MAIN EVENT AT CASTLE DANGER
#6 – Watching Through New Eyes
In my last column, for having the nerve to like comedy wrestlers like Orange Cassidy and Danhausen, I was told that I must be a “mouthbreather who eats paste regularly.” So today I wore my Best Friends shirt and decided that if I’m pissing off someone using trite ableist insults that would sound dated in a Chris Farley comedy for the mere offense of liking someone that he didn’t, I must be doing something right.
I expected that kind of backlash for having the nerve to write positive things about something I liked. It’s not lost on me that a portion of the wrestling community feels superior to people for liking things that they don’t. I was writing about wrestling when hating Cena first became cool, and also when they wanted you to like Roman Reigns so much that he was gonna win whether you liked it or not. But I don’t know if you need to hear this or not, but hating something doesn’t make you smarter than the people who like it. Weird concept, right? I think Brian Zane’s theme song says it best: “like what you like, just don’t be a dick.” But asking certain portions of the internet wrestling community to not be a dick is like asking the head of a particular company not to ogle the new intern a third of his age, so it’s more or less an inevitability.
In my year or so of returning to wrestling via AEW, another trend I’ve noticed is when an episode of Dynamite or two isn’t the absolute greatest thing that’s ever happened, there will be half-hour think sessions on YouTube or podcasts asking why AEW is in a rut and can they get out of it. I feel like when you watch enough wrestling that you’re writing/talking about it, you run the risk of getting a little too jaded. I know because that’s happened to me multiple times. The more you watch something, the more the “newness” feeling goes away, and the higher the ante has to be to get that genuine expression of awe or excitement. It’s only natural. Despite not being a comic book movie fan, I was really excited to see the first Avengers movie back in 2011, mostly because a significant portion was filmed in my hometown. But now, you can’t close your eyes without seeing a new sequel or spin-off, and it’s not the same. Nor should it be.
AEW has been around long enough that the new wrestling smell has tapered a bit. Even I, who missed most of its life so far, don’t watch every Dynamite thinking it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, because that’s an impossible precedent to live up to. When I was first watching wrestling in 1999, a notoriously bad year in terms of writing and storylines in WWF, everything seemed like the greatest thing that’s ever happened, and not just because I was in junior high and everyone was watching it so I had people to talk about it with.
I stayed watching for almost 20 years before I gave up for a while, and that included a high level of participation for a significant portion of it. So I’ve sat through some not so great eras of wrestling, and I’m sure I will again. Things are cyclical, so it’s only inevitable.
But I try to remember how it felt to show new people wrestling, to see them light up when they see the matches you’ve seen a hundred times, or to take in an episode of RAW in 2006 when you couldn’t be more over it and they’re glued to the TV wondering what’s going to happen next and hoping you’ll take them to a live show sometime. Same with writing about it; even in the darkest of times where I struggled to find anything to like in between being explained how to download an app or how much a network cost for the 43rd time, the people who wrote genuinely heartfelt emails to me kept me writing about it, even when I wanted to shove a tuning fork in my head and do the spear on a giant gong just so I wouldn’t have to hear the commentary anymore.
I have no doubt that there will be a period of AEW where it doesn’t have me anticipating Wednesday nights like it does now. Some fans who have been there since the beginning may have already reached that point, or are there now. To you I say, try to remember what it was like when you saw your favorite match for the first time, or your favorite wrestler made their debut. If you have someone in your life open to it, show it to them. There’s a chance they may hate it, but if you get that special moment where you get to love something all over again because someone else is seeing it with completely fresh eyes, I can’t recommend it enough.
I got someone into AEW recently who I never thought in a million years would even think about watching pro wrestling. I text them the results as they’re happening because now it’s a unique thing we get to share, and though they don’t have a TV, I still get to keep them up to date. That’s what wrestling is, beyond the shows and wrestlers themselves. It’s not unique to media or entertainment, but the weird subculture in which we like (or in some cases, like to hate) pro wrestling, it brings about new possibilities all the time. For no matter how bad a show can be or how dull having the 3234th rematch of the same two people that don’t really click might make you roll your eyes, someone is seeing that match for the first time. That’s someone’s first wrestling show. Someone might be eight-years-old and seeing wrestling through their non-judgmental eyes rather than someone who is comparing it to the rest of the 20-plus years they’ve watched.
I’ve been the one who hates on everything, whether intentionally or not, and I don’t want to go back to that, no matter how much Elmers might apparently be shoved in my face for daring to like something that makes me laugh. I instead get to share AEW Dynamite by proxy with someone infinitely more special to me because when I went to visit them once, a conversation about why I liked wrestling led to us watching an episode together, and they’ve been following ever since.
That feels much better to me than throwing personal attacks and insults at someone for daring to like something that I might not. But I’m also not in junior high anymore, and maybe that’s just what getting older feels like sometimes. I can live with that.