Let’s talk about…..Wrestling critics

Let’s talk about….Wrestling critics
“……enhances a critic’s conviction that he serves some
important purpose, but also strengthens his sense of superiority, suggesting
that the reviewer possesses knowledge, refinement and sophistication that set
him apart from ordinary moviegoers.” – Michael Medved, on film critics
including lesser-known films on yearly top 10 lists.

“As for the quote from Medved: I couldn’t have said it
better.  Yes, like any self-respecting
critic, I believe I serve an important purpose, and that I possess knowledge,
refinement and sophistication that set me apart from ordinary moviegoers.  It is interesting that Medved doesn’t believe
this statement describes himself.” – Roger Ebert’s response to the above.
Medved is an idiot.
Art criticism is one of the more difficult things to
‘learn’, so to speak. We all know that there are certain things that we ‘like’,
so to speak, when it comes to films, television, books, etc. We can articulate
those reasons on multiple levels – “Mcclain is a badass and Willis is f------
awesome!” to “Mcclain connects with the audience due to his common man persona,
allowing a bond to be forged that carries the character through the slightly
unbelievable narrative with the audience as his willing partner.” – these are
both fine ways to describe Die Hard. Both are favorable, one is slightly more
verbose but allows for a more psychological deconstruction of the film, while
one is short and to the point.
As wrestling is one of the last true forms of theater left, art
criticism is what we use to make the aesthetic judgments in our reviews.
Whether it be the star rating system, a grading scale, hot pokers up the ass,
whatever the case may be, we are all participating in that criticism on this
blog on a daily basis.
But what is our role? Criticism has a negative connotation,
there can be little doubt about that. Doubly so were we to identify ourselves
as ‘professional wrestling critics’; outside of a select few players, our
blogmaster being one of them, this fact probably is concealed by a great
majority of those that spend time not only watching the happenings of the
squared circle, but spend time discussing it in great detail. Back in the late
90’s, even with wrestling at the height of its popularity, I did refrain from
discussing my fandom or wearing my NWO shirt at academic functions. There was a
sense of shame, even after having found rec.pro-wrestling and the Usenet forums
that would eventually shape my fandom in a different direction, that wrestling
was a ‘low’ art.
Of course, this is nonsense. No art form is higher and lower
than the work itself. Professional wrestling has frequently CATERED to the
lowest common denominator, but that in and of itself does not diminish the work
of both the performers and the bookers, both of whom create the narrative that
plays out in front of us. Frequently Grecian in scope, wrestling takes familiar
tropes, with the hero (face) and the villain (heel) vying for whatever prize
awaits them at the end of the poem. It’s the oldest story in the book for a
reason, because the narrative always works. The difference is how you tell it,
and that’s really what we judge.
But what is our ROLE, I ask? Are we the white-robed
guardians of the gates of professional wrestling fandom, letting no one pass
until they have watched (and praised) the requisite number of KENTA matches?
Are we deluded fan boys commenting on a subject with a depth that not even the
creators care to think about?
One would think there is a middle ground of sorts between
the two, but I’m inclined to go with the more grandiose of visions, for the
simple fact that one of the key agents of a strong critic is confidence to
augment the knowledge. Does it smack of arrogance (TM Rick Martel) to do so?
Undoubtedly. But I think it necessary to differentiate a critic from a fan when
it comes to credibility. A fan needs no credibility to back up simple
statements, because his knowledge is not called forth in making that statement.
But a critic needs credibility because his knowledge can and should be debated
in the context of his opinion. Were you to need a mechanic for your car, would
you take it to your cousin who works on the weekends on his old junker, or
would you take it to a professional mechanic, whose knowledge far surpasses
that of said cousin?
Of course, you would take it to the mechanic, depending on
the car’s importance to YOU. And this is how we respond to criticism as well. If
we care about the subject, we’re much more inclined to spend time researching
and becoming knowledgeable about it. Wrestling is no different. Like any hobby,
we spend our time as a part of what we all call the Internet Wrestling
Community (IWC) as a way to discuss a subject that very few people in our ‘normal’
lives understand, at least to the extent of those of us who post here on the
While I am not trying to write a rallying cry for those of
us on the blog, a pseudo –“We’re all Awesome” crowd chant during a Divas match
to pass the time, I am saying that being a wrestling critic requires certain tools
that not everyone has; I am saying that what we do is of value. Unlike so many
other forms, the bulk of professional wrestling has taken place within the last
100 years, so study is possible.
Allow me to date myself. I first came to college in 1996,
and was exposed to the aforementioned Usenet pro wrestling forums on the lightning
fast “only takes 2 minutes to load a page!” direct connection in the dorms. So
many questions were finally being answered for me, principally how things were
actually done in this wonderful world I had become addicted to as an 11 year
old renting every video I could from the Blockbuster. I swallowed as much
knowledge as I could whole, and had my first exposure to Scott, CRZ, Scaia,
Chris Bird, Petrie, Kunze, and more. Learning about the undercurrent of
seriousness to the world of wrestling actually saved my waning fandom; the
coming wrestling boom would bring me all the way back.
So, here we are in the present day, where criticism is
discouraged strongly by the largest North American federation that exists.
Frequently we are criticized by those who get in the ring as not able to judge
quality work since we’ve never been a worker – surely, they recognize this as nonsense,
as being able to articulate one’s tastes in art in a more intelligent fashion
has nothing to do with personal experience as an actor in the pageant. You don’t
need to be a chef to understand what a good steak tastes like, and you don’t
need to be an expert to understand that Cena/Punk was a better match than
Cena/Ryback. The difference between a fan and a critic is the knowledge of WHY
one is better than the other.
There’s no jokes this week, because I’m not all that funny.
But also, I think this subject deserves less ridicule than is normally applied
to the smark community; I frequently see us belittle ourselves as though we
live in fear of ‘taking ourselves too seriously’. Why shouldn’t we take the
things we care about seriously? The only fear should be crossing over into pretension,
which is not an unreasonable fear, but a manageable one; keeping a level head
over how little wrestling means, while still being okay about our criticism
being serious is a tough balance beam to walk upon, but we can traverse it.
Whether it be Scott Keith’s snark, or CRZ’s bombast, or
Kunze’s earnestness and world weariness over North American wrestling, we all
read or have read critics because they’ve earned our respect.

Now I’d like to show some respect to ourselves.
Rick Poehling
@MrSoze on Twitter