One of the most embarrassing things about being a wrestling fan (which is saying something) is having to experience the casual sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all sorts of other insidious ideas that still permeate throughout the art. However, it has been nice to see that wrestling is ever-so slightly becoming less overtly awful in regards to social issues.
The filth of hatred has not fully washed away by a longshot though, and the art is still covered in it. Occasionally, you will even still experience a popular wrestler actually using slurs that are designed to abuse and degrade people who are not white, heterosexual, cisgender men. Two times in the past year stick out in particular for me.
The first cited example can be seen above and is the latest example that I am aware of existing. Trevor Lee was making his entrance for the (#VeryOk) main event of the (#VeryOk) WrestleCon Supershow. A fan starts yelling at him, and Trevor
The Irish Wrestling Fan ends up calling him a “faggot.”
The second example is below. AJ Styles was cutting a post-match Davey Richards promo on Chase Owens on the NWA Smokey Mountain iPPV from 2015. Owens’ manager said something, and AJ decided to make some cracks about his “faggoty bowtie” and then suggested that he “go on back and find himself a life partner” less he want AJ to beat him up (presumably for being “faggoty” or something).
Both comments were homophobic and use language that equates being gay with being negative (the AJ example even has the fun of threatening violence). Everyone can agree that homophobia sucks. (And if you don’t agree, you probably are not reading a wrestling website that ironically runs coloring book competitions and has achieved most of its fame from poking fun at Lance Storm.)
Some however will defend the actions of Trevor Lee because he was a heel in the match, and it is his job to make the live crowd hate him.* This is a dumb attitude to have.
*For what it’s worth, AJ Styles had his share of defenders, too. People thought he was playing a heel in the match, but he made those homophobic comments while working babyface the whole match and in the promo.
Obviously, some of the greatest works of art have dealt with racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. Is pro wrestling as a medium currently in a place to handle such storytelling and cultural responsibilities though? Obviously not.
Pro wrestling is a wholly unique storytelling platform. The aspect of performing in front of a live crowd makes it something that you cannot truly get from movies, television, and even theater. It is an art form that exists for the reaction from the live crowd.
As such, it has a long history of appealing to the lowest common denominator in presenting its heroes and villains in order to maximize the reaction. Heroes and villains in pro wrestling both have used hate speech as a means of appealing to the crowd and antagonizing themselves to them, respectively. Defenders will claim that it is okay to integrate real world social issues into pro wrestling.
Pro wrestling as a whole has never developed enough consistency and discipline though to handle such weighty issues. Wrestlers will flip-flop from hero to villain on a whim if enough people with power think it will lead to more money. A wrestler could be being sexist one show and then become a babyface the next show without any character redemption whatsoever. The sexist wrestler could just suddenly become a hero for no reason. (See the Joey Ryan and Candice LeRae saga in PWG from the last decade. Actually, don’t see it. It was always fucking awful.)
A storyline in pro wrestling will be dropped if the right (or wrong, as the case may be) people decide it is not working. (See Hassan, Muhammad.) That is important because the only way a story about a racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic character will not come off as cheap and entirely exploitative is if they are trying to tell a story about a hateful character changing his or her ways and recognizing that hate has made nothing about his or her life better.** How is that happening on an annual “supershow” that has no storylines and only exists within the bubble of that night?
**This is actually somewhat of a misleading point by me because I don’t even really believe this kind of storytelling is acceptable let alone needed. The exploitation of racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia for the redemption of white, cisnormative, heteronormative, male characters in pop culture has been plaguing the world for years and should also stop.
Do not use homophobia or any other bullshit hate language to be a “villain” in pro wrestling. Wrestling does not fucking need it and cannot handle it. Everyone watching deserves better from you. For too long, it has been one of the many things that continuously proves that wrestling is bullshit.
Read all about my love for pro wrestling right here.