So this is a bit of a different one. There’s a clip of professional wrestler Al Snow talking about “toxic fans” (important: Al Snow himself never used those words) that has been doing the rounds on Twitter in the past couple of days that was posted by writer Nick Pitarra, and I have some mixed feelings about it so I wanted to take this opportunity to explain those feelings, both so I understand them myself, and also so you can understand why it kind of rubbed me the wrong way when I watched it. I’ve linked it below so you have the context for what I’m about to talk about.
First a little background on Al Snow. As an on-screen performer, he is probably most well-known for his time with ECW and WWE in the mid-to-late 90’s where he saw a decent amount of success and a good amount of fan support. I can’t speak to the quality of his performance because I wasn’t watching wrestling at the time he was performing, but I get a generally positive impression from other people’s opinions of his work. Al Snow is a man of many talents: wrestling, writing, acting, teaching, and much more. I say this to establish that he is an intelligent man. He knows his businesses and he is definitely worth listening to when he speaks about them. That’s one of the reasons I believe this clip got circulated around as much as it did. So let’s talk about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I think by and large what he says is true. The difference between information and knowledge exists, and people not knowing the difference does cause unfortunate assumptions about businesses and trades they’re not necessarily part of. I’ve seen it happen with wrestling, graphic design, videogame development, and more. Heck, I’ve spoken to people who think my writing is a much easier process than it is, and it definitely frustrated me.
But the main thing that got to me about what Al Snow said relates to the word “experience.” Now, I’m not a wrestler. I have very little experience with the behind-the-scenes aspect of the wrestling business. My partner volunteers at a local independent promotion and I get to hear stories from what goes on there, and I helped take apart their ring once. But that’s it. In terms of actual industry experience this is almost nothing. He never said this out loud, but I felt like the implication of his statement is that the less experience you have, the less your opinion should matter because it’s purely based on information you got from other sources, not knowledge you’ve accrued yourself.
There’s a core of truth there. A professional wrestler probably shouldn’t care too much about the criticism they receive from people who don’t understand the business, right? Well, yes and no. The way I see it, fans that go out of their way to find information about the backstage stuff in wrestling tend to do it for a reason. Speaking only for myself, I want to learn more about the business because I think wrestling is an utterly fascinating and unique creative medium and I love immersing myself in as much info as I can find about things I love. I want to turn that information into knowledge so I can make better informed decisions and form more cohesive opinions.
And I’m not going to lie, some amount of contempt has sprung from that. But I believe that contempt comes from intersecting my own knowledge with my wrestling information. See, I studied English literature at university, and with that came courses in critical theory and textual analysis. I may not have much experience writing stories, but I’ve become very good at analyzing them. And that’s where my personal contempt for certain wrestling shows and promotions comes from. I have no disrespect for the performers. It’s narrative structure and character development that cause issues for me. Now, this doesn’t mean that I go chasing after writers on Twitter to complain. But I do make my grievances heard on my own corners of the internet and friend groups. I’m doing it right now on this very blog.
But perhaps the biggest thing that bothers me about what Al Snow said is his dismissal of fans who crave information but lack knowledge. His blanket statement that information without knowledge leads to assumptions, conjecture, and contempt is one that I really didn’t like very much. I mean, it’s mostly true, but, and call me an optimist if you want, shouldn’t that be an excellent opportunity for teachable moments? These assumptions he dislikes so much only exist because of incorrect and incomplete information. So give them the information they need to not make incorrect assumptions! I’m not asking for wrestlers to have one-on-one teaching sessions to teach them the business. But I do believe that a lot of this comes from a genuine desire to learn, and dismissing fans because they don’t have the experience you have and never doing anything about it is a little unfair. I’ve seen it happen too often where someone’s desire to learn gets dismissed and they end up having a bad experience with that topic or person.
Human beings are naturally curious. I solemnly believe that one of the best things we can do is encourage that curiosity and feed it. Automatically dismissing people because they don’t know something is just kind of a dick move, especially when they’ve come to you with the desire to learn more. I understand that especially the wrestling business is a famously obtuse and well-protected business. As Al Snow said, kayfabe exists out of respect for the business and for the fans. But in an age where people can look up anything about everything in a matter of minutes, controlling your information and message to promote genuine knowledge can only be a good thing, right? The only thing worse than an opinion based on incomplete information is an opinion based on wrong information. Let people learn if they want to. Don’t just turn them away.
So, in the interest of promoting good information and hopefully leading to knowledge: did I get something wrong here? I admit I took a bit of an idealistic view of the issue here, but that’s the kind of person I am. I’d love to hear from you, the reader, about this issue.