|16-Bit pixel art? I feel like I’m being marketed to.|
Before I get into a long run of pre-Wrestlemania analysis, I need to get this out there.
There’s no getting around it. Pro wrestling is by far the most ethically problematic hobby I have. (A sentence I wrote before the John Oliver bit, by the way.) Even if you ignore the part where I’m letting people shorten their lives, wreck their bodies, and risk their brains for my entertainment, WWE is an ethical garbage fire.
Whether it’s their ties to Trump, their long history of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and general ickiness, to their two biggest concerns right now - their ties to Saudi Arabia and their desperate attempt to bring Hulk HOgan back into the fold without addressing his racism. Plus there’s the way they’ve treated Asuka over the past few months.
Who needs WWE, though? There are ALTERNATIVES! Well, sort of. There’s Ring of Honor. I actually still have a few months left on the year-long HonorClub streaming membership I bought so I could get All In and try them out as alternative. One pre-taped hour show a week and four PPV’s a year basically makes it an alternative to NXT, the only part of WWE I don’t need an alternative to. Plus, they’re owned by Sinclair, which is almost as bad as being connected to Trump.
There’s Impact, I suppose, but my extensive and expensive cable package hasn’t carried the last two channels they were on, so keeping up with them would require elaborate schemes.
And that’s why I’m excited about All Elite Wrestling, despite existing almost solely as a bunch of short Internet videos (about half an hour a week of behind the scenes vignettes and kayfabe skits) and PPV shows announced for May and this summer.
They have deep-pockets backing (a billionaire with money to burn, which is always problematic but what are you gonna do in late stage capitalism?), they have some of the top talents in the industry in the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, PAC, and Adam Cole. They have the vision of Cody Rhodes, done dirty by WWE too many times so he took his ball and became a superstar on his own terms. And they’ve signed a lot of exciting, lesser known talent.
But most importantly, AEW seems to be trying to convince me, personally, that they’ll help assuage some of my ethical concerns with pro wrestling as a whole.
They’ve made a lot of noises about fair pay and health coverage. I don’t know if this is lip service, reality, or reality that will devolve into lip service (there’s that late stage capitalism again) but even the window dressing is appreciated in an industry that uses people up and throws them away.
They’ve committed to diversity, signing Sonny Kiss (Lucha Underground’s XO-Licious, openly gay and feminine-presenting) and Nyla Rose (trans) and are again making a lot of noise about being deliberately inclusive. And, in the process, are pissing off the kind of fans that make being a wrestling fan so uncomfortable.
And there’s little things. Like making their upcoming event “sensory inclusive”, providing headphones and glasses and retreat rooms for people who are sensitive to too much sensory input. It’s not even a thing I knew existed (the technology, not the issues) and it’s the kind of gesture that just engenders good will and hope in me.
Can AEW compete with WWE in the wider marketplace? Maybe. Can they provide an alternative to me so I can divest from WWE while filling the wrasslin’ hole that would leave? I hope so. It’ll be probably a year at least before they’re at that level, and there are certain talents whose exploits I’ll still want to watch in WWE, but if I can get to the point where I can do so without being complicit, I’ll be very grateful to The Elite.