At its best, wrestling is a perfect blend of physical excellence and inspired storytelling. It weaves two separate art forms together to create something that thrills and engages at the same time. It can survive with only one of them. PWG usually jettisons stories in the name of in-ring action while WWE is more focused on telling Vince’s tales than putting on five-star matches (even if it is often done poorly). However, at its peak, the two blend to create magic.
It also appears that those instances are the ones wrestling fans enjoy the most. This year’s hyped feuds are Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada, Tomasso Ciampa vs Johnny Gargano and Rush vs LA Park. All three of which are based not only on in-ring work but months (or sometimes years) of storytelling. I’m certain all those men could grab your attention in a one-off match. Yet, they are at their best when they have an epic backstory to draw from.
With that in mind, it frustrates the hell out of me to see fans of wrestling leap on storylines before they’ve concluded. Take the recent Bullet Club implosion. In the midst of that feud, Brandi and Cody Rhodes began to throw doubt on Kota Ibushi and Omega’s validity as a couple. They argued that they couldn’t be serious because Kenny had been kissed (against his will) by Brandi and perhaps even enjoyed it.
While this was going on, I saw people on Twitter throwing their hands up in outrage at their dismissal of bisexual people and the problematic view they were showing about consent. Both of which are valid complaints. However, not in the middle of the storyline. You might as well walk out of The Shape of Water halfway through because of its abuse of fish people.
As they made those claims, Cody and Brandi were heels looking to make the crowd hate them. And no, I don’t believe being a heel allows you to say or do whatever you want. Being a dick on Twitter or standing up for Bram doesn’t make you a heel, it makes you a cunt. That’s not what was happening, though. Cody and Brandi were working (purely in storyline) to get a reaction and people attacked them for it. I’m pretty sure Michael Shannon doesn’t condone the abuse of sexy fish dudes. Although he is a bit scary, so who knows.
Now, if when all is said and done, these issues are never addressed, I will join the crowds in their complaints. At that point, The Bullet Club will have put forth a problematic opinion and have never shown it to be problematic. They will have given their vast (and impressionable fanbase) the chance to believe that what Cody and Brandi did was a-okay and not worthy of condemnation. The fish person won’t have been set loose, and the love story won’t have reached its conclusion.
But they have earned the chance to reach that point. It’s not just the Bullet Club that has earned it either. It’s every wrestling promotion and wrestler. From WWE to NJPW. From Braun Strowman to Kenny Omega. Because if wrestling is never allowed to tackle serious issues, it will always remain an art form stuck on the small ones. If the medium is to grow, it needs to address yarns beyond x hates y for reasons.
Trust me, I get it. I know why wrestling fans don’t trust wrestlers to tell these stories. It’s because we all grew up on WWE. We all grew up on the misguided and downright horrible stories of the Attitude Era. Stories where women, minorities and anyone that associates with LGBTQ+ were demeaned and mocked. That’s a hard thing to get over.
Yet, if wrestling is to get past that, it needs to be allowed to grow. It needs to be allowed to take risks. They will get it wrong sometimes. Much like with the film industry certain people will fall short or even prove to be indecent. However, there’s also a chance that others will create magic. There’s a chance that a wrestling company telling the right story at the right time can shape someone’s life. Let’s give them the opportunity to make a difference.