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.