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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    May 2018

    Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk - When in the Course

    Iím not sure that I ever expected to write another column by myself again, but I had the good fortune to talk with Mizfan about wrestling on Twitter yesterday. This is always a treat, even if itís about something that we fundamentally disagree Ė as was the case yesterday. It was a recurring topic of ours Ė about my belief that thereís no place for the things in wrestling at what I call the Ďbullshití end of the spectrum, and his belief that, since he enjoys them, that there is. This quickly became a conversation about comedy wrestling and, though that wasnít my intention in my initial tweet Ė where I was referring to the full gamut of things that Iíd label bullshit Ė thereís no denying that a lot of how that manifests itself in the contemporary world would fall under that umbrella.

    Our conversation is not, in and of itself, reason to write a column when I havenít been moved to do so for some time. But I am, nonetheless, because I think I get where people are coming from when they say that there is a place for that kind of thing, even though I disagree. Hell, Iíll go further; on the surface, Iíll grant his seems to be the more reasonable argument. Itís an argument grounded in both the free market and classical liberalism, and is based around a live-and-let-live, fair-minded approach to the industry that says if we can both get what we want, whereís the harm? While we differ on our eventual conclusions, I have nothing but respect for the impulses that I can see at work.

    So, why the need to write a column? I think the best why to sum it up is to reach back into a document motivated by so many of those same values. ĎWhen in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one person to state that not all choices are equal and the question goes beyond our own individual opinions, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to take that position.í

    I mean no disrespect in mangling this famous text Ė in fact, nothing but praise. Thereís a morality at work in the text, one that says if youíre going to do something that upsets the order of the world you damn well better put your reasoning out there for all to see. And I take a similar position here, even though the stakes are so much smaller. The default position should be that there is a place for anything that can demonstrate it has an audience Ė and where you differ from itÖ again, you damn well better have a reason. Hence, the column.

    Why, then, donít I think thereís a place for the myriad strains of Ďbullshití in wrestling? There are a few things that people must accept, first. When I talk about this kind of thing I am not simply talking about my opinion. If it were as easy as that, then yes, Iíd simply not watch things I didnít want to watch, as Iíve opted to do lately with AEW. I am almost always talking about the health of the wrestling business more generally than anything particularly connected to my own opinion.

    It is always easy to turn this around and say, Ďthereís nothing beyond opinioní, but very few people truly believe this in practice. Many times, this comes from a good place Ė a genuine desire to be tolerant towards other opinions and accepting of other viewpoints. This would be a wonderful thing if it didnít break down in the face of deeper philosophical enquiry. In other cases, itís employed more maliciously. There, it is a kind of philosophical game that people play, sometimes to look clever but, more often, to muddy the waters and escape without having to engage with the ramifications of the point being made. The proverb about playing chess with a pigeon comes to mind: even if you win, theyíre just going to knock over the pieces and shit all over the board.

    I should point out before we go any further that this is not what happened in our conversation, but I include it as a pre-buttal against the Ďall opinions are always equalí subjective take that inexorably leads not only to the idea that every time youíve said something is good you are wrong, but also to weirder propositions like Donald Trump is actually a duck. But I digress, and I promised myself I wasnít going to get side-tracked by weird and abstract examples this time.

    Now, the obvious charge to which I am liable is this Ė just because not all opinions are equal, doesnít mean yours are right. And of course, thatís correct. Iím wrong many times a day and usually at least five times before breakfast. My only real argument here is that Iím not talking about my opinion.

    See, my opinions can be just as flawed as anyone else when it comes to what is good for the business. Iíd have fucking loved to have seen Bret beat Austin clean at Revenge of the Taker, but such a move would have been appalling for Austinís career, and by inference for the WWE as a whole. Iím also OK with a lot of things in limited measure that I might call bullshit. I enjoyed TNA overall from 2010 to 2013, and thereís a lot of things that I saw on those shows that Iíd have to label as bullshit, if you were to press me on it. When the percentages are low enough, Iíve taken all manner of crap from wrestling as par for the course without it really troubling me, including the Gobbledygooker, Abe ďKnuckleballĒ Schwarz, MantaurÖ.

    But I think this is the point where thereís a fundamental break in the two positions. Because I donít think Iím a typical person when it comes to this question.

    It’s a basic fact of existence that most people over-exaggerate their Ďeverydayí-ness. You can look at almost every field in which people take these measures and the truth is individuals tend to think the body of Ďthe peopleí out there is more like them than it really is. This extends from all kinds of areas, from things like assuming the political values of your country are more in step with your own than they are, to thinking that people tend to be closer to your own age than they are in reality. There is a subset of contrarians out there who donít do this, but the human being is a social animal and the evidence suggests that most people value the idea that there is a strong degree of sympathy between themselves and the community around them.

    In wrestling, this manifests in a clear way Ė the assumption that if one likes it, other people could well like it, and thus it could be a pathway to a new audience. The entire basis for any optimism about the improvement in the current standing of wrestling is based around this very idea.

    The trouble is wrestling is now in such a place where I can say this with absolute confidence Ė if you are reading this, you are not typical. Not when it comes to questions about wrestling.

    Letís face facts here Ė this is the lowest ebb that wrestling has been at, audience wise, in its history. Each Golden Age in wrestling seems to reach fewer and fewer people than the one preceding it, and we havenít had a boom for a long time now. The peak of the Attitude Era came in the aftermath of WrestleMania XV, and since then weíve had a trend of two decades where the trend has been relentlessly downward. Audiences have shifted within wrestling from one area to another, but thereís no evidence Ė at least, in the American market Ė that the trend has ended, or is about to end, the brief and expected transitions in TV ratings notwithstanding.

    What this means is that you and I, dear reader, are the statistical anomalies. Weíre either the 1 in 4 people in the past 20 years not to abandon wrestling entirely, or weíre part of that still smaller group, the rare new fan attracted to a product in decline. As outliers, there are a few things that we can infer. One is that weíre much more likely to either like, or tolerate, things in our wrestling product that other people will not. And that means that whether you or I like something has surprisingly little bearing on whether or not something will work for a mass audience Ė and itís only by growing, from the nadir we find ourselves in, that the health of the wrestling business can be re-established, short of a process where we re-define health as the ability for companies to simply get by.

    Let me be clear, then Ė when I say that something has no place, I am not saying that you cannot like it. Simply that its existence is damaging to the future health of wrestling.

    That might seem like a leap, and Iíll agree that nothing Iíve said so far justifies it Ė merely that you liking it does not make it Ďgoodí for the business. But thatís not the same as saying itís bad.

    But obviously, I do believe thereís good reason for thinking thatís the case. As I say, weíre coming up on two decades of decline. This is largely caused by the WWE refusing to pivot away from their Attitude-Era mentality Ė 1999 saw the peak of that run, but itís also the point at which they overexposed their style of booking and squandered the advantages that theyíd garnered in 1997 and 1998. WCW, too, lost viewers for much the same reason. You cannot simply engage in a game of Ďcan you top this?í and keep the attention of casual viewers for long. The entirety of wrestling history says this is impossible. Had the WWE changed tack in 2002, or even as late as 2006, the last decade or so might be a completely different story.

    Alas, it does not simply come down to the WWE and their inability to shift to a more sustainable way of presenting their product. The promotions and indeed the individuals most guilty of promoting the things to which I have objected have all been around for most of the past 20 years, and though theyíve developed their own fans from amongst the wrestling hardcore there isnít a single example of one developing a mainstream following. This is not to say one couldnít, and I know that people are hopeful that AEW might be able to change that Ė but I think you have to invoke a basic scientific principle here and say that if youíve performed multiple tests and they are all negative, you can consider it negative until you have a good reason to dispute that. We do not have anything close to that proof yet, irrespective of the optimism in some quarters.

    Conversely, we know that the alternative has worked in the past. In 1980 Shea Stadium was packed with 40,000 people for what was effectively a territory show, an achievement that is staggering. The last true megastars in wrestling, Steve Austin and The Rock, both knew how to protect their mystique and present themselves in a way that people outside the wrestling hardcore could buy into them and invest in them. This is not to say that they were in some way more real because I think that is always an argument that misses the point: it is, however, to say that people could buy into them as if they were, which is much more to the point. If you give it a few minutes you can rattle off any number of examples of people who, while not necessarily presenting themselves as legitimate sports stars per se, straddled the boundary, like wrestling itself, and had great popular success in doing so.

    Itís true to say there are no guarantees that this would work again now Ė the damage might be done after this many years of hacking the golden goose to smaller and smaller pieces. But if your goal is to grow the audience, then what we have is a track record of one way of doing things working, and of one failing. The other crucial point in this is that the one drives away people who had, until that point, been committed fans. Maybe there are people who would suddenly stop watching wrestling entirely if the bullshit wrestlers were reined in Ė but Iím not convinced. Something about them suggests to me that theyíre in it for the long haul, though I canít pretend Iím basing that on much more than an impression. But, to reiterate, we know that fans are being forced out under the current way of doing things.

    Finally Ė why not have promotions that do things one way, and others that cater for the traditionalists? Under certain circumstances this would be the hardest thing to refute, because it is the bit that comes closest to the live and let live philosophy I mentioned way back at the start of this journey. I think, ultimately, it comes down to two things.

    One is that we are talking about the overall health of the wrestling business, and not of individual companies. Things were different in the territory days when individual regions were largely insulated against each other and the success of one need not be afflicted by what was happening elsewhere. But this does not seem to be the case in the era of national (and international) promotions. Rather, the appetite for wrestling amongst the general public seems to rise in a much more uniform fashion, and while we might make a distinction between two different promotions it seems that the attitudes in the zeitgeist apply far more to wrestling as a whole. In short, you could be the second coming of Verne Gagne, but if videos of pro-wrestlers fucking around and taking the whole thing like a joke are ubiquitous no one outside a subsection of that hardcore (that is already predisposed that way) will take you seriously. The very existence of the kind of thing that turns off mass audience in any readily accessible or shareable format will likely preclude growth, not just for the promotions that use it but across wrestling.

    The other main factor is that the wrestling hardcore is self-selecting Ė these are the people that have stuck around through twenty years of torpor. Some of them are, like me, essentially grumpy people who havenít been able to accept the fact that wrestling has been stolen from them because it formed such a big part of their lives for so long. The majority, though, must be - by definition - people who are either OK with, or actively like, the bullshit in their wrestling diet.

    That means that companies are almost caught between a rock and a hard place Ė between trying to appeal to a casual fanbase and playing to what is demonstrably a minority taste, one that is expressed at live events in loud, egoistic, and often destructive fashion. The upshot of this is that things that would not have been acceptable at one time have seeped out of the niche promotions that prompted them, reaching even to the industry leaders. It has proven to be impossible to keep major promotions clear of influences that impede the cultivation of a major audience. I have tried to leave my own opinions out of this and keep to more measured conclusions, but for a moment here Iím going to add in my own experience and feelings and Iím going to ask you to put yourself in my shoes. From being a fan of promotions like WWE, TNA/Impact, and RoH, I now find them completely unwatchable. AEW is a promotion that made all the right noises and should have been right up my alley, but I can tell from the small bits Iíve seen that this is no home for me. The only exception that Iíve found lately is the NWA, and even that I approach with some trepidation. The TV hasnít really done anything wrong, but I fear what might happen at a major show. Either way, itís probably too small an entity to make any real difference in the overall landscape.

    This is the lesson of the last 15 plus years. It is never as simple as you have your space and I have mine. Whether you want to call it bullshit wrestling, cosplay wrestling, comedy wrestling, spectacle-over-substance or any other epithet, doesnít really matter. Wherever the traditional fan tries to escape it, they will be driven from that promotion by nonsense spots played for laughs or by matches filled with near-eternal suicide dives Ė even if it means that the fans who remain guarantee a product that will never draw casual viewers and will spend the rest of their lives talking to themselves.

    So, cards on the table time. There are a lot of assumptions in the column which I readily admit Ė Iím asking you to accept X and see Y, though at times you might find an alternative to X. But it seems clear that while Iím basing my conclusions on what are clear trends, those alternatives are predicated solely on optimism that runs counter to those same observable trends. I do not have a sure-fire scientific proof for what Iím claiming Ė none could exist Ė but I think itís clear that thereís more than an enough evidence to believe this is the most likely outcome from taking these paths.

    If this still comes back, in the final reckoning, to people saying that they like it so itís fine, or a bit of everything is good, then thereís not really a lot I can say. Similarly, if you don't really care about what's good for the business so long as you're entertained, there's not going to be any scope for common ground. Weíre effectively talking a different language, and youíre not really going to able to engage with this in the way that Iíd hoped when writing it. The conversation here is about whatís good for the business, rather than whatís good for me. I donít think those two things necessarily marry up, though I do wonder about the health of any industry that could force fans like me to hate it. At the same time, the three-ring circus approach only works if the something for everyone doesnít actively turn people off, as itís clear the more divisive elements of modern wrestling do with even some of the hardcore.

    The one thing I can say in closing is this: if someone were to prove me wrong and actually draw a mass audience using that kind of crap, and put the wrestling business back on a firm footing, then Iíd withdraw everything I said here. Iíd probably also never write again, because Iím not sure Iíd have much else to say. You know, I said at the top that I knew Mizfanís opinions were coming from a good place Ė and at the end of the day, so are my own. I believe, firmly, that people are missing what are some crucial lessons, and I donít hector because I like being grumpy and contrarian and stuck in my ways, but because I truly want things to succeed. If Iím wrong on that, Iíll stop making the point, and save myself the trouble. But itís also clear to me that the business would then have moved on beyond me, finally and forever more.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    What a wonderfully polite and well thought out column about me liking shit and killing the wrestling business!

    Entirely kidding, Pete, I loved this, and though I understood your point of view pretty well coming in, there was a lot of nuance and insight in here. To some extent, I certainly am speaking the language of someone who is primarily interested in my own enjoyment rather than trying to measure the health of the industry, but not entirely. I do want wrestling to flourish as much as possible, and if that means leaving certain things behind (be they "bullshit" or not), that won't likely stop me from being a fan.

    From a less individualistic point of view, my gut feeling is the fault lies far more in one area you mentioned, WWE's failure to adapt after the Attitude Era, as opposed to more recent trends in wrestling towards what you would consider "bullshit". You pointed out yourself, quite rightly, that for the last 20 years we've seen a relatively steady decline in mainstream wrestling interest, but for much of that time WWE continued to treat wrestling seriously (for the most part, with some obvious exceptions sprinkled in). I'm not sure you'd agree with that point or not, but that's how I see it. WWE tried to execute small variations on their strategy but steadily lost viewers doing so, and for the vast majority of those 20 years they were the only real hand in the game. If the very recent burst of activity in the comedy sector of wrestling is a contributing factor, I feel it must be a drop in the bucket. But now again I'm thinking I may be putting words in your mouth.

    You always go deep, friend, and if this really is your last piece of this nature, it's a damned good one.

  3. #3
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    May 2018
    Thanks for reading man, glad you enjoyed it.

    Quote Originally Posted by mizfan View Post
    From a less individualistic point of view, my gut feeling is the fault lies far more in one area you mentioned, WWE's failure to adapt after the Attitude Era, as opposed to more recent trends in wrestling towards what you would consider "bullshit". You pointed out yourself, quite rightly, that for the last 20 years we've seen a relatively steady decline in mainstream wrestling interest, but for much of that time WWE continued to treat wrestling seriously (for the most part, with some obvious exceptions sprinkled in). I'm not sure you'd agree with that point or not, but that's how I see it. WWE tried to execute small variations on their strategy but steadily lost viewers doing so, and for the vast majority of those 20 years they were the only real hand in the game. If the very recent burst of activity in the comedy sector of wrestling is a contributing factor, I feel it must be a drop in the bucket. But now again I'm thinking I may be putting words in your mouth.
    I think I could go along with this, especially if you're looking at it from one perspective which is the origin of why we're here. The WWE are more responsible for the decline itself than anyone, and probably more than everyone else combined. Can you imagine if the WWE had changed things up significantly so that the talent in the 2002-2010 era could have been maximised? I'm not sure we'd have seen a huge bounce back in that period because those things take time, but it's not implausible, and I reckon that when your CM Punk/Daniel Bryan/Shield era rolls around, those guys would have been well placed to break out. But that's crystal ball time - I obviously can't know that, it's just an impulse. Long story short, I was saying shit needed to change in 2003, and it never did. That's the biggest reason we're here.

    We'd probably still disagree on how seriously WWE treated wrestling but given that we're talking about what's happened elsewhere, if we're thinking comparatively, then yes, I'd agree. Of course, there's no doubt that a quality factor enters into all of this!

    However, there's always a 'but', isn't there? If you start looking less at the cause of the decline, but at what will do the more harm going forward - that's where things that have happened elsewhere stop being just the proverbial drop in the bucket. Because WWE's thing... I mean, they'd done their fair share of damage but they could have always got better. There's stuff on other promotions, including AEW from the videos that pop up in my timeline, that will do more damage if they're widely disseminated than anything you're likely to see on a WWE show right now.

    In short, and I'm borrowing from Rocky Horror a bit here, the WWE are the cause, the rest is a symptom. However, while the cause wiped away most of the audience, it might be the symptom that guarantees that they never return, short of a genuinely radical shift in all we know about wrestling.

    Anyway, thanks again for reading, and as always appreciate the conversation.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  4. #4
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    May 2018
    This was a really thought provoking column, I read it yesterday, typed out an answer, thought "na, that isn't right" deleted it and now I'm back today.

    What I'm interested to know is what do you mean when you throw out lines like, "the health" of the wrestling industry. How do you judge that? Is it to do with it receiving mainstream popularity? Is it financial success? Is it just general growth of the audience but not necessarily to a mainstream audience but pre-80s or 90s boom levels?

    Before I put my own view forward I must preface it with a caveat that I am well behind a lot of you guys in terms of my knowledge of the history of the industry. While I know a lot about it from the mid 00s to now my knowledge, particularly outside the WWE and even that beyond the early 90s leaves a lot to be desired so I ask for your grace if some of the assumptions I make are not terribly well backed up. I also don't live in the US or UK which are much bigger markets for not just wrestling but sport and media in general.

    Now I've done there here goes nothing.

    When I look at the wrestling industry today I see what I see across a lot of the sports and entertainment industry: a diehard niche fanbase that follows things religiously and then the odd tent pole event that garners broader viewership and attention. Of course there are some exceptions to this rule, sports like football in Europe, NFL in the US, Rugby League or AFL (depending on your state) in Australia are very much mainstream and their goings on are known by a majority of people. However far more sports like say cycling, tennis, rugby union, MMA, boxing etc have a die hard audience but only really get that huge mass market viewership a few times a year at big tent pole events.

    In the more broad entertainment industry things are even more 'nichey', years ago people's entertainment choices were far more limited and thus shows like Cheers were able to draw ratings that absolutely dwarf the ratings even the most popular shows today get. Now people absorb far more media than ever but the choies are infinetly more broad, of course there are big movies or TV shows but by far the majority of entertainment properties have a dedicated fan base and their success is based a lot around being able to develop this kind of fan base. Even the biggest properties like Marvel and Star Wars are fueled by the die hard culture they generate around them.

    The reason I say this is because I don't know if broad mainstream popularity is firstly achievable and secondly, desirable. I don't see wrestling making the jump to being a NFL/Football level mainstream sport and aside from those brief boom periods I don't know if it ever really was at that level even when the kind of 'no-bullshit' wrestling was the predominant style of the time. I'm happy to be told otherwise, as I said my knowledge of this era is very limited but that is the impression I get from what I've seen.

    Also while it would be great if a high quality, serious product was a direct route to popular acclaim, that is not the case, particularly in entertainment, which all sports including pro wrestling, compete with even if you don't like the term sports entertainment. For example the most successful non-news show of the last decade ratings wise isn't Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or any of the other prestigue shows that we know and love, it was Big Bang Theory. Right now in Australia the most highly rated shows are all reality TV shows which are relatively cheaply made, thrive on sensationalism and play to our absolute basest instincts. Call me elitist but I would prefer wrestling not get stuck in the race to the bottom for mainstream popularity like this and while I don't think you are completely making this argument, it is a logical endpoint for the health = popularity argument.

    For me this column sounds like you are saying that the kind of wrestling that has created the niche that wrestling caters to now is unhealthy. However given that I do view wrestling as very much a niche sport/entertainment/media property I would argue that the fact a company like AEW has been able to attract billionaire investors or that NJPW is able to draw record profits both based largely on pandering to that niche, shows that the your diagnosis is not completely accurate.

    I guess where we differ is that while you think pro wrestling should be treated as a serious sport as it was previously, I believe it should be treated as a fictional piece of entertainment. I have never been under any illusion of what wrestling is and no adult within the wrestling bubble or out of it is under any illusion how 'the business' works, so just as with a movie or tv show, we suspend our disbelief so as to get told a story. Of course that story demands it be logically consisten within itself but just as a Marvel movie has jokes and assides during events that would, if they were real, be desperate, grim times, wrestling can be light-hearted, have genuine comedy and remain believable.

    Of course there are reality bending acts that wrestling needs to be very careful with, not becasue it should never be done or because there is no place for parody and satire but so they don't undermine acts within the same show. A very recent example of this kind of act is Orange Cassidy, I had no problem with the match he had on an indy card where both performers embraced the fiction of his character and his opponent put him to sleep, that was ok because of the setting and audience. However his usage in the Casino Battle Royale was a problem for me because his antics broke the internal logic of that match (which to be fair were already straining at the seams) and undermined the integrity of what is, as a whole, trying to be a straight wrestling show.

    If you do embrace the fact wrestling is a fiction, which all of its audience has already done, not all wreslting shows have to be the same or have the same internal 'rules'. Just as audiences accept that not every fantasy universe has the same 'rules' within it and just as not all animes have the same tone.

    I guess what I'm trying to say (probably quite poorly) is that wrestling is a niche product and that is ok, it is not unhealthy for it to seek to grow as a niche product by focusing on producing high quality shows. While a majority of people may not become die hard fans, if it is good enough then there is a big enough audience out there for it.

    I think I've written columns shorter than this, using the 'quick reply' response seems a little oxymoronic.
    Last edited by SirSam; 10-19-2019 at 04:06 AM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    Sep 2018
    I am of the belief that opinion can be wrong if it has no credibility or evidence to show why your opinion would matter in the first place. These days people are quick to jump in and say 'but that's just my opinion'. Yes, it is. But like you said, just because it is an opinion doesn't mean it can't be wrong. Opinions are all good and well but it holds no merit if your opinion is not based on an argument that has substance.

    Also, what worked in the past surely won't work now. Yes, wrestling is cyclical and it does seemingly appear that the main factors of wrestling may still hold true in order to maintain success. What worked then - Golden Age, Attitude Era - won't work now as people want more realism on their viewings, more grit. However, with the PC nature of today's audience, it's troubling that any form of gritty or edgy entertainment can receive major backlash.

    As for what's good for the business... I honestly think that nobody really knows exactly what that entails. The common denominator would suggest that competition is what is good for the business as this would cause competing promotions to be more motivated to put on a better product. But the fact of the matter remains that this is a dying industry and besides hardcore wrestling fans, does anybody even care that there is potential competition for WWE? I certainly believe that Vince McMahon does not care what's best for the industry as long as he holds the monopoly and the money keeps rolling in.

    Very thought-provoking column, Pt2. A fantastic read!

  6. #6
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    May 2018
    Thank you for the feedback, gentlemen.

    Sam Ė By the health of the audience, youíre closer to what Iím aiming is the last of the examples youíve given here. I donít think you need to be at peak-Hogan or Austin levels to be healthy. Finance is important, but while the WWE are making money hand over fist, I wouldnít say they were healthy, because the foundation that is based on seems to be sand and could disappear if widespread negativity were to continue.

    Wrestling hasnít always been a niche (there are examples you can give through history to the contrary), but it has been for most of our lifetimes now and I share your thoughts about whether or not itís even possible to hit the true mainstream anymore. There is a chance that society might just have changed too far for something like wrestling to ever hit that kind of position anymore. Not least because of twenty years of decline, but that's by the by.

    But to be honest, thatís not really the level I was talking about even when I said mainstream (and itís fair enough that you didnít get that because I never made it explicit). The better way of thinking about the decline of wrestling is that itís now a niche within a niche. When I talk about a broad audience here, Iím thinking not so much in terms of the real social mainstream but broadly appealing to people who might, under normal conditions, be wrestling fans.

    Now, to the Big Bang Theory/Reality TV argument. Itís not a bad point and itís a reasonable enough argument on its own terms, but it does presuppose that wrestling will follow the same rules as other entertainment, and the evidence implies that it doesnít. I know that runs contrary to what most of the hardcore fans think now, but thatís still what the trends around wrestling suggest about the way itís received in the popular imagination. As to the rest of the point here, Iíd say that I donít see that wanting a bigger audience as necessarily Ďa race to the bottomí. But more to the point, an appeal to the basic instincts is one of the things that people who say their being forced out of wrestling complain about in both WWE and Indie wrestling. Iíd suggest thereís more evidence that wrestling companies have been doing exactly what you complain about here for a long, long time, but embarrassingly, they havenít done it as well as those reality shows, or theyíd have had more success with it.

    The billionaire investor is an interesting development, but honestly itís not real evidence of anything, to be honest, other than a) he thinks he can make money at it, or b) he doesnít mind losing money doing it. Time will tell which is right. The problem with making record revenue out of a niche audience is that if you have an insular product, what happens when that changes? Weíve seen this a lot in wrestling, companies that have audiences which are essentially a Ďfan clubí that desert them when talent change or thereís a shiny new toy to play with, and itís left more than a few promotions in dire straits. Itís a bit like a species that isnít adapted to survival. The more diverse you are, the more likely you are to be able to survive. WWE isnít in any financial trouble right now but itís hard to see where the next set of fans are going to come from if they lose whatís there. It might be harder to see other companies losing their hardcore fans right now, but theyíre actually still more vulnerable because there are so many fewer to begin with.

    Quote Originally Posted by SirSam View Post
    If you do embrace the fact wrestling is a fiction, which all of its audience has already done, not all wreslting shows have to be the same or have the same internal 'rules'. Just as audiences accept that not every fantasy universe has the same 'rules' within it and just as not all animes have the same tone.
    Iím glad you put the bit about this in here, because this is a prime example of what Iím talking about at one point in the column. Thereís nothing wrong with this argument in and of itself. Itís reasonable, and a decent enough conclusion based on the premise that's initially posited. Trouble is, it doesnít seem to have much bearing as to how wrestling actually works in the real world. Now, if you donít care about attracting new fans, and if you see the fandom of people like me as Ďcollateral damageí, then that wonít matter to you Ė but I see it as fundamentally unhealthy and self-defeating and think we have to look beyond simply justifying things to ourselves and look more at what actually works in practice. I must admit, though, it is hard when as a fan you spent so much time repeatedly saying that this stuff is forcing me out of wrestling and people say it's fine to them, not to hear that as 'well, fuck off then.'

    That is what it ultimately comes down to. There might well be a big enough audience for wrestling to survive, though no one outside of WWE (in the US at least) has really shown that thereís enough of a crowd to thrive out there as yet. Early days for AEW but their early numbers arenít good enough to change that. I know people who see things they like want to be optimistic about that, but theyíve got no good reason that is grounded in wrestling and the way wrestling seems to work, which tends to be why things get reasoned in the abstract or with examples from other industries that donít operate with the public in the same way.

    Don Franc Ė I donít really believe in the idea that wrestling is cyclical, for the record. I think thatís a fiction that people in wrestling tell themselves to make themselves feel better. All good periods must end, that much is certain, but thereís no guarantee that youíll rise again, and thatís why itís not cyclical. It only looks cyclical because the companies that donít rise again disappear. So in that, itís no more cyclical than any other industry.

    Now, with that said Ė I donít think doing what youíve done in the past works exactly, but I also think that it teaches you certain things do work, time after time, and the other lesson from history is that very little in the last 20 years has worked.

    To add to that, youíre right, no one knows really what is good for business Ė even me, no matter what Iíve said here. But my feeling is that you can get a lot more sense out of basing your theories on things that are measurable and on evidence, rather than constructing theories that work only with what you want to see and think and have no material basis in reality. I suppose this goes back to your first point.

    Anyway, thanks again to both of you for reading, and for excellent feedback.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  7. #7
    Great column. There are some major things about WWE that are really only enjoyed by the die hard wrestling fans, such as workhorses without much charisma like AJ Styles and Seth Rollins having top spots. WWE has been catering a little more to the die hard fans with things that aren't necessarily marketable to the main stream audience. And when they do the opposite the die hards complain to no end. For years the internet fans criticized Batista left and right, but the ticket sales and ratings showed that he in fact was a draw. The fact that he made it in Hollywood shows there really is a disconnect between main stream fans and those who are going to watch regardless.

    Regarding each Golden Age having less and less viewers, I feel that's because entertainment options keep growing over time. Like Sir Sam said, shows back in the 80's and early 90's got much higher ratings than any one show gets today. The overall audience is still just as big, but it's being divided more and more between the growing number of entertainment options.
    Last edited by RIPbossman; 10-19-2019 at 09:04 AM.

  8. #8
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RIPbossman View Post
    Like Sir Sam said, shows back in the 80's and early 90's got much higher ratings than any one show gets today. The overall audience is still just as big, but it's being divided more and more between the growing number of entertainment options.

    Thanks for the feedback, RIPBossman. The one thing I have to take issue with is this bit - I think I said it in the column when you dig into it the what evidence there is implies that the evidence is 75% smaller than twenty years go. It's about 50% smaller than the mid-90s, which at the end time was considered to be the worst period for business in the history of the industry. There's some evidence to suggest that the number of people regularly watching wrestling was up to five times the number who watch now. What does seem to be the case is that the people who still watch wrestling, watch a hell of a lot more of it - although you always had people who used to try and get tapes from other territories, but they were in the minority.

    Although I've just looked again and see you're talking about dividing it amongst all the entertainment options, rather than just wrestling? OK, that paints a different picture - though in truth the whole audience is bigger because of population growth, but on the other hand, the wrestling audience is smaller, as a number of people who would have considered watching wrestling at one time are probably now sworn off it for life - many are gone to UFC and MMA, and those aren't coming back, even if some others might still be won over.

    Anyway, I'm glad you liked it. The interesting thing about the Styles/Seth example is there's a corollary in the mid-1990s, where Bret and Shawn were in a similar position and were able to hold down the fort much better. But they had two extra things going for them. Much better booking, and a less contrarian fanbase (which is, in itself, one of those things that plays into that seeping out from other sources that I mentioned in the column itself). I believe this has more to do with the booking of Seth/AJ, and to a lesser degree of Batista and Cena (who could both have been bigger than they were IMO), than to the talent themselves, but it's definitely something to add to the mix.

    Well, thanks again for the feedback. Whenever I write anything this long, it's always appreciated when people read it, and even more so when they like it!

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  9. #9
    Prime Time—I’ve now probably read this column three times (and it’s a long one!), and have been thinking about it off and on for a couple of days. So, first of all—congrats on the thought-provoking piece. And congrats on crafting an argument that captures your passion as well as diplomatically lays your position out and anticipates opposition.

    I like how this piece contained some general philosophy (in addition to the wrestling philosophy), and I’d like to weigh in. Particularly on the nature of “opinion.” The quick Google definition of opinion is “a view or judgment about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.” I tend to think that “opinion” is fine when given in regards to a personal evaluation of something. Such as “Popeye’s chicken is better than Kentucky Fried Chicken,” or more related to wrestling, “The ending of the Hell in a Cell pay per view was the worst thing that’s ever happened in WWE.” The presumption, if someone said either of these statements to me, is that Popeye’s happens to suit the speaker’s taste better than KFC, or Hell in a Cell displeased the speaker moreso than any other WWE missteps of the past.

    By contrast, if someone said something like, “it would have been better for Bret Hart if he never went to WCW in 1997,” while still an opinion, it demands support in a way the earlier statements did not. Why does the speaker think this? And how does he evaluate “better?” Would it have been more financially lucrative, would Bret Hart’s popularity or legacy have been strengthened by staying in (then) WWF, would his career have been potentially prolonged by not taking a Goldberg boot to the head? With this sort of opinion, there is a presumable alternate reality in which we would know if it actually would have been better for Bret Hart if he didn’t jump ship in 1997.

    And yet a third way that people state opinions is to make an appraisal of something that may be true, but of which they don’t have hard evidence. Sticking with the Bret Hart example—up until the parties involved have lent a little more clarity to the events of the Montreal screwjob, one might have said “I don’t believe Earl Hebner knew what was going to happen going into the match.” Earl Hebner either did or did not know what was going to happen in that match, and the speaker’s belief wouldn’t change the truth. And the speaker would have been proven wrong when Earl Hebner stated he did know the screwjob was a work. Most clearly, an opinion of this sort can be right or wrong.

    So in the way you’re talking about opinions, I believe we’re talking about opinion of the second variety. Which is to say, it would take an alternate reality to definitively prove an opinion right or wrong in regards to the effects of “comedy wrestling” on the health of the industry. That’s not to say we can’t make a very sound guess. For instance, we could pretty soundly guess that going to WCW was the correct financial move for Bret Hart in 1997. Ted Turner had deeper pockets than Vince McMahon and could afford to keep top stars very finely compensated for their talents. (All this Bret Hart stuff is just for example, by the way. I hope I’m not stirring up anyone’s

    So we can lay out foundations for how “bullshit” in wrestling is damaging to the health of the overall industry (and I do agree with you), but I do have to fall in the camp of believing that in this conversation “it is all just opinion.” Until we can access the alternate reality that returned to a “no-BS” presentation in 2002 (or so), we can’t know for sure. I think that’s what people mean if they say about this sort of topic, “it’s all just opinion.”

    Having said that, I agree with you that a lot of the crap in some wrestling promotions undermines the strength of the industry. You mention specifically spots played for laughs and “near eternal” suicide dives as some examples. I tend to agree. In regards to the former, there is almost no reason that a competitor should do something for a laugh in the course of a pro wrestling match. I’ve watched a lot of legitimate combat sports. In those sports the only times I’ve seen comedy from a competitor is when it allows them to gain a mental edge by humiliating the opponent. For instance, Randy Couture once spanked Tito Ortiz’ ass in the middle of a match because he was in a fairly stale-mated position and he had an opportunity to embarrass his foe. I would be fine with this sort of comedy in wrestling. But notice how that example was one four second occurrence in a 25 minute bout. Plus, the reaction from the audience was more like “ooooh, look how he’s punking his opponent” than it was “haha that’s funny.”

    In regard to the ‘near-eternal’ suicide dives, I care more about the lack of ring psychology than about a particular move. A suicide dive seems like a reckless but potentially effective bit of offense in a real pro wrestling encounter. What kills me is the match style that is just high-spot after high-spot with a lack of selling and a lack of storytelling. I’d much rather watch a match that tells a story I can follow with a limited moveset than a million-move car crash.

    And here’s where we part ways again—I also don’t mind the million-move car crashes. They’re fun. They entertain me. They seem to get pops from crowds. They’re not as pleasing to me as a more grounded, logical, match, but they’re alright. So it gets down to: is this match style “healthy” for the pro wrestling industry?

    And I don’t know. If an AEW crowd is popping for some crazy ass antics that don’t happen to be my favorite, I have a hard time saying it’s unhealthy for the industry because a)these crowds are paying to fill 12,000-ish seat arenas and b)seem more engaged than any crowds I’ve seen on TV in a long time. Both fiscally and with the establishment of fans’ emotional connections with the product, that looks healthy to me. What that means for the industry in the long-term, though, I don’t know how to hazard a guess.

    Overall, badass column. You’re getting responses that are column-length, which tells me more folks than just I are super engaged with the topic, with your presentation, and with you. Well done.

  10. #10
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    What excellent feedback. Thanks for taking the time to leave it.

    I think I broadly agree with a lot of what you're saying, so I don't think my reply will be as long, but to a couple of points. I concur that to absolutely, categorically 'prove' it beyond doubt, then you might need some sort of alternate reality that you could use as a control, and we're never going to have access to - where I differ is that even without that I don't think it defaults to 'all opinion', because even if we can't definitively know what it is, there are still opinions that are informed by something tangible, something external to ourselves, and opinions formed on the basis of our own individual optimism. I'll grant there's a lot of enthusiasm for AEW out there right now but we're also still talking about an audience that's no bigger than TNA's was, and a combined wrestling audience roughly half the size of what was then the trough of the mid-1990s. Something is still wrong, and since this stuff has been around for a long time, asking why it's never drawn more than a small hardcore is worthwhile, for me. But what it seems to come down to is that you're demanding a definitive proof before you're willing to move away from 'it's all opinion', and don't believe the test can exist. I agree with you that the test can't exist, but think that you've got to accept the more theoretical proofs - that the mathematics we have all point in one direction and until those maths are proven to be wrong, then they have more validity than things that are unsupported. For me it's a bit like the thing with dark matter - I don't know how they'd ever test for it, you sure as hell can't see it, but the maths work out, and it's acceptance is generally accepted. In this case, you've got a time-tested theory based on the observation that this stuff used to lower houses and kill towns, and until it's proven categorically that it won't lower the audience or at least inhibit it's growth, then when faced with the two possibilities reason dictates that you conclude that it still does.

    The 'near suicide dives' line was nothing but a throwaway - I'm actually more in agreement with what you're saying here. It's not really an individual move that I'm objecting to per se, but the kind of thing you're referring to in your feedback. Though it came to mind because it's used in completely the wrong way nowadays, if you want it to be viable. It's basically one of the last attacking weapons you should use, given the nature of it, and instead it's become one of the first. But that's not really my point. Perhaps that jarred with the rest of the column (a technical point for me to think on, certainly) but this was a line used more to be evocative, to conjure an image, than to be taken literally.

    We have a different take on the million-move car crashes, but I think this is where one of the things in the column comes into play. I can't watch them. I won't watch them anymore. I saw some shit from one the other day and the thought crossed my mind, if this was on TV and I was in hospital and couldn't change the channel, I'd turn and look at the wall. My guess is - from your feedback and from what I've observed in wrestling fans generally - that there's no one likely to turn off wrestling based on the psychological stuff that would appeal to me. I question, then, when the wrestling audience is now so small as to be that niche within a niche that I mentioned in the F2F to Sam above, can you really afford to be losing the kind of fans who are so into it they spent decades following it and years spending their free time talking about it on the internet? Because honestly, that's where we're at now. And I think it's very optimistic to assume that this is just change, and that fans like me and 'Plan and other guys who've made the same sort of journey can be easily replaced.

    You've brought up AEW and their crowds here, and I don't deny that they've got a lot of popularity within the bubble. I estimated early on that AEW would have the entire wrestling hardcore behind them and that they'd need to break out of that before I'd consider what they were doing a mainstream success, and they are still about a million viewers on a routine basis away from reaching that point. You've also got to look at them in a couple of years and see how much money they are making, once the initial buzz has worn off. AEW will have to show a few years of being profitable before we can assume anything about their current level, because no product run at a loss by a 'sugar daddy' is ever truly healthy, no matter the emotional connection with the fans or the number of fans in the arenas. Yeah, AEW looks healthy on TV, but there's a long way to go before we'll have anything tangible to actually base that on.

    This has become quite long in itself, even after I promised it wouldn't be. Excellent feedback, though, and I appreciate both the time you've spent writing it up and the time you've obviously spent with what I've written. So my sincere thanks.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  11. #11
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    You might hate me for this, but how can we definitively say something has no place in wrestling, if it at the least propels change? People become bored, so the formula for what works for fans changes ever so often. So even in an ideal time for you as a fan, when wrestling is exactly what you want it to be, you would still become bored after a while, wouldn't you? And wonder what something new would feel like? Kind of the line of thought that says Heaven might become Hell if you have an eternity of it. So as people need change, eventually stuff like this comes through the pipeline. And if it is truly a desecration, at the least, it will propel change in the future, to right the ship's "wrongs". Not saying I disagree with you, but it seems for these reasons alone everything has a place in the pro wrestling scene, and we have to know the bad to appreciate the good? Truly playing Devil's advocate, but worth a thought.

    Great column, Prime.

  12. #12
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Hmm, sounds kinda Hegelian, in a thesis/antithesis/synthesis kinda deal.

    I'm not sure I buy it. Not to make a crass analogy but it seems to me that something like cyanide wouldn't be healthy to the human body just because it would give you a greater appreciation of your health. You'd still be dead. Not that I'm comparing this stuff to cyanide of course - as I say, it's a simplistic response but it does demonstrate that at some level that 'knowing the bad to appreciate the good' doesn't always hold.

    In the specific case of wrestling I'd suggest that the problem here is that there's still plenty of room for manoeuvre within the framework of things that won't force people out of watching wrestling. I guess I take issue with the idea that there's some restrictive formula here that would inevitably lead to you being stifled. If you go back and look at the archive section on the WWE Network and take a look at Mid-South, at old WWF, at Mid-Atlantic, at World Class, and at the AWA, you'll see that they all have their differences - and yet, broadly speaking and allowing for differences of taste, most wrestling fans could probably have gotten on board with most (if not all) of these shows. That's the fundamental difference between then, and now.

    I'd also suggest that you don't need the bad in wrestling in order to appreciate the good, because it's not like you live in a world of innocence where you've never had frustrations. The rest of the time you live in the real world, and there was always enough bad out there that you could appreciate the good of wrestling.

    I think the reason I don't buy it is that there's a few assumptions in there that really amount to nothing less than faith in things to turn out for the best. There's no guarantee that you'll end up with the 'wrongs being righted', as you say, because a) audiences have biases that could skew it, b) promoters are just as flawed, and c) the damage might already be done (which, I admit does render a lot of this moot if true). I guess, in a sense, this is a more sophisticated version of the cyclical argument - and as I've said above, I don't buy the cycles because plenty of wrestling companies have failed over the years. In the same way that business is only cyclical if you get something right and you come back, I'd suggest that there are no guarantees at all that 'bad' (for the lack of a better term) stuff that is driving/has driven a lot of fans away will ever lead you back to a path where you can appeal to them. Indeed, I'd suggest that if it were going to happen, it would have done so already - which is the real elephant in the room for fans of this style. Hard to explain that one away.

    An interesting response though, and one that certainly got me thinking a bit, so thank you.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  13. #13
    Author of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die Samuel 'Plan's Avatar
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    I frankly don't have it in me to feign enthusiasm for a topic that currently makes me want to chew my own eyeballs from the inside out, which is, of course, the topic of professional wrestling - and I suppose that really just goes to prove certain elements of your argument. There is nothing for me right now in pro wrestling, not really; the one glimmer I did have - my boy, Seth Rollins - has been torn down by the ludicrousness of the company he so nobly makes efforts to defend. As such, anyone who claims wrestling currently is simply pursuing a policy of something for everyone isn't paying enough attention to the small number of fans like myself - and, I think, you too - that have been driven pretty much entirely away from what we've loved for so long.

    I suppose the point is that if something for everyone is actively shutting some fans out, no matter how few, then it's not really something for everyone at all. It's closer instead to being everything for someone - let's throw whatever we think of out there and someone somewhere is bound to like it.

    I was going to launch into a further and more detailed exploration of why I have been driven away from it all but, while it's not that I don't care (because I do), I certainly don't care about caring. Instead I'll settle for reiterating what I said to you on Twitter earlier today.

    Fuck it.

    EDIT: Sorry for bumping, didn't realise this thread was a week old.

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