Whenever someone reads a title involving the internet and wrestling, I know kayfabe comes to mind instantly. Why wouldn’t it? Whenever someone complains about wrestling and it’s a complex relationship with the internet, it’s one of the first things someone complains about: “X wrestler posted themselves doing this? They’re supposed to be a heel *insert angry emoji*” or “ Why are X and Y spending time together? You’re feuding. You’ve ruined the feud for me”. As fun as it would be to explore kayfabe and how social media has “killed it”, I wanted to explore the unique relationship wrestling has with social media and it’s younger fanbase simply because it pertains to me.
Young Fans & The Product
One of the things I had to learn about wrestling growing up was that it is inexplicably bound to its past, whether we like it or not. I’ll admit, I don’t know who this so-called audience of “hardcore fans” are, but if I had to generalize based on what I’ve seen I’d assume they’re adults who bared witness to the Attitude Era and have vehemently demanded it to return ever since.
Another thing I had to learn about being a wrestling fan is that it is primarily a product for them and not for me. Whether it’s the various legends WWE has bought out time and time again just for the nostalgia pops, or the recent appearances of Mike Tyson and Eric Bischoff in AEW, I’ve always felt like the person outside the window looking in. I understand wrestling has to appeal to a diverse audience or it won’t survive but its obsession with the past is hurting a younger fanbase, at least from my perspective.
I constantly feel like I should be binge-watching wrestling’s past to enjoy the product of the present but how can I do that when wrestling has a video library, possibly equivalent to the library of congress, that I’d have to integrate into my social life and commitments to full-time education. Unless I want to be a hermit, my knowledge of wrestling history is solely going to be provided by whatever I pick up on the odd Youtube top 10 and Twitter.
My lack of knowledge of wrestling has never isolated me more than recently with the introduction of FTR into AEW; a team whose whole gimmick is trying to reinstate old-school tag team wrestling. Visually and as characters, the team are unappealing to me but I’ll just have to accept that I’m too young and they’re not intended for me. I’m also a viewer of Impact and recently watched The North lose to the returning Motor City Machine Guns, a team who haven’t been active in the company since 2012. Unfortunately, I wasn’t watching TNA as a 9-year-old so I did not enjoy this title change but I know nostalgia sells.
I’ll be honest; wrestling’s obsession with its own past alienates me and maybe we’re going to reach a point where wrestling won’t move forward if it is unable to move on.
Young Fans & Social Media
Being a younger fan of wrestling and a social media user adds a kind of intricacy to the fan-product relationship that may not be experienced by older fans. I think it would be a fair generalization to say the younger generation is very socially conscious and most are very vocal about that online. It would probably also be fair to say ethical consumption is a consideration made more often by younger fans when deciding on which wrestling companies to watch. We like the products we consume, wrestling included, to reflect our values and social views. If we’re devoting our time and money to something, we like to ensure that our money is going to the right places. Social media has become an incredible tool to make a judgement about a company and it’s core values. It allows you to witness the action, and inaction, of these companies in response to movements.
The past few months have definitely presented opportunities with the prevalence of the Black Lives Matter and Speaking Out movements. A more recent example can be the swathes of fans demanding for Chris Jericho to self-isolate following a Fozzy concert to ensure the safety of the AEW roster. The younger fans are definitely more vocal when it comes to demanding accountability and action for wrongdoing, and rightfully so, but it can be incredibly frustrating to get involved with demanding something and feeling like what you want is falling on deaf ears. Marginalized groups can feel voiceless, silenced, and ignored by the very companies they invest their time and money in to. This can be incredibly disillusioning for fans and alienate them.
Of course, without social media, we wouldn’t be able to bear witness to such things. It could be said that perhaps we would enjoy the product more without it. You know the saying; ignorance is bliss.
On a more positive note, wrestling Twitter has been a great experience for me so far as I’m very aware that there is a toxic portion that exists that I have been lucky to avoid. Since my friends aren’t fans of wrestling, I love the opportunity of being able to find like-minded people online who can discuss wrestling with me. There’s also the element of fan connection that in my personal experience can work to enhance a product. Wrestling is at it’s best when you are able to make the emotional investment into the character that you see in the ring, which is intensified when you see the same person on social media and you get to see the “real” person behind the character, or at least the reality that they want you to see.
It can be hard to summarise what the fan experience is for younger fans. Everything detailed above relates to me and my experience yet someone else the same age as me could feel completely different. And that’s the beauty of it; the subjectivity. No two people are the same. Perhaps my thoughts and feelings about my experience resonated with you or perhaps it seemed like the complete opposite to your experience. Either way, we’re all experiencing great wrestling.