'Queering don't make the world work.'
Ultimate Warrior, speaking at a university a few months ago
'I'm an American and don't want to see Japanese or Mexican wrestlers. I want to see Americans wrestle.'
I have an announcement to make. I'm not going to find it easy, so please bear with me.
For...well, far too long now, I have been lying to my friends, my family, and most importantly, myself. I'm not sure if any of you know what it's like to live your life as a lie (although I have the feeling one or two people may know), but eventually, you just can't do it any more. Eventually, you just have to come out, and accept the truth, and adjust your life accordingly. I am aware that my parents may have issue with it - I'm also aware that my fiancee is probably going to find it difficult realising how long I kept something from her, but damn it all, I have to hurl myself out of the closet, and 'out' myself.
Yes, as you've probably guessed by now - I am a wrestling fan.
GodDAMN, that felt good to say. And finally - finally - I can be myself around people. No more tedious talk at dinner, pretending to like 'sports'. No more grimacing through conversations, pretending that, yes, I really am still fascinated by football. No more lying to people, and making out that I give two shits about the olympics (give me an amen!). No more. Hallelujah.
But, even with my new lease on life, what with my coming out of the closet, and revealing my markdom, I have my issues with wrestling. Like, for example, people coming to the (correct) conclusion that it’s somewhat homophobic.
Back at the start of my column-writing career, I wrote an article called 'Wrestling with Homophobia', in which I chronicled pro-wrestling's history of negative portrayals of homosexuals. A couple of years later, and things haven't changed. It may have been a while since we've had an openly gay character (Rico), but there haven't exactly been any positive strides recently. I suggested at the end of the column that a positive portrayal of a gay character in wrestling would be an easy and hugely forward thinking thing for a major promotion to do. Not only do I stand by that - I am now suggesting that wrestling takes it further.
Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest that wrestlers start coming to the ring wearing a big feather boa and sunglass.....erm....that is, I'm not going to suggest that wrestlers start wearing otufits that can only really be described as 'altar boy bondage outf....'...you know, I'd never really looked at Shawn Michael's entrance outfit before....erm...that is, I'm not going to suggest that wrestlers start growing facial hair that can only really be described properly as 'buggers grips'...Look, never mind the bad jokes. My point is, I'm not going to suggest an overabundance of camp. Wrestling is quite camp enough already. No, I'm going to suggest something far more straightforward, and far more simple. But first - I'm going to explain how I came to this idea.
Recently, I was the ring announcer for a show near Manchester in the UK. (For those that don't already know that I'm a ring announcer, I can only assume that you've never read one of my columns before, since I usually mention it at an average speed of three sentences into a column) This show was a particular nerve-wrecker for me, since my family showed up for it. Yep, my Mother, Father, my Nan, my sister, and her very gay best mate, Craig. None of them had ever been at a wrestling show before, and I'm pleased to say they all enjoyed it. After the show, I was chatting with them when we got back home. My father couldn't get over how much potential was shown by the company (even from seeing just an academy show), however, he said it was also interesting to see how they're ignoring certain obvious markets. My sister thought that quite a few of the wrestlers were 'pretty fit' - the UK meaning of the word, basically meaning sexy - and was also surprised by how much she'd enjoyed it. She'd been to a boxing night before, and hated it, but there was something very cool about the fact that, in wrestling, it was more of a show, and you weren't watching people actually getting their heads beaten in. The safeness of the theatrical side of the show was actually a huge attraction for her. And speaking of huge attraction, Craig practically fell in love with one of the wrestlers (which, unless that wrestler is reading this column, and noticed a very smily chap in the third row during his match, and gets in touch with me asking to be put in touch with him, will sadly go unrequited), and he also got totally into the show as well.
My father, who has an irritatingly good business brain in his head, immediately asked Craig 'Would wrestling go over well with a gay audience?’ The answer, in case you hadn't guessed was 'totally. It's entertaining, it's mildly camp, but not too much, and there are some really good looking guys performing. It's non-sexual, but it's fun as hell.’ At which point my dad asked me a very tough question.
'Why aren't you promoting to the gay market?'
Well, let's face it. We know why. It's because we've spent so long, as an industry, trying to distance ourselves from coming across as gay.It's because we've spent so long, as fans, being told that it's really gay, and it's because we've all been trying so hard to make sure that everybody knows that the fact that we watch oiled up, mostly naked men groping each other, doesn't make us feel 'a little bit funny...like when we climbed the rope at gym class'. We've spent so long doing this that we're now ignoring a market that is, let's face it, really fucking obvious. And I mean REALLY fucking obvious.
But then, WWE knows all about ignoring, and indeed, alienating huge potential markets. After all, the female audience that was beginning to prick up its ears with this whole Lita/Matt/Edge thing (and let's face it, it's soap opera, and it doesn't get more so) may just - possibly...maybe - have been a little put off by Kane doing the face thing, and implying rape last week. Oh, and let's not forget Lita thanking someone for giving her a miscarriage. Bravo, WWE.
But wait, that's not all! How about the Mexi-Cools? Yeah, I don't care if they're being 'edgy', and confronting a racist audience, by mocking their beliefs. Unless they make that explanation every week, that's just not going to float, because new audiences aren’t going to know about it. No, let's just insult the Mexican audience. Cause you know....it's not huge or anything. Meanwhile, I'm SURE the African American audience loves Viscera/Mark Henry V2.0's gimmick.
And Muhammad Hassan being rescued by a bunch of terrorists on July fourth?
Classy, Vinny. Real classy.
That's WWE though, cutting itself from the same cloth as normal. When they brought in Muhammad Hassan, they decided to gague the reaction he got in a first promo, which was neither heel, nor face. When the Audience decided to give him a heel reaction, the creative team went with it, and that's likely to be the excuse for anything they do from here on.The problem is, show an Arab making comments about 9/11 in a wrestling angle, and chances are, you're going to be booed. Either because the lowest common denominator part of the audience - the part that WWE constantly caters to - decides to boo it, or because those with more taste boo it because it's a blatant attempt to profiteer, one way or the other, from 9/11. But, it doesn't matter; you have your justification right there.
We do it because the audience wouldn't accept it if we did anything else. It's like back when Vince Russo pointed out that he had no interest in Mexican or Japanese cruiserweights, because by God, he's an American, and he wants to see American wrestlers. Meanwhile, your ratings continue to drop, because you're alienating anybody except the lowest common denominator - and the hardcore audience, who'll stay no matter what.
But why? It really doesn't have to be this way. Look at Billy and Chuck - by the end of their run, you want to know a little secret? They were over. People were actually getting into the gimmick, and it was possibly the most entertaining Billy Gunn ever was in his miserable little career - outside of the New Age Outlaws. Don't believe me? When were they more over? The month BEFORE the gay wedding fiasco, or the month AFTER? The fact is, the audience realised that the whole thing wasn't being mean spirited, and they began to warm up to it. That's the trick - you don't get mean spirited about it. Mick Foley makes the same point in his shoot interview with ROH. You can easily have fun with the notion, and you can pull the 'if you were my wife? Kurt....are you saying you've thought about what it would be like to be married to me?' kind of jokes, and lets face it, somebody who usually acts superior suddenly being put in a moment of panicked frantic denial is always going to be funny. But, until the end, the Billy and Chuck thing wasn't mean spirited. And then, what happened? They came out as straight, in a blatant attempt to get a cheap face pop. Stupid, stupid move.
Talking of stupid moves, what's with WWE deciding to turn female wrestlers gay, if they're going to be a heel? Dawn Marie decided she was into Torrie Wilson. Sable decided she was into Torrie Wilson. You want to know why? It's because by doing so, they made clear that they weren't doing it for a man. Christy Hemme, on the other hand, decides to kiss Lillian Garcia...but that's made clear that it's for the audience, and more specifically the men in the audience. Meanwhile, Molly Holly decides (Shock! Horror!) that she's going to butch it up, and stop trying to be attractive towards men, purely in order to make her more of a heel. It should, of course, be pointed out here that I am talking about back when WWE actually had female wrestlers.
Seriously, if WWE was actually a person, at this point, they'd have so many xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynistic issues that they'd be in need of some serious psychological help.
In the rest of the wrestling world, we’ve had some vague hints at possible face gay wrestlers in a couple of the smaller Indy’s (step forward Christopher Street Connection), but still, nobody has really gone the whole hog. Doesn’t matter. I’ve sang this particular verse before.
At the moment, my major point is that wrestling should start promoting to gay markets. As I said, I’m really not suggesting changing the product noticeably (other than eliminating homophobia, and racism), and I’m certainly not suggesting WWE turns itself into a sports entertainment version of ‘Queer as Folk’, or even ‘Will and Grace’. But why not have some wrestlers head and do some interviews with gay magazines, and even some basic photo-shoots? After all, with some of them, we’re talking about handsome guys, and there certainly would be a market. Why not make clear in adverts, and interviews with gay magazines, or gay TV shows, that racism and homophobia will not be tolerated during shows, so they don’t need to worry about any preconceptions they may have of wrestling fans? And while they’re at it, why not beef up (ha!) the security? Why not promote in a classically gay area? Would a ‘Mardi Gras’ themed episode of Raw be SO difficult to pull off?
Simple, basic storyline to use during a show in that kind of an area: Heel comes out, cuts a promo about how he didn’t realise he’d be wrestling in front of a bunch of queers. Face comes out, and basically says ‘Go to hell. It’s the twenty first century. Don’t like it? Leave. Like it or hate it, these are our fans as well’. And then you put him over the heel. You could use that in WWE, you could use that in an indy, you could use that in the US, the UK, Australia….hell, you could use it anywhere. The FWA could easily promote more amongst the gay community, for example, as could ROH, and TNA. There’s a large gay scene in the UK, and the FWA has got a lot of good looking guys on the roster, as well as a keen eye for comedy, and it’s looking for new audiences, after all, as it establishes itself, and begins the slow trek towards mainstream recognition. It’s not ultra-violent, it’s not offensive, and even my sister likes it. What is there to lose? (I’m saying this as a fan, incidentally, not in any official/semi official, or any other kind of capacity).
If you’re a fan, or a wrestler, or a promoter, or anything, and your immediate reaction to the idea is repulsion, then you know what? There’s a very simple reason why you should be more open minded to the idea. The Pink Pound or The Pink Dollar is likely to be a very strong financial one, and a very persuasive one. To put it simply, it’d be good for business, and it’d make your image better, as well. We all know the easy stereotypical image of wrestling fans, and homophobia is one of the immediate things that jumps to mind. The thing is, while homophobia is everywhere, it’s not something you need to cater to. There’s audiences out there that you’re constantly alienating, and for absolutely no good reason. The fact is, your fan base comprises the Kevin Smiths of the world, as well as the Jay’s. It also comprises the minorities of the world, as well as the majorities, and it definitely comprises more than the lowest common denominator.
The world today is white, black, straight, gay, bisexual, mixed race, scared, confident, male, female, transgender, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Hindu, young, old, disabled…..When wrestling isn’t big, you don’t need to just apply to the basic fan level. You need to take a deep breath, and try something new. Expand your fan base. Come, kicking and screaming, out of the closet, and into a multi-cultural society. It just might work, and it just might be a huge thing.
One way or the other: You don’t alienate large audiences that could easily be persuaded to like your product. You seek them out, and you impress the hell out of them, and you make them pay to come back for more. Don’t ignore an audience that’s a natural fit. It really doesn’t get any simpler than this. It just doesn’t. It’s blatantly obvious. You expand. You don’t withdraw. End of lecture.
TORTURE BY WRESTLING
The Ultimate Warrior wearing a wig and smoking a cigar. Ric Flair running away from Judy Bagwell. David Arquette as champion. And far too much Jeff Jarrett. What have I let myself in for?
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