One thing I love about being American is the fact that, in our Bill of Rights, the very first item listed is the affordment for all Americans to be able to think and speak freely. The “First Amendment” is something that gets thrown around by everyone, from politicians to street urchins, in order to validate whatever message they have to get across.
I consider myself a moderate on most subjects, including politics and philosophy. As such, I believe that anyone, no matter how insane or wrong, is entitled to speak on a subject. It was appalling to me that in 2004, both the libertarian and green party Presidential candidates were denied entry to a debate featuring both George W. Bush and John Kerry, when both Michael Badnarik and David Cobb had as much right to speak as the two other candidates did. They were even arrested for ‘disturbing the peace’. One would think that with the office of President, leadership of the free world, at stake, that all potential candidates would have their voices heard, right?
It was no less sage a wrestling legend than Terry Funk who once said in part that you should listen to everyone’s ideas, since you never know where a good one will come from.
But where do you draw the line?
[adinserter block=”1″]I suppose you could draw it at speech that is intentionally designed to disenfranchise people on grounds of prejudice. For example, what incentive do I have to attend a Ku Klux Klan rally? I’m not racist. I’m for racial equality. The speech is nothing but hateful garbage to me. There may be white supremacists who agree with the rhetoric. Good for them. If anything, the rally can be a good thing. I’d like to be given a list of attendees so that I know who I’m better off not speaking to.
For Dixie Carter and Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling, free speech has certainly been a blessing and a curse for them. It’s a blessing in that, in this modern age, feedback can reach them quicker so that they can find ways to tweak their product and put forth one that will draw money and make everyone rich. On the other hand, it seems that there’s a bevy of negative things to say about TNA Wrestling’s product, and it’s seeming to be a common sentiment in regards to the number two promotion.
It’s true. For every instance in which TNA has been able to swipe up a major talent such as Kurt Angle, Bobby Lashley, or Mick Foley, they’ve produced some shoddy programming with rushed storylines (many of which border on incoherent), nonsensical swerves, and horrid characters (I’ll just say ODB and leave it at that). While many fans remain cheerful and optimistic that TNA can push Vince McMahon’s buttons and give WWE a reason to put together a more fun product on their side of the fence, others remain permanently skeptical.
I say “permanently” in just that sense. Permanently.
It holds true for a lot of wrestling fans, this idea that nothing can ever please them. It just seems that many of these too-cool-for-the-room fans have no interest in anything except tearing down some aspect of the industry.
To paint them all with the same brush would be extremely unfair, since they could be grouped differently. So today, I’m going to focus on one group in particular who have come under scrutiny in recent days.
That group? The 900 fans at the Impact Zone.
Now, I’m aware that it’s not the same 900 folks who show up every time that TNA puts on a pay per view or taping, but there are, in fact, many “regulars”. These regulars are the ones that I wish to address.
[adinserter block=”2″] Recently, TNA director Steve Small gave the fans a good talking to in regards to the demeanor he expects from them. Already, after this one sentence, no good can come from this. To tell people how to act in a free society is risking a serious backlash, especially when TNA needs all of the support that it can get. Given the aforementioned skepticism that many have for TNA, even when it’s unfounded, TNA really cannot afford to look like a rigid country club at this point. Small looked rather uncomfortable in his speech, trying to buddy up to the fans and no come off as a corporate slug. To his credit, it probably wasn’t his idea to speak to the fans, and most of his dialogue was likely from a memo that was edited and reworded a few times during the day. The fans seemed to have a good laugh at his pleas to not be overly condescending to the product being presented, and to help convince the fans at home that they’re watching a good show.
Now, after hearing this, I would side with the fans. But, you see, there’s just a tiny snag here.
The fans at the Impact Zone do not purchase tickets.
They get in for free, essentially as a live studio audience for a TV taping.
Now this is already common knowledge among wrestling fans, but it makes the situation a bit more comical when you realize that what these fans basically portray is a freeloading heckler who’s messing with a television production. Like it or not, there’s a little difference here between this and an actual sporting event.
If I were running a taping of Two and a Half Men on CBS, and I were filming it in front of a live studio audience, what would I do if six men in the crowd began to chant “YOU GOT BUSTED!” at Charlie Sheen? The audience, who would have likely gotten in for free, is there to laugh at the quips and provide basically the rhythm to the show’s lead guitar. I would have those men ejected from the tapings, for certain.
“But Justin, the fans cheer and boo naturally! You can’t disrupt their organic feelings! It’s a wrestling show afterall!”
While I agree that organic crowd participation makes a wrestling show better, there was an incident from the January 17 Genesis pay per view that seems to be a partial catalyst for TNA’s pleas for decorum.
Long time TNA star and fan favorite, even as a heel, Christopher Daniels was working the second match of the night against former WWE midcarder Val Venis, now known by his real name, Sean Morley. In Morley’s words, he had barely any sleep due to a long flight, and the match was well below the standards of both men. What appalled the fans is that Daniels, who ranges somewhere between “Jesus” and “Mecha Jesus” in the hearts of TNA followers, took the clean pinfall to Morley, who nearly botched his top rope finisher, the Money Shot. Many in the Impact Zone responded by turning their backs to the ring in protest, showing that they refused to endorse the events that had just occured.
Now, to be fair, the fans really shouldn’t have to cheer Morley, even if he’s playing the good guy. It comes down to organics, really. If they don’t feel the need to cheer him, then they shouldn’t cheer him. Simple as that. But to make such a show of your displeasure by turning their backs to the ring as if they were ritualistically slaughtering a calf is just ridiculous.
If Morley is right, then there’s a chance that he can make up for his bad performance. So why not give him the benefit of a do-over? Maybe he’ll get Daniels again down the line and they’ll have a good match like Desmond Wolfe had with D’Angelo Dinero, or even a great one like Kurt Angle and AJ Styles had?
But no. The TNA faithful that didn’t buy tickets to attend the event made their decision on Morley’s fate. You know, given that the company brought in cult favorite Brian Kendrick for the X Division, larger scale cult favorite Ken Anderson to bring cred to the promotion, let AJ Styles and Kurt Angle tear the house down again, didn’t put aging slugs like Kevin Nash and Syxx over Beer Money, and did their best to provide a fresh product that they honestly thought would make the fans happy, doesn’t that make the hissy fit seem just a little more moronic in hindsight?
I mean, maybe I could understand the brattiness if these fans had dropped a couple hundred bucks for front row seats and the Morley/Daniels match was the main event, but really? There were still six matches remaining, two of which were tremendous and a couple that were solid fare. Personally, I felt it was a good show, and even Morley vs. Daniels wasn’t THAT bad. If you me a chance to rattle off 200 pay per view matches in history that I think were worse, the hard part wouldn’t be finding 200, but narrowing it down to 200.
TNA is not perfect. A combination of growing pains, shoddy production, Russorific writing, Jeff Jarrett’s nepotistic desires, and attempts to imitate WWE have kept TNA in a distant second to the McMahon empire. There’s still plenty of time to make up ground, so long as wrestling fans remain tired of the complacent and cutesy state that WWE keeps themselves in. But they’re going to do everything they can to claw their way onto WWE’s level, and we as fans owe it to ourselves to root for TNA to do just that, so that both companies will pull out all the stops and make themselves more exciting as a result.
So in that sense, I can actually understand Steve Small’s little lecture, as meek and contrived as it came off. Of course, it would help if TNA would actually LEAVE the studios and venture into actual arenas. I know I’m not the only person who gets horrible flashbacks to WCW Worldwide when he watches Impact. But the point is that the fans at the Zone are being treated, whether it’s a three hour pay per view or a three or four hour television taping. They are free to leave at any time if their interest wanes. It’s the same as they are free to lose their minds over AJ Styles and Kurt Angle raising the bar for their peers.
Here’s a helpful hint to fans who may be attending upcoming events at the studios: you can actually control pushes with your noises. If a babyface you like is involved, cheer him like crazy. If a heel that you like is involved, boo him like crazy. Booing the heel keeps him from being domesticated with a face turn (see Randy Orton, 2004), and it puts him in position to demonstrate his heelish ways with more prominent television time. Don’t cheer heels. As Bradley Cooper would say in The Hangover, “it’s gay”.
As for the performers that you have no interest in seeing? Be silent. Don’t make a sound. There is no louder noise in this world than eerie calm. If you don’t want to see The Outsiders stumbling around for $300,000 a year, then just be quiet. Turning your backs on them makes them seem edgy, because you’re providing a reaction to their presence. Don’t react. Just sit there like a mannequin (which is the French word for “McCool”). Trust me, it’ll work. If TNA turns Sean Morley heel and gives him a gimmick where he’s so offensive to people that he makes them turn away, don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
Freedom of speech is one thing, but it’s even better when it can be used to make a positive change. Keep cheering AJ. Keep cheering Angle. Ignore the old sloths that are a threat to make the programming dull and lame. Don’t be cute about it. Use your entrance into the shows, whether paying or comped by the studio, to help change the course of how the show is structured. But hey, if you’re getting in for free and you’re asked to be courteous to the production of the show, be courteous. Just be sure to let your organic reactions be heard, and be silent when you’re underwhelmed. They’ll see the difference.
Let’s make good use of our first amendment rights. Otherwise, TNA may make use of their second amendment rights.
No sense in fans getting shot just because they don’t like Sean Morley, after all.
When he isn’t watching WWE, TNA, or his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies, Justin Henry can be found writing. It is his passion as well as his goal in life to become a well-regarded (as well as well-paid) columnist or author. Subscribe to The Cynical Examination, his wrestling blog, at http://www.facebook.com.
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