Homophobia & Dealing With Wrestling as Art (Random Match Roundup #19)

Hello everyone and welcome to Random Match Roundup #19. This edition is very different to the usual format, as I will only be reviewing one match this time, and for good reason. This match essentially brought forth a debate I think the wrestling world has to have, what it means to be an art. The phrase “wrestling is art” is growing in popularity, but that means, as artists, wrestlers must realize what that entails. Case and point…

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Sweet Willie Watts vs. Jeff Brooks – March Mayhem 03/31/12

            I thought wrestling was past the point of so blatantly using a horrific stereotype as a gimmick. I was wrong. In mainstream wrestling, stereotypical gimmicks have swayed away from pure mockery of cultures to an extent and at least these stereotypes do not dehumanized those who are apart of the culture. I forgot that, in the rings of small indies, it’s the wild west. This match and Sweet Willie Watts are so blatantly offensive to the gay community it is shocking. Essentially, his gimmick is “look at the gay guy. He’s so weird and quirky and effeminate. He does sexual things with men. Laugh at the gay!” That is heinous. Goldust was fairly offensive, but at least he wasn’t as blatant as this and also the crowd wasn’t encouraged to mock being gay. Watts portrays being gay as being perverted, which is its own can of worms. So to be gay, you are a pervert? Being gay is worth being mocked and ridiculed? Being gay means you are like Watts, right? The answer to all of these is obviously no, but you wouldn’t know that from this match. Apparently to these wrestlers, being gay means you are automatically excessively effeminate, being gay means that you wear thongs, being gay means you sexually assault other wrestlers in the ring. That is fucking disgraceful. To have Watts’ offense be based in actual sexual assault does no favors for the LGBT community, as it portrays harmful assumptions used in real life to discriminate against people different than the societal norm. This is the exact imagined crime which forces transgender individuals to use bathrooms they aren’t comfortable with. This behavior validates those who don’t want to serve gay customers. To portray a stereotype is bad enough, its offensive and insensitive. However, to make that stereotype both being by definition a pervert and also being one who does sexual acts against one’s will is harmful to the community as a whole.

Then, Brooks made this issue ten times worse through his performance. Brooks was so outwardly disgusted by Watts it was appalling. Brooks’ character saw Watts as subhuman for his differences in attitude. At one point, he essentially said “you aren’t a real man. Be a real man.” A real man?! A gay person can’t be a real man?! A person who is effeminate isn’t a real man?! Are you fucking serious?! Then, even before the whole sexual assault fiasco, Brooks was still so infuriated by Watts’ mannerisms that he saw fit to attack him. Because Watts was acting stereotypically gay, it was a justified move to attack him with rage and hatred. I cannot believe it. I actually cannot believe it. Now, I’m sure people will debate that “Brooks is the heel, so his actions are justified because he’s supposed to be a bad man”. Sure, except for two things. One, Watts was just as heinous in this match, forcing kisses or hopping on Brooks’ back and slapping his ass. Not to mention he played a horrid stereotype. So regardless of Brooks being a heel, this match was still absurdly homophobic. Then, add on the crowd reactions and this match got worse. Watts more or less got laughs, but not the laughing with the character reaction, no. They were laughing at the character. They were laughing at what they perceived being gay was. Then, even worse, Brooks started getting face reactions since he was not portrayed as the bad guy in any way other than agressivity. If you’re going to have a homophobic heel, I wouldn’t suggest it, but if you were going to, it has to be clear that he is a dick outside of the fact he’s just homophobic. He has to mouth off to the crowd, he has to get the heat, etc. while the face must be sympathetic, relatable, and likable. That didn’t happen. Brooks just mauled Watts for most of the match, allowing the homophobes in the audience to latch onto him. Because he gave no other reason to hate him other than his one viewpoint and some aggressive offense, he became accepted by segments of the audience. Not to mention, he was always portrayed as the more skilled wrestler always in control, meaning Brooks was cool and successful, while Watts was a geek. Most horrible to me was a heckler in the audience, throwing vaguely homophobic taunts at Watts. Now, there were never any slurs used, but excerpts include “Watch out, he likes it though”, “Give him a reach around”, and “He likes it rough”. By no means was Brooks a face here, he got mostly negative reactions. However, a character like his in this match getting mixed reactions at all still scares me. Imagine if Watts was a black stereotype or a Native American stereotype, and the only thing he did to irk Brooks was something associated with the stereotypes of their culture. Imagine if a native, proud of his headdress or doing a traditional dance, caused Brooks so much rage he attacked excessively. Now, those stereotypes are tasteless when done with disregard, but they should not provoke violence by someone getting any kind of positive reaction from anyone. Even though those actions would be stereotypical and at least mildly offensive, stereotypes of a culture should not provoke rage. This match justifies the concept that anger at the other is justified, especially considering what is to come.

Finally, the finish. The finish troubles me themetically, as the message it sends across is absolutely troubling. Brooks won. That is a massive issue. After all match mocking Watts for not being a man and attacking him for his mannerisms, he was vindicated and justified. Brooks was proven right by this finish. To succeed, Watts needs to be this real man. To be taken seriously, to not be mocked, and to win in the sport he devoted his life to, he cannot act the way he does. The gay stereotype lost to the homophobic “real man”. This implies that, in the world at large, the LGBT movement stands no match for the real men of our world. Again, using the Native American example again, if a wrestler won a match in part due to their anger at the customs of native culture, that would be terrible. Now, in a similar way, here we have a man in Brooks who embraces traditional norms and rejects Watts’ perceived homosexual mannerisms. Putting aside the whole sexual assault thing, what does Brooks winning say. It says success comes from conformation to norms that may not suit you, not individuality. It says that tradition and hatred overcome being unique and true to yourself. I will admit that the rampant sexual assault spots muddle this theme, making the match a mess, but I chalk that up to ignorance over what gay people actually do compared to a desire to portray them inaccurately.

By the way, to anyone who says I’m overanalyzing and that this match and that this match is by no means homophobic, you are wrong and part of the problem. A gay stereotype got brutalized because of his stereotypical gayness and then the homophobic heel won. Everything there is troublesome. Everyone now loves to claim that wrestling is an art, just like any other art form. Ricochet sells shirts, articles are written, and non fans are debated through this very argument. However, being art is not a get out of jail free card, where every complaint against wrestling is now null and void. As an art, wrestling is fundamentally about deeper ideas and themes, it tells stories of characters beyond athletes trying to win. With that, careful craftsmanship must happen in order to make sure, bare minimum, these ideas aren’t horrific and regressive. This match came from sloppy and lazy craftsmanship. The wrestlers didn’t question the meaning of a horrible stereotype, they refused to acknowledge that their match could mean anything more than surface level, and they ignored the premise that wrestling can be anything more than trashy, mindless entertainment. I doubt either of these men are homophobes, but they are both ignorant to what being an artist means and why avoiding anything close to homophobia is vital. They came out of the locker room looking to have a competent seven minute wrestling match, and through that laziness told a story so offensive I’m ashamed to even give it the time of day. Not to mention, the match aside from the whole homophobic issue wasn’t even good. It was, at best mediocre and at worst sloppy. Wrestlers must be careful as to what their art says and we as fans must call out offensive art when we see it. I don’t want matches were men are beaten down extra brutally because their gay, just like I don’t want islamophobic stereotypes portraying Muslims as terrorists. On top of this, to those fans who say “its just wrestling” and “don’t take it so seriously”, you are part of the problem. Wrestling can be fun. So can movies, novels, music, and like. However, when art touches on important issues and does so with such little grace that the message is potentially horrifying, it must be called out. Many wresters show the power of wrestling as storytelling, from Okada to Shawn Michaels to Chris Hero and beyond. Any wrestler with merit knows that wrestling is storytelling, and I expect the stories they tell to not contain offensive ideas presented as fact. I expect the ideas they present to be meaningful, not harmful or hateful. Okada and Tanahashi told a deep story of perseverance and youth vs. experience. They had two well formed characters who battled to prove who was the best, but it became personal. There was loss, triumph, raw emotion, and meaningful, compelling storytelling. That is just one example. To say it is “just wrestling” is to spit in the face of every artist in this field telling compelling stories and it justifies the lazy artists who don’t care what ideas or stories they portray as long as they fill their time, get a paycheck, and leave. Its time in wrestling to think about what this art form means, because if we as fans along with wrestlers do not grapple with what being art means, then we all deserve whatever criticism we get.

Rating: -*****

I hope this is as serious as I ever get with reviews. I don’t feel right plugging anything when it comes to topics this serious. Honestly, all I want is for wrestling fans and wrestlers alike to take wrestling seriously as an art, because the quality of the work along with the respect from the masses will improve if we do. Maybe I’m just an optimist. I don’t know. I just want wrestling to be as fun, as compelling, as dramatic, and as great as it can be. Thank you for reading.

-Terrance Smith

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