In essence, humans are very much pack animals. We cling to one another for security, left feeling vulnerable and defensive when not. No better illustration of this than the herds of fanatics the form under the banner of a sporting team. Through simple geography and colours, a fence is erected between groups of people who are fundamentally the same. Week in, week out mock abuse is exchanged between the supporters, seemingly having nothing whatsoever in common, becoming bitter enemies for the seven day period until they move to the next band of outsiders. A temporary loathing stemming from their opposition not being in their pack. Although most common in team sports, this mob mentality has become growingly apparent in the professional wrestling fan community.
In the last five years, following the drought post-Attitude, the emergence of individual fan bases has steadily gathered steam. Battle lines are now drawn with greater prejudices, clearly dividing under the banner of each promotion. The WWE followers are polarized against the TNA fans; and those with an even more independent taste separate themselves even further. The trend has seemingly skyrocketed in recent years, almost as if out of nowhere, with no clear precursor or source. The state of wrestling coming out of the Monday Night Wars is most probably to blame. During the wars, despite there being two companies, the audience was largely fickle, deciding on their viewing week-by-week depending on the content. It was this habit that made the Monday Night War a war, because both promotions had a reason to battle and had equal chance of success. Once the war ended, the monopoly triggered an instinct in the fans, to divide and defend.
Without the invisible lines between main promotions, there was no social order to the fans; they were all clustered together, marks, smarks and casual. The subsequent allegiances formed for TNA and ROH among others filled the role of including and excluding. Over time, the alliances have distanced themselves further and further away from one another, with it the animosity and argument growing also.
The term ‘legion of fans’ has never been more appropriate than it is today. Much like a marauding patriotic warriors, fans have become vocal and volatile, mostly against one another. Giving truth to the word fanatic. Such healthy and frequent debate no doubt deepens the discussion surrounding wrestling, but what draws people to segregate themselves in reference to a near-sport that isn’t even team or town based.
While the Internet is consistently being blamed for the increasingly rebellious behaviour and opinions of fans, it’s more a case of the chicken coming before the egg. True, the internet has allowed for greater access to obscure promotions, thus expanding the horizons of the fan base. But it could have just as easily gone in the other direction, with more promotions could come more fans and the creation of an international universe of fans where information and opinions are freely shared. While this does occur, the honesty of the debate is questionable, as somewhere in the mix a good portion of vocal fans have become blinded by their chosen allegiances. This somewhat superficial approach to wrestling appreciation has taken away the credibility of opinions and the innocence of the previously (and still) child directed product. Becoming a verbal warfield for stubborn adults.
It was inevitable for such an adrenaline-fuelled sport to spill similar excitement throughout the fanbase, but it seems it has achieved this far more than it had hoped. This banding together under a banner can be seen as a byproduct of this testosterone dominant frame of mind. Muscle bound warriors engaging in the most base of activities, fighting for the sake of fighting, a scenario that engages the subconscious primitive in all men. The promotional allegiances being a form of territorialism. In essence, wrestling fans are becoming tribal, keeping their distance from the other tribes, as divided by federations, much like the cliques of professional wrestling. Another piece of evidence that the fanbase is a microverse of the wrestling world. Much like in the wild, these ‘tribes’ are formed as a form of security. Due to the flood of loudmouth opinions through the Internet revolution, the grouping serviced as a way of vocalizing your opinion with the power of many, and thus more impact and more convinced listeners. Without the mob, a fan’s opinion may be lost or drowned out by more dominant thinkers and speakers. And to prevent themselves from being exiled from the group, those within it must forever defend their siding by arguing, often blindly, in unbalanced favour of it.
Similarly, and on a less intense scale, the competitive aura of professional wrestling may instigate a similar competitive instinct in the fans, thus creating the intellectual rivalry that eventuates in the fervent patriotism between promotions. In order for fans to compete sub division is essential, so as to form “teams”. Just as in professional wrestling, the segregation distinguishes between the faces, heels and inbetweeners, generating an ingrained rivalry between the mobs. Although the competition most commonly manifests in web-based battles of intellect, the competition now also occurs face-to-face. The infiltration of independent wrestling fans into a mainstream promotions audience, and the following disobedience, rowdiness and overbearing vocal presence is a gesture of power. Much like a football team winning an away game. But intense competition can be deluding, creating biased argument simply for the sake of defending ones own team. Factuality often becoming secondary.
Also, the grouping that is seen within the Internet wrestling community is possibly to blame on our tendency to rank our own. For centuries humans have graded one another, determining class through the most arbitrary of aspects, wealth and race among others. This stems from our desire for belonging, pigeonholing ourselves in such a way that some ‘belong’ above others in the hierarchy. Same goes for the internet wrestling community where the ‘society’ is ranked through depth of knowledge, meaning those with a greater radius of viewing are slotted above those who stick to the immediately accessible product. For any community, small or large, it will inevitably become victim of this self-defeating habit. However, although commonplace, the social ladder in the wrestling community seems to have an abnormal level of unrest between the levels. This is due to the nature of the division, intellectuality, a characteristic that is impossible to measure objectively, and so, each of the various ‘ranks’ are arguing so as to prove themselves as the most knowledgeable.
Any number of these reasons could explain the volatile state of wrestling message boards. The situation seems to be a perpetual hot topic that leads to simply more argument. In an attempt to diffuse the escalating animosity fans should pause to question why they say what they say, and support who they support, and why these decisions lead to argument. Neither side enjoys the ever more aggressive approach to being a wrestling fan, because despite how ‘intelligent’ fans may be, the sport has lost a little of the innocence that made them a fan in the first place.
In a beneficial sense, this type of dialogue has cemented the existing fanbase. Those who were fans have become more vocal and more engaged with the community and the product. But contrary to popular complaints, where the explosive environment is only detrimental to the good nature of the sport, the real problem is actually that it has prevented (and still does) new fans becoming part of the community. The closed minded and competitive community essentially chews up new and naïve fans and spits them out before they can find their feet. And in the current gradual upswing in the sports popularity we need all the new fans we can get for the magic of the previous boom periods to repeat.
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