I recently went down to Dallas and had a fantastic Wrestlemania weekend. It was my first trip, and one of the best attributes of the journey was the interaction with other fans. Of course, when you wait in those long lines at Axxess and Wrestlecon, you are going to get a lot of smarks, but I also had some stellar debates and conversations with a lot of people just like myself, who love the spectacle of professional wrestling but have drifted away compared to the days of yore. What happened? When did the suspension of disbelief become filled with cynicism? Instead of talking about what we love, us wrestling fans spend most of our days speaking on what we disapprove of, whether it be talent, storylines, and so on. The real question is, why has the WWE got this point where we as the viewers go in circles trying to find that one bad seed in a television product that still manages to keep us entertained enough to continue to tune in every week?
There are so many directions to point a finger at as to why the WWE doesn’t quite have that same satisfaction that it used to. I mean, Vince has tried to better the product and that does show. Triple H has done wonders with NXT and we are finally seeing some new talent flesh out the old, creating a fresh and crisp atmosphere each week with a little more unpredictability. However, when you love something it is still ok to critique it, and fans rip apart the very brand they loyally support every single day. That conversation is now so loud that we hear it in crowd chants, vlogs, and all throughout social media. I am just one person who has had a love of the business since the dawn of the Attitude Era. I am in no way a “God of the fans”, nor am I a smark – but I can still rewatch old episodes of Raw and find myself much more captivated by the years of 1998 through 2007. This isn’t about my knowledge or own preferences though, it is about what I feel is weighing down the enjoyment and awe that has been missing for a while, and is just now seeing a small resurgence since 2016 began. With that said, I think a breakdown of what is wrong with wrestling is in order, starting from the very worst thing to ever happen to wrestling.
The online media.
Literally everyone can blog now. Any person who has the least bit of skill can be a writer. Hell, I am proving that right now by using this platform to share my own opinions. There are two shades of color to speak about here though, as during the past few years with the popularity of Youtube and other quick video formats increasing, we have seen less articles about wrestling and more five minute clips that do very little to educate and enlighten the fans. I want to start speaking about this subject by talking about dirt sheets. I know that many professional wrestlers hate dirt sheets. These are the websites that try to get rumors about the talent swirling due to the presence of moles backstage to attract readers and revenue to their own market. The dirt sheet writer first became a popular format of journalism around twenty-five years ago, as these third party websites hosted stories about firings, hirings, and everything in-between. It was obvious quickly that Vince and several other promoters hated these websites, as there was a lot of controversy years ago due to several angles being spoiled ahead of big events. Fans were bringing in “Welcome Back _______!” signs for shows that did not announce the return of a big Superstar, and forums with wrestling talk soon turned into debating a performer’s personal life, rather than their in-ring abilities.
During the past ten years, WWE have embraced change and have even featured sites like Bleacher Report and Wrestlezone on their program, as even bad publicity is good publicity. Smarks – or the “Smart Marks” were created from this format of news, as those fans took in this knowledge that felt exclusive and telling and combined it with their current perception of a staged product to feel as if they were more in the know. I get it, as I read dirt sheets for spoilers on Smackdown, and have done so for years to keep up to date with all of the future endeavors. Remember that nerve-wrecking time between 2004-2011 where the WWE began “spring cleaning” their roster? Anticipation is a human emotion we all have and if someone offers to give you a box with a surprise in it that you cannot open for seven long days, I would say that most wrestling fans (myself included) would rip it to shreds as feeling in the know of backstage affairs can be quite empowering – if not very destructive to the product as a whole. I have a love hate relationship with these websites. Some do fun fantasy bookings and actually pay tribute to careers and bring forth interviews that are absolutely fascinating. Go look up any shoot interview. It doesn’t matter which one. These tell-all productions are interesting for fans as we get to see the actual talent let us inside their lives for two to three hours at a time. I do however hate what a lot of newer websites have become. These little brands understand marketing. They have brilliant suits up top that know how to use the internet in their favor to create revenue. Welcome to the clickbait media that has infested the squared circle like the plague.
I am not going to beat around the bush with names as my respect is an absolute zero for a lot of the organizations I am about to speak about. This generation’s addition of transparency to sports entertainment has done wonders for fans. We feel more connected to each Superstar. Some websites however have taken that gift and soiled it, producing nothing but garbage to infest the minds of current and future fans, turning what could be a valid opinion into meaningless knowledge that does nothing but hurt not only the Superstars, but all of the promotions they work for. Whatculture is the absolute biggest monster on the farm here. How did it get so bad? Well, the answer is quite easy. Step 1: Hire amateur comedians with basic wrestling knowledge and put them behind a keyboard and camera. Step 2: Utilize online monetization techniques known as “clickbait” by forming several daily top ten lists and catchy, negative headlines thrown in to attract an audience. Oh, by the way, get ready to refresh their ads ten times as you will be clicking through a slideshow for even the most mundane of topics. Seriously, you needed ten fucking pages to spew that vile? Step 3: Create videos that are laced with animations and flashy cuts to make the production come full circle, with the audience absorbing every word, hooking younger viewers as well as casual fans who are not fully into the product, so they stop watching what they love and come to you due to the sheer quantity of your content. This is the same mentality that had Youtubers who once had dwindling views hook onto the Minecraft/Let’s Play video train – so they could cash in on that group of young fans who would rather watch a game be played than actually play it.
I mean, who needs to even watch Raw or Smackdown anymore when they can watch Adam speak negatively for ten minutes in what is best compared to a pop-up video for idiots? I am sure the guy is nice in real life, and hats off to him and the crew at Whatculture for latching onto such an intuitive dragon that is making a lot of money, but seriously, where is the integrity? I have a few friends who are new to wrestling. One of which has watched off and on for years and is now starting to develop a passion for the business – meaning his brain is like a sponge for every video he sees for any product out there. I know it and understand where he is coming from, as I was the same way years ago with videos, DVDS, and early forums for wrestling fans. I think I read every issue of WWE Magazine from top to bottom as a teen. When you begin to have a passion for something, you want to learn everything you can about it. He is the one who introduced me to this channel called Whatculture that had millions of hits each day – and I thought why not. I mean, sure – I knew of Whatculture beforehand, as you cannot google a current topic in the wrestling world without one of their top ten clickbait links being first in the lot. The videos however I thought may have some passionate people behind them, but alas, I was wrong. These videos spend a lot of time talking about bullshit that doesn’t matter and can easily misguide the audience. I do not think any less of my friend for still enjoying them, as entertainment is all about preference. This piece however is about my feelings, so continuing on…
I think the absolute worst I have seen are the “Top Ten Things WWE Wants you to Forget About _____” series. With over one million views, there is a video that is constantly being promoted to myself while I browse, that is in this series about Jeff Hardy (gotta love recommendations). The thumbnail is literally his mugshot from his arrest, with a good portion of the video speaking about matches that have been highlighted as rookie spots for years (the WWE showed these many times, easily found on the WWE Network and official home video releases – aka NOT forgotten), along with a great deal of talk about Jeff’s drug use. Jeff is not even in the WWE I am pretty sure – so that definitely is not viable, plus – where do you get off thinking it is ok to tell your impressionable young audience about a personal issue from years ago? Sure, most fans know about Jeff, but at the same time, these videos are staining a legacy.
Just look at a few of the thousands of comments from what are obviously younger viewers:
When Chyna died last week, many wondered why she didn’t get into the WWE Hall of Fame during her lifetime. Forget about the beefs, as this exact type of TMZ styled media coverage is the main reason why she did not get inducted. Look at the Stone Cold interview – Triple H speaks directly about Google and her name being a factor. People make bad decisions and you use your platform as an “entertainment vessel” to smash them back down so they can’t get back up? It isn’t just Jeff, or Chyna, and it isn’t just Whatculture – as I am simply highlighting them as other copycats have followed their trend of bullshit clickbait that does nothing but kill legacies and invade personal flaws THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ACTUAL PRODUCT. This is just a sampling as I could go on for hours about the misinformation and misleading headlines at work here, that viewers are actually absorbing and using to define an individual that they know nothing about. It makes me, as a fan angry to see such fantastic talent spat on. This type of media takes what we get from dirt sheets and spins it into a quick headline and thumbnail, misinforming an audience by creating a context that makes fans think it is ok to criticize on subjects that it is clearly not.
When I spoke to fans in those lines, they were telling stories about past Wrestlemanias, those moments where we were on the edge of our seats as Edge flew through the ropes at Foley through a flaming table, and so many other great stories that just hearing them from another point of view brought a spark back that I had not felt in a long time. Then I get back to reality where fans are no longer experiencing these moments, but instead a machine that produces a hollow, flashy pill that is easy to consume – and because they had that pill, they now think they know. There is a reason why ratings are dropping, and it isn’t the talent. It isn’t the writing. It is the fact that top tens and index card reminders have been sculpted into a mirage of an article or video, lacking the substance and context that makes our sport great. Instead of spending time on that quick video or slideshow, go to an interview, or a book, or an actual match and take in the real thing. Indulge in random views, and promote passionate Youtubers who are telling stories and having those debates with energy in their voice. Sure, there is a lot that might be wrong with wrestling, but this one has an easy fix.