2016

Amid an absolute swarm of year-end lists and review podcasts (Facelock Feministas included) I decided to do one more blog post for 2016 but wasn’t sure what to write about. I got a number of great suggestions (by far, my favorite was “best hair of 2016”) and it was hard to narrow down exactly how I wanted to round out the year.

This morning, I received a tweet from a friend’s locked account (so I won’t be sharing a screen shot here.) It was very simple, and not a response to anything I, or anyone else, had said. It was the sentiment that moved me very nearly to tears, though: the presence of the #PWGrrrlGang had helped this person enjoy wrestling in 2016.

My contribution to the wrestling community is limited. I don’t have a lot of money to travel often or see as many shows as I’d like. I certainly am not athletically gifted or of the body type where you’d ever see me inside a ring. I don’t possess a mind for business that would lend to running a promotion. But I know how to advocate for people who need help, and I can write. That, in its most basic form, was how the #PWGrrrlGang was born. I wanted to create something that brought people together, that created positive discussions, and that gave people that had been feeling alone in the fandom a sense of community and belonging.

Inadvertently, I helped myself along the way. Writing and podcasting as often as I do has bettered my craft. I have also made a lot of wonderful friends who I know I can count on for thought-provoking conversation, for checking my ego, and for encouraging me when I get down on myself. There is a family here; one I am so proud to be a part of.

Many thanks are owed to EVERYONE who has used the #PWGrrrlGang tag, who has responded to or shared my work, and/or who tunes into the podcast. You are each incredible and the community would not be the place it is now without you. You’ve all inspired me with your varied backgrounds and outlooks to give me, to work harder.

In 2017, the PWGrrrlGang will be giving back – to the fans, the promotions, and the performers. There is much more work to be done, so please know I am here for the long haul. We have built something amazing this past year, all of us together, and I feel strongly that we have set into motion tremendous changes for the industry and the fandom. One day, there will be people of all walks of life who feel safe and included at independent and large-scale wrestling shows; people who maybe won’t know what we all did together, but who get to exist in a safe and inclusive fandom. By then the phrase “PWGrrrlGang” and even The Lady J may be long gone. But that’s the thing about a legacy. “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Who knows what the world might look like then. For now, I have high hopes that next year is going to look pretty good.

Best wishes for health and happiness for all in the coming year (and always).

With kindest regards & gratitude,

The Lady J

 

Advertisements

The Value of a Fan

Professional wrestling is an interesting choice of topics to create content about when your ultimate goal is to be taken seriously.

It’s almost a contradiction in terms, really. Imagine trying to find validity in your own work when the general populous, half of the fandom, and even the thing itself rarely considers the topic to be serious. Let’s not confuse “serious” with “real”, either. I fully understand the parameters of professional wrestling. But I see no reason to turn out half-baked blog posts or podcast episodes when my heart isn’t in it in order to fill a space in the void. First of all, there’s barely any space anyway – there are thousands of voices shouting about this art form, this business, on any given day. Second, whether I make an effort to keep them separate or not, this blog and my podcast are just as much a part of who I am as a writer as my work running a literary magazine or having pieces of creative non-fiction published. I take ALL of my writing seriously, regardless of the topic. That means when I misjudge someone, when I come around on a storyline or character, or when I am flat-out WRONG about something, I’m going to be forthcoming about it. It doesn’t appear to be a characteristic of the community (yet) to be forgiving and allow people to grow or change their minds, but I’m hoping that will morph over time.

For example, since my experience at EVOLVE 72 & 73, I have done a complete 180 on Ethan Page. I did a podcast where I expressed (in no uncertain terms) that his in-ring style lacked a certain force that I’ve come to prefer in competitors like Chris Hero. I maintained, naturally, that his promo and character work could not be denied, but that (in particular) his match at EVOLVE 73 against Chris Dickinson left a lot to be desired for someone who was only seeing him for the second time. Since then, Page participated in the discussions about safe/inclusive wrestling promotions that we had a few weeks back on Twitter. He answered some questions about Alpha-1 and made it clear any fan should feel free coming to him or anyone on staff with concerns about their live shows. I got to see him live at EVOLVE 74 this past weekend in Queens in an intense, character-driven match against Cody Rhodes (whose status as a Bullet Club member had only been announced the night before.) One could argue my major complaint about Page’s match at 73 against Dickinson were still factors here: both men were TECHNICALLY in heel-mode, but the crowd’s desire to see SOMEONE get their comeuppance (Page in particular) kept us all invested. Plus, I firmly believe Page is at his best when his opponent matches him in presence, and Cody surely fits that bill.

After the show, getting to speak with Page at his merch table and see first-hand how passionate he is not only about the business at large, but in particular about fan’s reactions to him and creating a space where EVERYONE can enjoy the show, really made me a convert. Not only does he take what HE does seriously, he understands how important the relationship between the fans and the talent is, and that when talent don’t take the fans seriously they run the risk of being rejected. It isn’t necessary for him or ANY wrestler to read this blog or listen to my podcast in order for me to like them – that would be very silly of me. And surely by now, wrestlers have grown exhausted of fans telling them “I run a podcast on _____”, but a smart performer remembers, somewhere in the back of their mind, that any fan who takes the time out of their day and the money out of their pocket to produce a podcast or run a website on wrestling is truly dedicated to the product at large.

Fans are just as much a part of the show as the wrestlers are, and how they participate dictates what the industry has become. If fans whose strength was in writing and research didn’t start using their talents to create zines and websites about wrestling, wrestling journalism wouldn’t be what it is today. If fans with audio and production backgrounds didn’t get into podcasting, think about all of the wrestler-helmed shows that wouldn’t exist. To some extent, fans have created whole sections of the wrestling industry, ones that generate quite a bit of money, too, that wouldn’t exist today without them taking their work seriously. And, in their defense, most wrestlers today started out as fans. A truly great promoter, booker, or wrestler recognizes that common ground between themselves and the people in the seats. We ALL got into this for the same reason, we just participate in different ways. Just because another fan doesn’t keep a blog or produce a podcast doesn’t make what they do less valid than me. I don’t subscribe to a lot of streaming services so there is a LOT of the product I’m not consuming, and that doesn’t make me less valid as a fan that someone who has five or ten different streaming subscriptions. Fan fiction writers and cosplayers, graphic artists and toy collectors, all of these people invest a great deal of time and money into their projects and all of them do it because they LOVE WRESTLING. Some fans can’t go to live shows, but they consume a great deal of the different products from their own home; they are just as valid as fans who create things or travel to who attend every Wrestlemania.

The greatest lesson I have ever learned as a writer is not to wait around for other people to give their approval in order to consider yourself a Real Writer. What I create is of value, even if only to me. It’s important enough that I take time to do it to the best of my ability, even if no one reads it. You, dear reader, coming here to put eyes on it is just icing on the cake. Seeing the amount of responses to the #PWGrrrlGang twitter chat last Thursday was incredible, but even if only two people wanted to talk that night, it would still have been worth it. Working on all of the projects I am involved with as The Lady J can be thankless and frustrating, not to mention exhausting, but they bring me joy and they are all important to me. This is how I participate; this is who I am as a professional wrestling fan.

And I take that very seriously

 

The Lady J Says

British, Strong, & Stylized: Three Gentlemen of Progress

I’ve recently had an influx in new followers and new readers of the blog asking who I am and where I came from. The story of The Lady J is not a very interesting tale, but it does date back over two years to a few articles and videos I was doing for Cageside Seats. The one that seemed to garner the most response (and helped me to find my voice) was one on the Art of the Promo. That (VERY LONG) article came out of my own training in theatre and creative writing, which is the lens through which I have always viewed professional wrestling. I tend toward promotions that favor a cohesive narrative that intertwine all members of their roster, but also enjoy cards where the storytelling that is happening inside each match is equally compelling. My favorite thing, though, is an exquisitely delivered promo. We don’t see them as much anymore; it’s almost as if the true art of a great promo is being replaced by things that are heavily scripted or under-valued in their contribution to the show as a whole. While I love the acting work on Lucha Underground, arguably the promotion I follow most closely, the vignettes we see there are not quite the same thing as a good, old-fashioned wrestling promo. Need an example? Funny you should ask…

Yesterday, a YouTube clip from the Progress Wrestling promotion out of the UK popped up on my Twitter feed. I think I watched it three or four times. Check it out for yourself:

 This might end up going down as the best out-of-ring promo of 2016, and a lot of people are going to sleep on it because of its simplicity. Even if you are not a fan of these three gentlemen, even if you don’t follow Progress, even if you’re not a UK wrestling fan, there’s something here you need to be looking at.

First of all, make sure you take note of what ISN’T in this promo: there are no fans, there is no giant Progress banner behind them (though Dunne is holding the Progress title), nobody is in their wrestling gear, and no one is yelling. The reason there’s nothing flashy about this promo is simple: it doesn’t have to be. Progress itself as a promotion doesn’t require confetti and glitter to bring in new fans – it already has a massive following the world over. And these three fellows don’t need your attention either; they already have it. They have your attention, your titles, the keys to your car, the deed to your house, and you might not realize it yet, but your wallet is missing, too.

Regardless of what their in-ring personas are like (and we do get clips of Dunne and Trent Seven getting pretty mouthy with the Progress audience), in this promo there is a sense of both calm and confidence. The greatest thing a heel has ever done in a promo is speak softly and slowly. They say you catch more bees with honey – and that’s the key. Not to be sweet, but to lay a trap so easy to fall into it would never occur to us to give it a second look.

A trio of well-dressed British men are standing before a brick wall, coolly explaining that they are not in possession of the Progress titles for the honor of it. It’s about power – those titles are going to get them OUT of Progress, out of the UK to bigger, more lucrative contracts in other parts of the world. You don’t need to like it or even understand it, that’s just how it is. They even TOLD you they were going to do that, you just didn’t want to believe them. They’re smug and cocky and it’s absolutely BRILLIANT heel work.

I could surely write pages and pages of praise for Trent Seven’s ability on a mic. This man can talk, regardless of his affiliations, but his slimy, conniving heel brilliance is unequaled. Meanwhile, Pete Dunne is lousy with brash swagger and attitude, akin to an over-confident 1920’s mob boss on the brink of either domination or termination. The key to this entire interview, though, is in the last 20 seconds when we get exactly six words out of Tyler Bate, who has spent the entire promo looking over his shoulder. The most recent convert to the dark side has plenty of reason to be concerned who or what might be behind him (no spoilers here) and conveniently masks his discomfort with aggressive misdirection before walking off.

Think about all of the stories told here: Trent’s reasoning for abandoning Moustache Mountain for British Strong Style, Pete Dunne’s plans for the Progress title, and Tyler’s inner battle with his own heel behavior. None of it reaches out and slaps you in the face, though. Every second of this video is calculated and smooth, just like the characters steering it.

The icing on this little promo cake of deliciousness? This video is two minutes at fifty-two seconds long. I bet at 2:53, you were figuring out how to get your eyes on the Progress show in question – and probably all of their past and future products, too.

Well done, gents. Lady approved.

The Lady J Says