his worth bad
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Going to wrestlers on advice about anything but professional wrestling and probably like bodybuilding or training in mixed martial arts is a bad idea. It always has been. A few wrestlers have good takes in various arenas. For every vocal lefty like Sami Zayn, there are a dozen dozens of Trump voters. Still, even conservative wrestlers are only the tip of the bad idea iceberg. Some wrestlers go further than quietly supporting Republican/Tory politicians and spew pernicious screed about a vast number of topics from the ridiculous to the sublime. Sure, everyone gets a laugh when these wrestlers are served up for dunks in quote-tweets meant to mock and prod at them. Some people hate the idea of giving bad idea wrestlers the platform, but when someone like Ryback already has nearly 1.5 million followers, it's hard to think that someone like dunking on him makes too much of a difference in the dissemination of their harmful ideas.

The latest wrestler to dip his toe into evangelical idiocy has been Low Ki, who has used Twitter as his personal disinformation board about COVID-19. In the grand style of one of dril's more popular tweets, every time someone called Ki out on his dangerous screed, he would double down and proclaim that his freedom not to wear a mask or socially distance in a misguided attempt to build up his own antibodies was just as important or moreso than everyone else's right not to get sick at minimum. Remember, COVID-19 is not just a respiratory illness. It attacks blood vessels and has been known to cause strokes and heart attacks. Additionally, it seems to have chronic effects that doctors have yet to study. This strain of coronavirus is nasty business, but count Ki among the cacophonous minority yelling from the mountaintops about how their freedom is more important than your health.

It's par for the course for Ki, whose mouth has not always been his strong suit. He's said a lot of dumb things in the past. He's done a lot of dumb things in the past. Just ask Ahtu about the time Ki knocked him loopy in the opening match of the cursed EVOLVE 10 show and then tried to get his shit in on him while he was loopy. Maybe he'll remember it, but odds are, the concussion took care of that brain space. Still, Ki has done a lot of objectively good things in his career that people have claimed were bad. While there's no defending the epidemiological denialism, it feels like people bringing up that he's "hard to work with" as a building block for his rap sheet might be letting biases they don't know they even have when it comes to how they view wrestling cloud how they look at a person on the whole.

In case you're new and don't remember Ki from any time when he was with a promotion for longer than a match or two, he's a worker who knows what he's worth. He knows that people come to see him kick folks and do his double stomps and head drops and talk in a voice that is unsettlingly and shockingly basal in tone. He has had a reputation of "holding up" promoters for more money, creative control, or both, and because he's one of the few wrestlers who not only can use that as leverage but who absolutely will, he gets vilified as "difficult." Wrestling culture promotes selflessness for the locker room, and it's a poisonous attitude, not because being selfless is bad, but the selflessness is often a veneer for managerial control.

If you get the boys to take a smaller cut "for the good of the locker room," to do a puzzling job for a weird wrestler "for the good of the locker room," to do menial manual labor for no extra charge "for the good of the locker room," you can easily manipulate the books and put more money in your pocket. Because wrestling is so hyper-focused on specific plans for specific wrestlers, it's easier to condition fans and workers alike to fall in line. A wrestler holds out for more money or because they don't think the story they're being put into makes sense? They're robbing you of a payoff.

It's why painting someone like Ki, who knows his worth, as a bad actor is easy and evergreen, and the mass outpouring of Speaking Out over the last two weeks about sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in wrestling in the last two weeks needed years upon years melding into decades of buildup in order to break the dam. The programming has always valued protecting slimebags like Joey Ryan and even Brandon Stroud as long as they kept to the omerta that the promoter was right to foster an environment of falling in line over one that, in the words of Adam Scott's character from Stepbrothers so eloquently put it, busted the nut. It just so happened that all those "bad actors" were easy to vilify for OTHER reasons altogether.

Aside from Ki, you had Warrior, who was a psychotic bigot. "Sycho" Sid Vicious blew off wrestling for the leisure activity of playing softball, which goes against America's beloved Protestant work ethic. Ryback spews about how mental illness isn't a real thing. If I were an unhinged conspiracy theorist, I might say that these wrestlers all realizing their worth was more than what they were paying turning out to have other issues was a psyop to reinforce wrestling's hyper-capitalist culture. Occam's Razor, however, suggests that most people who get into wrestling are, well, quirky to say the least.

There's no reason not to dunk on wrestlers who make the worst possible claims about important current events. It might seem pedantic to keep your dunking in bounds, but no matter how idiotic the take is, most people contain multitudes. Dunking on Low Ki because he priced himself out of too many shows or promotions is the hollowest of owns, because he's only looking out for his own self-interest. Now, you can take him to task for his lack of solidarity with other people in the locker room, but then you get into the argument of whose responsibility it is to join in. Is the onus on Ki to get his fellow workers looking for more money beside him, or is it on the other people in the locker room to stand up for him instead of to him? There's a right answer, and I'm not sure it's the conventional wisdom either.