No Touching!!!8 Comments
(Bonus points to anyone who knows where the title came from.)
Wrestling fans can’t whine and moan about the lack of respect shown to the industry by the rest of the world when some amongst them don’t respect it either. To quote Christopher Titus, that’s right, I said it, who wants some??? Wrestling fans not respecting wrestling and wrestlers seems to be impossible, but it happens all the time. The most grievous offenders are the ones with the least excuse for doing so – the supposed “smart” fans. If you’re actually reading this, that label probably applies to you, but there is a sub-group of “smart” fans. You know the type. The ones who want everyone else to know how cool they are and how much they know. The ones who couldn’t just sit back and enjoy the show if their pathetic, meaningless, wretched little lives depended on it. The ones who chanted “Fallen Angel!” at Curry Man. The ones who constantly refer to wrestlers by their real names. The ones who continue to chant “You fucked up!” during matches, even if the wrestler recovers in mid-move. The ones who are there to make themselves a part of the show, even if it isn’t called for. The ones who talk as if they have inside information on all aspects of the business, even though what they spew is utter nonsense. The ones who make the rest of us hang our collective wrestling fan heads in shame and cringe. Those people.
Some of “those people” have the twisted idea that since they paid for a ticket to the show, since they are so much “in the know” about all things wrestling, or since they are in a way the customer and the customer is always right, that they are entitled to say and do whatever they like with no consequences. Little kids are even taught that this is acceptable. I live in an area with multiple independent wrestling companies, and the major ones come through fairly regularly. I attend a good number of shows. It’s quite disheartening when, at more and more of these shows, regardless of who puts it on, children who haven’t entered their teens are screaming obscenities and insults at wrestlers, giving them the finger, and challenging them to do anything about it because they will sue. The adults who teach and encourage this behavior are no better. To them, it’s funny when a nine-year-old yells that a wrestler sucks and is gay and a variety of other things that would generally not be appropriate in public. Funny really isn’t the right word to describe it.
The leap from verbal assaults to physical ones is small. Any wrestler going into the crowd suddenly has hands all over them. This has always made me very uncomfortable, and while I’m probably in the minority, touching the wrestlers is not necessary to enjoy the show. It’s a different thing entirely to slap hands with someone entering or exiting the ring area, or high-fiving with a wrestler who has jumped into the crowd from the ring or enters from the audience. Those things are fine. Anything else involving touching the wrestlers while the show (not just the match) is going on really isn’t fine, and those of us who claim to be fans need to take a collective step back and remember where we are.
I come from a theatre and performing arts background. If I were at a performance of “Romeo and Juliet,” and the brawl between Tybalt and Mercutio spilled off of the stage and into the crowd (which HAS been done before), the last thing I would do would be to touch the actors who were fighting. It has nothing to do with high-brow theatre versus low-brow wrestling. The concept is the same. The actors in a play have lines, blocking, and fight choreography to follow. They want to put on the best possible show, and get those elements right. They have to be able to pay very close attention to one another because in stage combat, armed or unarmed, so many variables could change in an instant, and the performers must be able to compensate. Distance apart, placement of blows, reaction, environmental changes, and so on require actors, even highly skilled fighters, to concentrate on the action at hand, not the behavior of the audience. I once got my forehead sliced open in a rapier fight because something went wrong. It takes considerable effort to pull off a good fight. The same is true in wrestling.
The more perceptive of you probably realize that the incident at Ring of Honor’s “Final Battle 2008” where Austin Aries punched a fan kickstarted this article. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see it. Very little is being said about it at all, which is probably good. The little bit that I have been able to read from people who were actually there indicates that the “fan” brought it on himself through a series of verbal and physical attacks on Aries. Why is anyone surprised? In any other location, a total stranger yelling at you about wanting to get with your girlfriend, then grabbing you by the shoulder and spinning you around as though he were going to throw a punch would result in the afore-mentioned total stranger getting his teeth knocked down his throat. Why should someone be able to get away with the same behavior at a wrestling show? The fact that it happened doesn’t surprise or bother me nearly as much as the attitude that it’s acceptable for fans to treat wrestlers that way, that people need to just lighten up and get a life instead of being bothered by it, and that since it’s just a fake wrestling show, people in attendance are free to shed all vestiges of decorum, dignity, and class. If you really love wrestling and appreciate what the wrestlers are doing, show them by suspending your disbelief, living in the moment that they create, and understanding that while it may be FOR you, it isn’t ABOUT you.
In Chris Jericho’s autobiography, “A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” he writes about a Japanese wrestler punching a fan in the face who had touched him. The wrestler then chased the fan through the stands and threw him out of the building. “In the States, if you even look in a fan’s general direction, you can be sued. In Japan, to be attacked and beaten by your favorite wrestler was a badge of honor, something to brag about to your friends.” It’s easy to act like the guy at “Final Battle” when you imagine that you’re safe behind the threat of lawsuits and a sense of entitlement. I’m certainly not encouraging wrestlers to declare open season on annoying fans (we’d be destroyed, admit it), but any performer is a human being first, and shouldn’t be expected to endure out-of-line behavior. Believe me, I know what it’s like. I teach public school.