Tag Archives: celebrity journalism

If You See Kay(fabe), Or, The Ethics of Unmasking

Wrestling fandom is at times a arms race of disenchantment. If you went to a magic show and spoke over the act’s climactic reveal with running commentary to your date about magnets and trap doors, you’d expect people to be upset with you, or even ask you to leave. Not even the most libertarian-leaning of cinema guests would tolerate a screening of Inside Out punctuated with the scoop on Amy Poehler’s rate of pay.

Smart marks and the wrestling press at times seem bereft of boundaries in sharing space with kayfabe. There is a sort of posturing at play, a competition where your love of wrestling is demonstrated not through your appreciation of it despite it’s fakeness, but by saturating all discourse with self-aware commentary on how it’s fake and you have an intimacy and fluency in that fakeness far exceeding anyone else in the room. It manifests in aggressive chants at the indie show, drowning out performer bumps with enlightened irreverence. I was able to come to the realization of wrestling’s fakeness in my own time as a matter of development; kids who go to CHIKARA events risk being seated next to the smug live tweeter who’s happy to tell everyone around him the only reasonable outcome of the match based on who’s moving on to what promotion after the show.

We don’t, as many might lament, know too much for wrestling to be  fun and exciting anymore. We know too little in regards of when it’s appropriate to share what we know and how to gauge the benefit of its dissemination.

Sharing a leaked WWE memo advising commentators not to use the words “title belt” or “hospital” has a finite community advantage: it allows the press and fans to hold a major corporation accountable. WWE twists and pinches language to squeeze out any semblance of sport or athleticism from their identity, setting forward an industry standard in how it treats their talent. The forced march of the infirm, where wrestlers struggle to walk in their 40’s, will continue unwavered in the wake of WWE’s unchecked apathy for the business they’re actually in.

Revealing the identity of a masked wrestler—one who wrestles under that mask for a promotion aimed at children—does not carry a finite benefit to the fandom. The worth of this information is not shareable. Voices of Wrestling proves itself a little wiser, a little less in love with the business; everyone else forfeits, whether it’s Silver Ant and his privacy or the child fan violently jarred from the dream.

The scoop is defined by its context. Doxing the closeted KKK members in your neighborhood is not the same as doxing a woman who critiqued a video game or a show in a way you didn’t like and has the palpable fear of violent reprisal from a stranger. A leak is not justified just because it proves something. What does what it proves mean to us? How does knowing it allow us to make smarter decisions? How does it better our community? 

Knowledge is not, in this sense, morally or intellectually inert. Freedom of the press is a responsibility; it is up to you, the courier of information, to determine the weight of an item of information and decide if the discomfort or even damage that weight can do if dropped is vindicated by it’s contributions to the community.

No matter how great the demand for a wrestler’s real name or the address of their house or how they like their eggs, that information cannot be conveyed into discourse. A young or new fan being able to sit through an indy show without smart marks inciting chants of in-jokes and telling you how the dish was made before you’ve even tasted will prove a greater yield to the fandom than the page views and controversy you can drum up by telling me whether Hania The Huntress shaved her legs today and whether that means she’s going to Ring of Honor.

It isn’t  the promotions that suffer from this compulsive need to chew on the curtain. It’s funny to do a Braden Walker chant during Chris Harris’ matches. But it was WWE that signed off on that name and produced the segment with his terrible catchphrase—and it’s TNA that is able to prove it’s “realer” by acknowledging Harris’ failure to make it in WWE. But these chants don’t get in WWE or TNA’s heads, challenging their concentration and daring them to fuck up on TV.

Promotions are practiced enough in shitting on their talent. They don’t need help unbuttoning their pants. What power, if any, our “inside knowledge” afforded us has already been ceded to WWE, who have used The Network to overwhelm us with “behind the scenes” access where everyone casually references each other’s real names and forego the inconvenience of even a little acknowledgement of current on-screen feuds and relationships. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: you can learn more about the birthmark on his ass and how his father left him when he was a child on the new Network special coming up right after RAW.

You are not an alternative if you corroborate, or replicate. Wrestlers are already treated like living IP by promotions; we only compound that forfeiture of identity by tripping over ourselves to throw their real names back in their faces every chance we get. WWE and TNA have made camp in spoiler territory. If we want to resist an oligopoly of mediocrity, we need to start setting boundaries for where Kayfabe can be conserved, if only so young talent and young fans can participate in the sport without being heckled out of the room with our overbearing, overeducated hot takes on overness.

Wrestling took our money by insisting it was real, and now it takes the next generations’s money by cashing on our self-aware participation. If the major promotions wanna stake a claim by saying wrestling is fake, then resistance is to say “only wrestling is real”.

When wrestling tries to sell out, buy in. Preserve the magic where you can, and practice mindfulness when passing on “shoot knowledge” and who it benefits.

It’s this presence of mind and cognizance of consumption that sets us apart from those damn dirty marks.

Oh Brother Where Art Thou?: Hulk Hogan vs Gawker

At times it took giants, and at times it took 8-on-2 steel cage matches, but under cover of his legacy as the perpetually outgunned but never outmatched American hero, Hulk Hogan has been able to basically rule over wrestling as a feudal lord. At costs incalculable, Hogan has effectively quelled any real consequence for a career rife with bullying, blackmail, and pathological egomania. Because he’s never been named the bully that he is.

Now he’s suing Gawker for $100 Million—a prize that if attained could devastate Gawker and all online journalism in suit—for posting highlights of a sex tape between him and his best friend’s ex-wife.

This could be the greatest spectacle of Hogan jobbing out the odds. The scope of Gawker’s influence, and the consequence of their defeat, is beyond measure.

Gawker is not in the right. In a perfect world, we would destroy sex tapes on site and call out the leakers as fucklemons. No one should profit from a woman’s sex life without her consent and participation.  Full stop.

Gawker deserves to be held accountable.

It still remains, however bold a foot you put down, that in a world where the system of justice is purposely imperfect so as to not be relied upon to disrupt systems of power, the tools and mediums of propagating rape culture are also used to expose and challenge it.

Surveilling male celebrities, especially athletes and entertainers, is the most reliable means to hold them accountable for their transgressions. Without the momentum of a public reaction to seeing an athlete assaulting his partner,  the legal apparatus often find no reason to submit to the hassle of dragging themselves through the media circus of celebrity trials.

So where would a judgment in Hogan’s favor draw the line? What about social media personal messages? Will celebrities like Hogan, whose purported sexual proclivities are at the core of their public persona, be allowed to leverage their fame and power to entice, or pressure, young women into sex without fear of scrutiny from the press?

Will an underage girl have to rely on showing her Instagram account to the police to get any sort of accountability from someone with a net worth in the millions? In a time where police officers body slam teenage girls in swimsuits and are repeatedly revealed to be stalkers and rapists with no societal reprimand of their professions?

To fit all of the wrestlers accused of sexual and intimate partner violence into one battle royal, you would bankrupt yourself just trying to order enough rings to hold them all. Even the federal government lack the strength and resources to rein in the industry and all its excesses.  The business is getting better at dealing with their issues—substance dependency, bullying—but to challenge a man’s ego is beyond clandestine payouts and mock courts. To display evidence of a man’s sexual prowess, or absence thereof, for public consumption requires the legitimacy of a trial.

But this line of thinking, where we must interrogate every sexual encounter as Schroedinger’s rape, leads to needlessly invading the privacy and integrity of women’s lives, judging and ultimately punishing them for their needs and desires.

Gawker is not and must never be, even in the light of this trial, viewed as arbiters of discretion. They, and we who operate within an industry they influence, are the natural born enemies to privacy. Even as some of us fight to preserve that privacy. We are all “the good cops” of our mind’s eye.

But this isn’t privacy. Hulk Hogan is able to sue Gawker for $100 Million because this isn’t about privacy. Where was Paris Hilton’s “privacy” when a court threw out her lawsuit for $30 Million against Kahatani, Ltd., and instead facilitated the company paying Paris Hilton a portion of the profits they made selling a video of her having sex?

Where was the privacy of the countless women victimized by Hunter Moore’s site Is Anyone Up?, allowed to run for two years before law enforcement could find a way to argue that distributing women’s personal information for the purposes of harassment was against the law?

If a man hosts a site where your phone number and naked photos of you are given out, the state will collect $500,00 from him. But if you post a video of a man having sex, that man will sue you for $100 Million.

Gawker has already paid double Hunter Moore’s court-ordered fine in fighting the lawsuit. This isn’t about privacy.

The Hulkster is relying on a mutual societal assumption that sites like Gawker are sleazy, underhanded, and long alienated from the concept of a moral compass. Hogan’s professional reputation as someone almost addicted to betrayal offers him insight into the mind of the media consumer. We feed in godless frenzies over the inane bullshit sites like Gawker provide, not even pausing to swallow our food before we turn around and rant on how they are the bane of all society.  We castigate our own consumption, as if this end our complicity, or at least let it leave the room and re-enter the room under a mask.

If changes are to be demanded of celebrity journalism, it must come from us, the consumers and the purveyors. We must hold Gawker accountable for the lives that it has marred that are not Hulk Hogan’s. We must insist on our refusal to participate in tar-and-feathering of those who have more visibility but less power.

Hulk Hogan taking $100 Million from Gawker will not hold the industry accountable, just as fining a few offenders from a multi-national corporation does not hold those business accountable.

If a lawsuit this big should succeed in a space that public in a court that swayed by public opinion, people will lose their jobs. A lot of people. And not necessarily editors named Josh or Chad who give a voracious green light to stories about what prescription drugs some woman in a TV show is on. It will be reporters and critics and alternative media sites that lack the financial foundation of Gawker had before Hogan lazily leg dropped them for the biggest payday of all.

Hogan winning establishes the precedent that a man’s ego is worth more than anyone else’s privacy.

It allows for Heather Clem, the woman in the tape and also a victim of invasion, to be set up by the media as an obsessive fan who tricked one of the most media-savvy performers of our time into ruining his reputation and his marriage.

Hogan’s fame and status allow him to have sex with beautiful women. And now he’s hoping he can collect a $100 Million payday for it.

He is embarrassed. He is a victim. But Hulk Hogan is not the underdog. And he is not, as he has so boasted over the years, fighting for the rights of every man.

He’s fighting for his right to demand a higher standard of recompense than  the women victimized by celebrity journalism, including the women in his own life affected by our desire to see if his work rate outside the ring matches his claims.

We wrestling fans who grew into reporters are now become Kevin Sullivan: it was you, Hogan, who created us. Your decades of tyranny over wrestling have finally manifested into a reality none of us ever thought would be possible. We used to scream, we used to boo, we would get as close to the ring or TV as we could to tell you that you suck, that you’re ruining wrestling, that we hate you.

And now you’ve hopped out the ring to come into the crowd and show us what’s what.

What are you gonna do, when the bitter ruins of Hulkamania collapse around you?