What The Internet Wrestling Community Means to Me
Here’s the deal: I have two friends in Vancouver that I can discuss or argue Pro Wrestling with. It takes me more than an hour to get to Vancouver, including a 45-minute ferry ride. I don’t know a single person who lives near me that gets into wrestling anywhere near as much as I do. My girlfriend doesn’t mind watching classic 90s All Japan heavyweight or New Japan junior action with me, and I appreciate that a great deal, but we never really get into analysing the matches together or anything.
Music’s a different matter. I have pretty specific tastes in music. And they are far from mainstream (check my music column archives to see what I mean) but I have always had a few friends that did Jazz and Classical Music, and we can go on about it for hours at a time.
That suits me pretty well, since I am very much the kind of person who enjoys analysis and lively debate, and I find that arguing about music helps me to understand my own passions, broadens my tastes, increases my understanding and enjoyment when I listen to music, and introduces me to composers and artists that I may never have heard of otherwise.
It’s not quite the same when it comes to wrestling. As I said, I’ve only got two real friends within driving distance who care enough about the business to want to discuss it with me. The problem is that our opinions are very similar and so, even when we can get together to talk shop, I am rarely challenged to think about wrestling in a new way. The thing is, even though I have literally hundreds of hours of wrestling on tape, DVD, and on my hard drive I know that there are a number of great wrestlers and great matches that I’ve never been exposed to. I also believe that there are plenty of people out there who can help me to see my favourite matches through a new set of eyes and in so doing help me to develop a deeper appreciation for them.
I subtitled last week’s column What Internet Wrestling Sites Mean to Me, but I never actually expressed what I really feel. I think my meaning was clear by implication, and I assume that many of the people reading this column will have already figured this out for themselves a long time ago, but here it is anyway:
Reading internet wrestling sites and posting on forum discussion boards is like having dozens and dozens of friends who love to watch wrestling as much as I do, who enjoy discussing and analysing wrestling as much as I do, and who each bring their own opinions and perspective into our hobby.
I can barely express how valuable this is to me. When I was living in post-communist Central Europe, internet sites were the main connection I had to the world of professional wrestling. They allowed me to both keep up with the current scene and to catch up on everything I’d missed during the periods when I wasn’t watching.
To be honest, I had assumed that I would spend a lot less time reading and posting once I came back to Canada. I get plenty of wrestling on free TV, and I no longer need the websites to keep up with the week-to-week goings on. The sites, however, are as valuable to me now as they have ever been. For one thing, there was a vast sea of wrestling action that I had missed. By going over review and rant archives and posting and reading on Classic Wrestling forums, I was able to figure out which matches I needed to track down and which I was lucky to have missed. Not only that, but when my latest tape or DVD arrived in the mail, there were people ready to share my joy and sympathise with my disappointment at the matches I was watching, and to point me in the direction of others that I might enjoy. With the help of the other fans I met online I was able to track down reputable and reliable tape traders, find places to download matches, increase the depth and breadth of my wrestling knowledge, and share my new discoveries with people who actually give a crap about them.
Is the IWC Dying?
Recently, some of the senior writers on this site stimulated a great deal of discussion by speculating that the Internet Wrestling Community may be on its last legs. If I understand them correctly, they were mourning the passing of the day when only a privileged few had access to insider wrestling information, and fans needed internet sites to keep them up to date on the backstage antics and political gamesmanship underlying the Monday Night Wars. I can easily believe that, only a few years ago, the vast majority of wrestling fans were not smart to the business, and for those fans with access to the web it must have been fascinating indeed to see what was behind the curtain.
For my part, however, I can remember the night outside the BCTV studios when some of the distinctly trailer park dwelling fans of All Star Wrestling surprised the hell out of me by thanking me, a despised heel, for entertaining them so well that evening. Since that time I’ve always been far more inclined to give the fans credit than many insiders and would-be insiders seem to be.
These days, it seems to me that true marks are a genuine minority in the general wrestling fan base. To phrase that another way, I think that most fans are smart to the business now. As evidence I would point to the fan reaction to the Brock vs. Goldberg match at WM XX and the chants directed at HBK at Backlash 2004. I was at Backlash myself and I’ve corresponded with people who were there in Madison Square Garden, and I can tell you with complete confidence that it wasn’t just a few isolated pockets of smart fans booing Lesnar and Goldberg out of the building or screaming “You Screwed Bret!” at Michaels. The chants started up spontaneously from all over the arena, and quickly spread until almost everyone in the building had joined in. The feeling I got at Backlash was that I was in an entire hockey arena filled with smart fans. That experience was enough to free me from the egotistical misconception that my little bit of insider information makes me special or unique as a wrestling fan.
Admittedly, at the next evening’s RAW taping I sat next to two drunken idiots who really had no clue, and below me there were several family members sitting in a row who obviously didn’t know who Stu was or why Chris Benoit should be thanking him, but everyone else in my section was quietly laughing at them.
Good News Bad News
I would guess that for writers who made their reputations in the days when smart fans were the exception rather than the rule, it must be bad news that the tables have turned. I can see a bright side to it, however. More smart fans means that more people are likely to demand a better product. More smart fans means that more people will want to discuss the business from an informed point of view. More smart fans means that there are more people to trade tapes with, and most importantly it means that there are more people to whom I can try and spread my love of Independent Wrestling and Puroresu.
A New Purpose for the Internet Wrestling Community?
I may be wrong about this, and I am very interested to see what everyone’s opinion on the subject is, but if in fact the majority of fans are now smart to the business then it may be true that the primary role of the IWC is no longer to disseminate insider information.
Since returning to Canada, I haven’t really needed to get information from the IWC. The IWC has continued to serve me, however, by creating what is in a very real sense a community of fans. I like to believe that I have served the IWC as well, by being a contributing member of that community. I am a member of half a dozen wrestling forums, from the very goofy Wrestlecrap board to the extremely serious and opinionated Smark’s Choice. As much as I love wrestling, I have day job and a girlfriend, and I only have a limited amount of free time to devote to the hobby. The majority of that time is spent watching matches, writing these columns, and posting on the Inside Pulse forums, but it makes me glad to see that our community has room for such a wide range of fans.
My personal feeling on the matter is that the new primary role of the IWC is to bring wrestling fans together to read about, think about, discuss, and share their knowledge of Pro Wrestling. I also think that, given the overall state of the North American Corporate wrestling product, we have some kind of responsibility to spread our love of Independent and International wrestling as best we’re able.
To that end, next week, I’m going to give my picks for WWE, Indy, and Puro matches of the year. I’m also looking forward to arguing about this week’s column on the forums.