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Let's talk about.....Wrestling critics

Let’s talk about….Wrestling critics

“……enhances a critic’s conviction that he serves some important purpose, but also strengthens his sense of superiority, suggesting that the reviewer possesses knowledge, refinement and sophistication that set him apart from ordinary moviegoers.” – Michael Medved, on film critics including lesser-known films on yearly top 10 lists.

“As for the quote from Medved: I couldn’t have said it better.  Yes, like any self-respecting critic, I believe I serve an important purpose, and that I possess knowledge, refinement and sophistication that set me apart from ordinary moviegoers.  It is interesting that Medved doesn’t believe this statement describes himself.” – Roger Ebert’s response to the above.

Medved is an idiot.

Art criticism is one of the more difficult things to ‘learn’, so to speak. We all know that there are certain things that we ‘like’, so to speak, when it comes to films, television, books, etc. We can articulate those reasons on multiple levels – “Mcclain is a badass and Willis is fucking awesome!” to “Mcclain connects with the audience due to his common man persona, allowing a bond to be forged that carries the character through the slightly unbelievable narrative with the audience as his willing partner.” – these are both fine ways to describe Die Hard. Both are favorable, one is slightly more verbose but allows for a more psychological deconstruction of the film, while one is short and to the point.

As wrestling is one of the last true forms of theater left, art criticism is what we use to make the aesthetic judgments in our reviews. Whether it be the star rating system, a grading scale, hot pokers up the ass, whatever the case may be, we are all participating in that criticism on this blog on a daily basis.

But what is our role? Criticism has a negative connotation, there can be little doubt about that. Doubly so were we to identify ourselves as ‘professional wrestling critics’; outside of a select few players, our blogmaster being one of them, this fact probably is concealed by a great majority of those that spend time not only watching the happenings of the squared circle, but spend time discussing it in great detail. Back in the late 90’s, even with wrestling at the height of its popularity, I did refrain from discussing my fandom or wearing my NWO shirt at academic functions. There was a sense of shame, even after having found and the Usenet forums that would eventually shape my fandom in a different direction, that wrestling was a ‘low’ art.

Of course, this is nonsense. No art form is higher and lower than the work itself. Professional wrestling has frequently CATERED to the lowest common denominator, but that in and of itself does not diminish the work of both the performers and the bookers, both of whom create the narrative that plays out in front of us. Frequently Grecian in scope, wrestling takes familiar tropes, with the hero (face) and the villain (heel) vying for whatever prize awaits them at the end of the poem. It’s the oldest story in the book for a reason, because the narrative always works. The difference is how you tell it, and that’s really what we judge.

But what is our ROLE, I ask? Are we the white-robed guardians of the gates of professional wrestling fandom, letting no one pass until they have watched (and praised) the requisite number of KENTA matches? Are we deluded fan boys commenting on a subject with a depth that not even the creators care to think about?

One would think there is a middle ground of sorts between the two, but I’m inclined to go with the more grandiose of visions, for the simple fact that one of the key agents of a strong critic is confidence to augment the knowledge. Does it smack of arrogance (TM Rick Martel) to do so? Undoubtedly. But I think it necessary to differentiate a critic from a fan when it comes to credibility. A fan needs no credibility to back up simple statements, because his knowledge is not called forth in making that statement. But a critic needs credibility because his knowledge can and should be debated in the context of his opinion. Were you to need a mechanic for your car, would you take it to your cousin who works on the weekends on his old junker, or would you take it to a professional mechanic, whose knowledge far surpasses that of said cousin?

Of course, you would take it to the mechanic, depending on the car’s importance to YOU. And this is how we respond to criticism as well. If we care about the subject, we’re much more inclined to spend time researching and becoming knowledgeable about it. Wrestling is no different. Like any hobby, we spend our time as a part of what we all call the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) as a way to discuss a subject that very few people in our ‘normal’ lives understand, at least to the extent of those of us who post here on the blog.

While I am not trying to write a rallying cry for those of us on the blog, a pseudo –“We’re all Awesome” crowd chant during a Divas match to pass the time, I am saying that being a wrestling critic requires certain tools that not everyone has; I am saying that what we do is of value. Unlike so many other forms, the bulk of professional wrestling has taken place within the last 100 years, so study is possible.

Allow me to date myself. I first came to college in 1996, and was exposed to the aforementioned Usenet pro wrestling forums on the lightning fast “only takes 2 minutes to load a page!” direct connection in the dorms. So many questions were finally being answered for me, principally how things were actually done in this wonderful world I had become addicted to as an 11 year old renting every video I could from the Blockbuster. I swallowed as much knowledge as I could whole, and had my first exposure to Scott, CRZ, Scaia, Chris Bird, Petrie, Kunze, and more. Learning about the undercurrent of seriousness to the world of wrestling actually saved my waning fandom; the coming wrestling boom would bring me all the way back.

So, here we are in the present day, where criticism is discouraged strongly by the largest North American federation that exists. Frequently we are criticized by those who get in the ring as not able to judge quality work since we’ve never been a worker – surely, they recognize this as nonsense, as being able to articulate one’s tastes in art in a more intelligent fashion has nothing to do with personal experience as an actor in the pageant. You don’t need to be a chef to understand what a good steak tastes like, and you don’t need to be an expert to understand that Cena/Punk was a better match than Cena/Ryback. The difference between a fan and a critic is the knowledge of WHY one is better than the other.

There’s no jokes this week, because I’m not all that funny. But also, I think this subject deserves less ridicule than is normally applied to the smark community; I frequently see us belittle ourselves as though we live in fear of ‘taking ourselves too seriously’. Why shouldn’t we take the things we care about seriously? The only fear should be crossing over into pretension, which is not an unreasonable fear, but a manageable one; keeping a level head over how little wrestling means, while still being okay about our criticism being serious is a tough balance beam to walk upon, but we can traverse it.

Whether it be Scott Keith’s snark, or CRZ’s bombast, or Kunze’s earnestness and world weariness over North American wrestling, we all read or have read critics because they’ve earned our respect.

Now I’d like to show some respect to ourselves.

Rick Poehling
@MrSoze on Twitter


  1. I don't think I hit this one out of the park, so crush me in the comments, guys. I know what I wanted to say, but I'm not sure I got it out properly.

  2. Medved is an idiot for sure.

  3. Critics are, by and large, useless. Sorry, I know that's just my opinion, but I'd rather be the worst artist than the best critic.

  4. Roger Ebert?

    Wait... are you Meekin under an assumed name?

  5. The problem is that we take a greater care than wrestling producers have arguably ever taken with our criticisms. As has been noted many many times, it is booked on the seat of the pants, using whatever rules fit the immediate context regardless of what came before. When it benefits, the promoter will champion history and continuity. When it does not, they don't. It is after all, a carny throwback. A trick. A con. This is not a slander on the hobby or business, but it does make me think of an old Warren Ellis bit of dialogue.

    "Pro wrestling is cultural slumming for the intellectually lazy."

    This includes me, of course, I am in the same boat as the rest of the fans. I am indeed intellectually lazy (a millionaire who should have been a billionaire describes me to a tee...give or take a couple of zeroes) and I am culturally slumming. After long day I rarely have the strength for intellectual entertainment.

    "Wrestling is one of the last true forms of theater..."? Dude, you need to get out more.

  6. Disagreed. With a good critic, I won't necessarily agree with the critic, but I will understand their reasoning and it will often broaden my movie going experience. It is a one way conversation about a movie. And at the end of the day, every one that has seen a work, if it affected them in anyway enough to talk about it, is a critic.

  7. The thing that bothers me the most about critics is that some people seem to take their opinion as the word of god. It bugs me that people seem to expect these critics to be 100% objective when it's impossible. You can't be objective when it comes to criticizing any form of entertainment. Everyone has approached and grown up on various mediums (TV, books, movies, comics, wrestling) in different ways. Therefore, their opinions are formed by their own experiences. There is no such thing as an "objective" review because every critic approaches the subject with their own personal tastes and biases.

    For example, I frequent Gamespot for game reviews. They tend to be a little more critical of games and less willing to dole out 10/10s. I actually like that about them. However, many commenters on the site - primarily teenage boys from what I've ascertained - seem to think that the site as a whole is giving a game 8/10 instead of their precious 10/10. What they don't seem to grasp is that it's just ONE person's opinion. And then, of course, if they don't get the score that they wanted, they lambaste the reviewer, claiming they were paid off by other companies and all that nonsense.

    We've seen that personal bias on here, of course. Scott would give more snowflakes to Chris Benoit matches because of his personal tastes and biases. He's given some very high-profile matches that were scored higher by others a much lower star rating. Hogan/Rock is the best example of that. Again, it all comes down to personal opinion. Even Scott has admitted that there was no set formula for how he rated stars on a match.

  8. Shock twist! Roger Ebert is still alive and working under Meekin's name!

  9. Exactly. there is no subject for debate with alot of critics.

    I understand there's a stance critics should make and take because if they are waffling, then their cred is shot, but after a certain while there should be some revisions.

    Like for example Scott slammed SuperBrawl 8 initially when reviewing cuz he was over WCW by that point, but years later when the topic was brought up, I asked him to rewatch it cold and give it a second review.

    All of his ratings went up, especially in the undercard cuz he has a fresh set of eyes on the product. Time and perspective, i guess.

  10. I've actually noticed Scott has softened over the years in his ratings. He's not as harsh on things as he used to be. I think it's just that he's grown up and matured a lot over time, like many of us have.

    That said, I do miss the Hot Poker Up the Ass rating. That was gold.


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