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Steve Schroeder




I was chatting with my close personal Internet acquaintance Gene White the other day, and he said something that led me to this article. He said many of his friendships are based on a singular shared interests, and there is very little overlap between the interests. That is, he has different groups of wrestling friends, car friends, and friends with other shared interests, and only the best friends tend to transcend these categorical lines. At first I thought this was odd, but upon further thought I realized it's this way with most people; we share a lot with our closest friends, but we know lots of people that share only one major interest (be it football, reading, or wife-swapping) in small subgroups. The so-called Internet Wrestling Community is a large example of this sort of entertainment subculture, though most of us only "know" each other in the loosest sense. However, I believe that this particular subculture has reached a point of diminishing returns characteristic of any subculture that exists long enough and develops enough negative tendencies. Though it still has good qualities, the negatives have grown to outweigh the beneficial.

The very fact that you're reading this article indicates you're at least on the periphery of the Internet Wrestling Subculture, but you may need some clarification of exactly what I mean when I say "subculture." The definition you'll find in most dictionaries is far too general for my purposes, and lots of the definitions you can see floating around the 'net are too packed with pompous academic jargon. For the purpose of this article, a subculture is a loose organization or community of people whose interaction is based on a shared interest and a notably greater dedication to that interest than would be found in a "typical" person. The keys to this definition are the loose organization, the single interest, and the greater-than-average dedication.

There are rabid subcultures of various sizes for virtually any hobby, activity, and profession, and I personally am or have been involved in many of them, from wrestling to quiz bowl to résumé writing. Beyond fitting the above definition, all subcultures share certain general characteristics, which you'll no doubt recognize if you've observed the online wrestling world for long. Among these characteristics are specialized terminology, active venues of discussion, and a somewhat ambivalent relationship with both non-members of the subculture and often with the object of the subculture. However, these things aren't particularly positive and negative on their own, so I'm not going to discuss them in depth here.

So you understand I'm not being relentlessly negative here, there are still good features of the online wrestling subculture. First and most simply, it allows people who are strongly interested in wrestling to find people with similar interests across a wide geographic range, which can be extremely important to those in isolated areas or who have few wrestling-fan friends. Second, the subculture has spawned a wealth of informational resources. These resources are especially helpful in giving newcomers a sense of wrestling history, something that tends to be lacking in today's programming and casual fandom. Finally, the online wrestling subculture is at least capable of producing an interesting and energetic exchange of intelligent ideas about wrestling, though you'll see below that I think that happens all too rarely.

Now then, what are the negative aspects that have come to overshadow the good in the online wrestling community? I'll talk about several under their own headings.

Cynicism and Jading: This is one of the most immediately noticeable characteristics among large segments of the community. The current wrestling product is primarily to be disdained. Wrestling was more entertaining in the past, but if something that worked or would have worked in the past is tried in the present, it's no longer good enough (an amazingly contradictory love/hate relationship with history). It is a sad commentary that one of the major, if not the single dominant, trend in the online subculture is bitterness over not having one's unrealistic expectations catered to.

Obsession With Trivia: This is frequently a subcultural characteristic. It gave rise to The Nitpicker's Guides to Star Trek, which at least didn't hate their target. Combined with the cynicism mentioned above, it produces the sort of people mocked in the "Please Please Please Get a Life Foundation" episode of Animaniacs or the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons. People, these are not meant to be compliments to those of you who act remotely like that! In wrestling, this obsession with useless information covers both on-screen and off-screen issues, from wrestlers' real names to Pay-Per-View won/lost records. Just knowing this information wouldn't be a negative on its own, but far too many people analyze it as though it has meaning, and some even predicate their enjoyment on such trivia or expect wrestlers to care about it as much as they do.

Inflated Sense of Importance: This applies two different ways. First, as suggested by the last point under Obsession With Trivia, notable portions of the online wrestling subculture overestimate their importance to the wrestling business. Not only is the fanatic online subculture a very small portion of wrestling viewers, it is frequently dominated by views that are completely unrepresentative of the bulk of casual fans. Second, many members of the community have an inflated perception of the importance of themselves and the community in the world at large. The inaccuracy of this sense of importance is especially apparent when those members try to write about more serious and large-scale issues using the same slapdash approach they use to comment on wrestling. This lack of perspective often leads to problems on all sides.

Conformity and False Authority: Ideas in online wrestling often fall into two categories: first there is the wholly predominant idea held by a vast majority of online wrestling fans, and second there is the opposed set of ideas espoused by two vociferous groups. In the first case, a person with an opinion opposed to the dominant idea (e.g. someone who says "I like Hulk Hogan.") will be looked down on by a majority, while in the second case the person will be attacked by whichever side he or she is perceived not to have chosen. Even more problematic is that these sorts of ideas are often championed by people who know little more about wrestling than the average online fan, but who have falsely set themselves up as authorities by virtue of yelling louder and advancing clever-seeming but ultimately useless panaceas like "What the WWF needs to do to improve is write better storylines."

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: This offshoot of False Authority is one of the most negative characteristics of the current online wrestling scene. It works like this: someone who is regarded as an authority makes a statement about something in the wrestling world (usually behind the scenes) based loosely on fact or perhaps only on opinion and hearsay. He (I won't even say "or she"; see below) continues to repeat it, or other people repeat it, with or without the note that it's not actual fact, and eventually it spreads far enough and the origin of it becomes distorted enough that unwitting people accept it as fact, no matter how ludicrous, unproven, or even flat-out disproven it may be. To put it another way, Stephanie McMahon is solely responsible for writing WWF scripts, HHH is the most manipulative man in wrestling, and Konnan is a white guy from New Jersey. These self-fulfilling prophecies corrupt the informational resources that are one of the positives I mentioned above.

Sexism: I would make a bigger deal of this, but sadly it grows out of wrestling itself. To put it simply, go to any wrestling message board. Find out how many posters are male, how many female, and how many are male pretending to be female. Male posters will outnumber female 10 to 1 at least, and males impersonating females will probably come close to equaling females. Then read the comments regularly made about women in the messages. There you have it.

Hostility to Newcomers: This is perhaps the most aggravating negative tendency I can think of in the wrestling subculture, and it's probably the one that most retards the community's ongoing growth and development. In many online forums and on many sites, people who are new to wrestling or new to wrestling discussion are at ignored, patronized, and flatly insulted by people with more experience. This attitude is pathetic and damaging. While the resources to present wrestling and its history to newcomers exist, they must be accompanied by a basic level of acceptance from more established denizens of the community. Any subculture that refuses to admit new members is one that is destined to atrophy and die of old age or disinterest. Besides, newcomers help alleviate cynicism and jading, bringing us full circle.

Now that I've presented some of the more prominent and harmful negative aspects of this wrestling subculture, you may want to know why I'm still part of it. Well, I think it can be fixed and be an excellent place once it is. How should we fix things? There's not exactly an oversimplified panacea (go figure), but this piece can get you started. Look at the positives I listed above and act to accentuate those positives in the community. Look at the numerous negatives and see what you can do to downplay those tendencies in yourself and others. Think of other positives and negatives that I didn't cover. Encourage the free and intelligent exchange of ideas with all sorts of people in discussion. A little awareness, cooperation, and improvement from all community members will go a long way toward making this online wrestling subculture worthwhile.

Steve Schroeder
[slash] wrestling

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