Question: When are fans entitled to criticise wrestlers? (Now with added Austin Aries)

Here’s a question that’s keeping me awake. Are fans ever justified in criticising wrestlers?

Austin Aries thinks not. His exact argument is: “People need to understand the difference between OPINIONS and CRITIQUES. Fan opinions are fine. Fan critiques aren’t. #ARROGANCE #IGNORANCE”

Of course, this is stemming back to a debate he’s been having with fans for the past week, ever since the lovely Friend of TOWIS Mark Haskins had a rather nasty landing from a shooting star press (warning: don’t watch this if you’re squeamish):

And Aries’ problem stems from the very title the fan gave to that video – “botch”. Aries doesn’t think that fans should use that term. He made the valid point that in a high-risk manoeuvre (such as the shooting star press) there’s no such thing as a botch (because there’s no such thing as a safe or clean landing – it’s just degrees of pain and damage).

But I’m still not quite sure where he’s drawing the line between “opinion” (valid) and “critique” (wrong). Is it the difference between thinking something and saying it? Is it the difference between disliking someone (valid) and articulating what it is they do that makes you not like them (wrong)? Or is it simply the difference between disliking someone (valid) and making suggestions about what they could do to make you like them better (wrong)?

I suspect Aries means the latter. Another tweet of his read: “Dear “smart” fans: I hate the term “botch”. It’s overused. Usually by ones who’d “botch” simply tying the boots of us who actually do this.”

So I can only conclude that what Aries is arguing is that if the people watching a match cannot physically do the moves being attempted in the ring, they have no right to criticise. It’s a line of debate that’s been put forward by sportspeople the world over for decades – the player telling the fan or the journalist that they have no right to comment on top-level sport if they themselves have not been a top-level sportsperson. It’s also an argument wheeled out by actors and directors, writers and singers – you have no right to comment on it if you don’t have professional experience of it yourself.

As much as I do concur that there are certain elements of any performance that are primarily only noted by peers, to suggest that anyone else lacks the necessary knowledge and critical faculty is rather simplistic (and rather beneath a man as obviously bright as Aries). How much experience do you need in order to be entitled to critique what you see? Is an amateur background enough? Two years as a pro? Five? Ten? Realistically, watching something for years – whether it’s theatre, football or pro wrestling – gives you an insight into the way things work and how they should be done. To dismiss it all entirely out of hand as fan arrogance is ridiculous.

Meanwhile, of course, as his opponent is battling the entire army of internet smarks by himself, Haskins is being his usual mild-mannered self and taking it in his stride, summing up the week’s events thus: “If you follow British Wrestlers then lately you certainly know 2 things: @MartyTakeMeOut was on tele and I did a Brock. Safe!” I’d be interested to know what other wrestlers feel about fan input and comments.

EDIT and addendum: Aries has clarified this morning, and as I expected: “Critique is based upon an informed opinion, and never upon a personal opinion. Informed opinion is accepted as being technical knowledge, personal or professional experience, or specified training.”  So if you can’t do something personally, you can’t comment. So if you’re not a politician, you can’t comment on the way the country’s being run. If you’re not a waiter, you can’t comment on the service you receive in a restaurant. I think Aries has argued himself into a hole here, and from the correct starting point as well as from good intentions.

That said, I do admire his honesty. We’ve all heard the platitudes from sports team managers (and, cough, John Cena) telling us that we’ve paid our money so we can do what we like. I find it refreshing that someone’s telling us that no, we can’t do what we like, and we should have that oh-so-precious ‘right to free speech’ (ie ‘right to be needlessly rude and offensive’) curtailed.

SECOND EDIT: I’ve just had a little chat with Aries on Twitter (get me name-dropping), and many thanks to him for taking the time to talk. I asked where he draws the line in terms of “technical knowledge” – is it something you have to be able to do yourself, or is observation enough? I gave the example of an English literature student (which I used to be once upon a time) writing a critique of a book – she doesn’t write a book herself, she just reads them. Is she qualified to comment? Aries agreed that a student who’s paid particular attention to a subject or a craft has some technical knowledge to enable a critique; but without that experience, the observer doesn’t have enough perspective.

Additionally, I have had a look at his feed, and to be honest if I’d seen that first I wouldn’t have written the original blog.  I completely see where he’s coming from. People shouldn’t be tweeting him telling him he was in the wrong place and that’s why Haskins “botched”, or anything along those lines. Not simply because it’s arrogance or ignorance, but also because it’s incredibly rude. But then manners don’t seem to count for very much on social media. I think Aries and I would both concur on this – you can think what you like, but don’t offer advice and/or act like your opinion on a match is worth more than anyone else’s – particularly not the people who are actually there in the ring.

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5 Responses to Question: When are fans entitled to criticise wrestlers? (Now with added Austin Aries)

  1. Em Jay KC says:

    The problem I had with his comments was that he was being condescending and rude towards fans that were using a common wrestling term to describe what happened. Had he said something about disliking the term being used to describe a nasty accident like that, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Instead, he used it as an excuse to insult “smark” fans.

    Here’s the thing: I agree with why he doesn’t like the term being used. I just don’t agree with the way he said it. I have never been in a ring, but I have watched wrestling for 21 years. Does that mean I could hop in a ring and put on a match? No. Does that mean I have enough knowledge to see when someone screws up or to know when a match is bad? Absolutely. It’s just like studying a subject for years. However, some thought should be given before tossing smark terms around. That SSP was a botched move, sure, but more importantly it was a serious accident. Have some tact.

    Full disclosure: I trolled Aries by saying he’s not a real wrestler because he’s not in WWE. I’m just as much of a jerk as he is. Sorry, Mr Aries.

  2. Mike says:

    OK, so while I’ve been busy this afternoon cooking up a Sunday dinner for the family, my girlfriend has been schmoozing on Twitter with The Greatest Man That Ever Lived?

    I’m totally in the wrong job. Totally.

  3. ValkyrieSmudge says:

    I’ve been thinking about this myself this week after reading Bret Hart’s book, where he slags people like Dave Meltzer for talking about a business they didn’t really know anything about. I don’t really like attitudes like that – you don’t see Tom Hanks saying Roger Ebert that he can’t criticise films because he’s never won an Oscar.

    At drama school, there came a point where we were actually encouraged to go with our gut feeling and embrace personal opinions. I loved that “I don’t want to do anything with this play because it’s set in a living room” was accepted as a perfectly valid reason. That was encouraged because audiences, like it or not, are going to have personal opinions, no matter how bizarre. You shouldn’t need to have an in-depth knowledge or hordes of experience in order to enjoy and appreciate entertainment. Yes, that can add to it of course, but if it doesn’t work without explanation, it’s already failed.

    Anyone involved in any kind of art or performance is going to have to put up with that. Hell, sport is at least as bad – not being able to kick a ball doesn’t stop thousands of armchair managers criticising everything star players do every single week. So I think the difference between opinion and critique is a bit nonsense really.

    As regards wrestling specifically, yes, some smarks probably overuse terms like “botch” to make themselves feel like they are somehow more knowledgeable than they actually are. And yes, there are a lot of annoying prat wrestling fans, as my numerous rants about eejits online will attest, but hey ho, wrestling fans mean that wrestling exists.

    I actually wonder if things like the Haskins SSP incident actually emphasise how good wrestlers have to be, since crazy moves are so often made to look effortless. I remember hearing that, in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, every so often during the Bottle dance, they’d have one of the men involved drop the bottle off his head, just to emphasise that it could happen but usually didn’t because of the exceptional skill involved. (not that I’m suggesting people should start landing on their heads on purpose). Maybe “botches”, so long as people don’t hurt themselves doing them, are actually a good thing as it gives us a better appreciation for how hard such matches actually are to pull off? (and I did, for what it’s worth, enjoy that match on Impact, even if I did look a bit scared after that bit).

    And now I want to go and watch those old Attitude Era “try lacing my boots” Don’t Try This At Home ads….

  4. […] to some of the talent, including Official Friend of TOWIS Mark Haskins, bearing a scarred nose from you-know-what. (Yes, I am a […]

  5. […] Austin Aries and Shannon Moore have both been telling spectators that they need to have more respect for the talent because of the dangers inherent in the business, with Moore saying: “Please have respect for anyone good or bad that puts themselves into a ring risking it all every night to entertain. Thanks for your support.” […]

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