One of my recent articles was a top-five ranking of character gimmicks with the tagline, “Wrestling Should Be Fun.” Well, it’s time to reflect on that sentiment because it just so happens, one of my entries in that ranking has been embroiled in a sexual harassment/assault scandal along with many others. Female wrestlers from the UK have taken to Twitter recently to tell their stories of abuse under #SpeakingOut. However, it didn’t stay local for long as others from around the world joined in; calling out current talent from promotions such as WWE, AEW, ROH (Ring of Honor), and others in the independent scene. These aren’t isolated incidents of harassment and abuse. They’re reflective of the systemic treatment of women in today’s society. Fortunately, we’ve witnessed a renaissance within women’s wrestling in recent years, but we still have a long way to go.
The last thing the world needs, I think, is another straight, white man’s take on industry-wide abuse of women in the workplace. Instead, this is about the appropriate reactions we could have about our favorite entertainers. The people that we build up in our heads as beyond our normal flaws. It doesn’t feel good to be told you’re not allowed to be a fan of someone anymore. Especially if that person’s art means something to you. But, it’s completely possible to hold both views in your head at the same time; this person is a great actor/athlete/musician/comedian, but they’re also probably a shit person.
My recent ranking of top gimmicks in wrestling included “The King of Sleaze” Joey Ryan. Since #SpeakingOut has been trending, Ryan has been credibly accused of sexual assault by several women, although he denies it (because of course he does). Hulk Hogan made clear how he feels about Black folks. Joe Paterno had Sandusky’s back while he was sexually abusing young boys. R. Kelly manipulated young women into bondage. Louis C.K. made women watch him wail on himself. We could keep this going for a while, but you get the point. I used to enjoy Joey Ryan as a wrestler but if I never saw him in between the ropes again, I’d move on. Influential career aside, I don’t care to see Hulk Hogan do one more leg drop. I’m not a Penn State fan, but I imagine the perception of Paterno there was similar to how Bama feels about Bear Bryant. You can still root for the team, let him go. “I Believe I Can Fly” still hits me right in the chest every time I hear it, but I also believe R. Kelly can fly his ass straight to San Quentin. Louis C.K. was hilarious like, what, between 2010-2015? I can’t tell you the last time I watched his stand up.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because I’m talking about “cancel culture” in a roundabout way. I’m telling you my personal feelings about the individuals above and how their real-life actions have affected those feelings. I ask myself how important these people are to my sense of self, and I realize they aren’t. Why should I care if someone tells me Louis C.K., or R. Kelly, or Joe Paterno, or Hulk Hogan, or Joey Ryan is a piece of shit? It’s what they are. They chose that path. Their legacies are of no consequence to me. We can’t change the culture without holding victimizers responsible. Stop attaching the pride you feel as part of a fanbase, to the fate of a single individual. Watching their pre-asshole career just needs to be viewed through a new lens. That doesn’t mean you can’t laugh at some old jokes, or pop every time Hulk Hogan calls you “Brother!” It just means you need to take responsibility for the behavior you support. Whether or not you acknowledge it, the disgusting actions of those people are forever tied to their legacies. You have nothing to gain by standing in between them and justice. As for the “slippery slope” argument? Wake me up when we lose footing.