WHEN FANS ATTACK
A few weeks ago, most of us witnessed an interesting event on Raw. We were in front of our TV sets enjoying an intense ladder match when a fan popped out of the audience.
And jumped into the ring.
And knocked over the ladder, almost injuring Eddie Guerrero in the process.
The next sound heard in most households was that of jaws dropping. The Outsider merely shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "what do you expect?", because someone jumping into the ring at a wrestling show is only the natural progression of a sad trend.
For the benefit of their TV audience, all sports programming directors look for spirited behavior by the live audience. It adds flavor to the telecast and lends an air of importance to the event.
But "spirited behavior" no longer consists of simply being into the game and rooting for one's team. The TV producers of football and basketball games seem to think that, while sitting in my living room, even though I'm tuned in to watch an athletic contest, what I'm really dying to see are endless shots of screaming people with painted faces, or drunken youths with their shirts off, or louts with grossly contorted faces yelling "NUMBER ONE!" while holding up an index finger, pushing each other out of the way so they can get in front of the camera.
Such behavior isn't merely tolerated; it's encouraged. Urged on by the knowledge that such disgusting antisocial behavior just might get one ON TELEVISION, made bold by alcohol consumption that would require one to give up their car keys if one were equally drunk out in the real world (another scary thought: all those drunks on my TV screen will be driving home), the conduct of fans has gotten way out of hand. In the pursuit of the all-important Young Male Demographic, sports programmers have obviously decided that there is no act too crude that it cannot be shown on television.
The next step, of course, is for fans to literally become part of the contest. Why restrict yourself to contesting a first baseman's right to a foul ball; why not jump right onto the field to get it? Sure, security will eject you, but is seeing the game REALLY that important when compared to (1) getting a foul ball and (2) getting on TV? In fact, jump onto the field and you'll not only be on television immediately, there's a good chance you'll make the local news sports wrapup. Hell, make a big enough scene and the clip might just wind up on SportsCenter.
Which brings us to wrestling.
No other "sport" (or if you insist, no other form of "entertainment") courts and encourages fan participation to the extent that professional wrestling does. The end result is the experience one gets, or should I say is subjected to, at present-day WWE live events. People holding up signs throughout the show, blocking your view all night long. The vulgar chants. The incessant calling out of "what?", even when it makes no sense to do so. Those in the front rows who spend the entire night looking at the TitanTron to see if they're on camera so they can stand up, arms raised, regardless of what's going on in the ring.
The Outsider attended a WWE TV taping recently, and left in disgust after an hour. It was like an inane toga party at the dumbest frat house at the sleaziest college in the country. Sitting back and just watching a wrestling show was not an option, because all the aforementioned crap made that impossible. (The Outsider marvels at the parents who bring their young children to these events, presumably to pass on, through the example they set, that elusive gene that makes people act like idiots.)
We have two issues going on here. First, fans have become imbued with a sense of entitlement that says, "I do not respect the people sitting around me, nor do I care about the event that I have presumably come to see, because those things are secondary to my own personal enjoyment." I paid my money, I can do what I want, to hell with anyone else. There is no clearer example of selfish, adolescent thinking. This mindset, when fueled by alcohol, creates an environment of incivility that any mature adult would find intolerable. Given that reality, fans who tend to behave appropriately will often find it's easier to just stay home.
Second, we are seeing the emergence of an entire generation of sports fans who have been taught by sports media from ESPN to Vince McMahon, that this is indeed accepted, even ideal behavior at athletic events. Recent obscene treatment of Jason Kidd's wife in Boston, for example, was not an aberration, but the norm, and made even sadder by the fact that most Celtic players parroted the attitude of Antoine Walker, who said, "That's the way things are here. If she doesn't like it, she should stay home." Yes, imagine the temerity of Mrs. Kidd, to think she could attend her husband's playoff game with their young son and NOT expect vulgar verbal abuse. What was she thinking? Stay home if you don't like it, Mrs. Kidd!
Logic demands we ask ourselves: if small-minded fools were not rewarded with negative attention, would they be acting the way they do? Of course not; as any child psychologist will tell you, if TV cameras suddenly decided to focus solely on the court, or the ring, in time even the dumbest ticketholder would get the message: stay in your seat and enjoy the game. The Outsider applauds officials in Seattle who decided to draw the line at fans wearing t-shirts with a vulgar expression on the front, and points out that Mariners fans did not suddenly start boycotting games in the name of free speech.
A real turnaround won't happen any time soon, though. Fans who are fed up with the loud, flashy spectacle that all sports has become form a silent majority, a demographic content to find other ways to spend its disposable income. The inmates take over the asylum, and rowdy fan behavior escalates. In the mirror worlds of SmackDown and SportsCenter, life goes on.
So a fan jumping into the ring shouldn't really surprise anyone. In fact, we should all be awestruck that it doesn't happen more often.