The Shackles of Anonymity
I cannot wait for Tuesday. I have been staring at the envelop labeled ‘Ticketmaster’ everyday for the past three weeks. I have been looking at my work schedule and coordinating the route I will be taking from my job to the bar, then to the arena. I have made sure there are fresh batteries in my digital camera. While I know I may be severely overdressed in my business suit when I take my seat, I do not care.
I will be attending the live episode of ‘WWE Smackdown’ broadcasting from Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina on Tuesday. It will be the twentieth professional wrestling show I have gone to in my lifetime. For the past six years, I have seemed to enjoy going to these events more and more, regardless of which company it is, where it will be held, or who will be performing.
My excitement for going to these live events has been growing and growing not just because they only come to my area once or twice a year (I have traveled for larger events like TNA’s 2010 Bound For Glory at Daytona Beach, Florida… unfortunately), but because they provide a sense of freedom from the realm I inhabit being a part of Wrestleview. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a member of this website, writing columns and hosting podcasts twice, sometimes three times a week. I enjoy taking part in discussion over anything and everything about professional wrestling, but something seems to be missing. I have realized now that nothing is particularly missing, but moreover something is restricting.
It is the sense of anonymity.
Reading this column right now, you only see me as words on a computer screen. Listening to a podcast, you only hear me as a voice coming through your speakers or headphones. While some may enjoy this sense of anonymity, I find it very confining. I am a very extroverted person; I love going out and meeting new people. Whenever I have a weekend off, you will find me at a local sports bar talking with anyone and everyone enjoying the games, listening to stories, and making new friends. I know I am doing the same thing being a part of Wrestleview, writing and hosting, but it is that sense of physically seeing the reader/listener that I miss.
I miss the arcades.
I miss walking around a crowded room of arcade cabinets, assessing the bounty of escapism, and trying to decide which machine I want to devote myself to for the next hour or so. I miss hearing a crowd of people behind me as I show off my nerd prowess in the form of the wrestler King from the fighting game ‘Tekken 3’. Throw after throw, slam after slam, the crowd reacting with agony as I destroy my opposition. I miss shaking my opponent’s hand afterwards, signaling for the next combatant to enter the fray and attempt to overtake my throne. I miss the feeling of defeat and/or exhaustion being quickly suppressed by a fellow player or a person in the crowd handing me a bottle of Pepsi and talking about what they had seen me do. The conversations would then spread to other video games, what we thought were good or bad, and what we believed made a great game.
Video games are not what they used to be. Now you can sit in the comfort of your own home to defeat the opposition, saving money on gas and quarters. You can now blanket yourself in seclusion and trash talk your opposition without fear of them finding you in the parking lot and beating you up. You can now become the king of an entire world of video game players rather than just an entire room of them.
However, with this sense of anonymity comes the sacrifice of social interaction. Players only know you as a screen name, an icon or an avatar. The shaking of hands after a hard-fought battle is replaced by an obligatory ‘gg’ in a text window. After a session of playing a game, you are more often left sharing a drink with no one but yourself.
While I am sure some of you reading this truly appreciate this anonymity, maybe even thrive on it, I see it as a deterent from thoroughly enjoying not just the escapism of the game but the social aspect that can follow it.
I feel these shackles every time I write a column like this one, tweet about an episode of ‘Raw’, or host a podcast. Sure I get to opine and discuss professional wrestling with literally thousands of people across the world, but we are all only known as screen names, icons, or avatars. A ’roundtable discussion’ is only seen as a metaphor instead of the real thing.
That is where the realism and social interaction of live events come into play. I absolutely love them. I love going to a show, sitting with hundreds of other fans, and just having a great time. You will never see me angry or frustrated, I am always smiling or laughing. Of course I will act obnoxious at times, but it is never meant to deter from anyone else’s enjoyment of the product. I love interacting with other fans, joking around, and above all others, making people laugh.
Last year, ‘Raw’ came to Charlotte. This was one week following the beginning of the ‘Nexus vs. John Cena’ angle. My friend Andy and I stood in line to enter the arena with only one sign in hand. With big, bold red sharpie on plain, white posterboard it read ‘HAIL KOZLOV’. As many of you know, I am a big Vladimir Kozlov fan and have been singing his praises even after his departure from WWE (His headbutts and Gerard Butler ‘300’ kicks to the sternum have left a dent in my heart).
In the line next to us was a group of three young boys, all dressed in Rey Mysterio and John Cena regalia with two fathers holding on to programs and tickets. I looked at one of the boys holding a sign he made saying ‘619’. I couldn’t help but smile as he looked up at me.
“You like Rey Mysterio, huh?”
“Yeah,” he said in a very shy, faint voice backing into his father’s leg. I looked at his father showing a smile and patting his son on the head.
“Oh, he’s really good,” I replied. “He can beat anybody! I wish I had sign for him but I could only bring one.”
“Who is your favorite wrestler,” one of the boys asked.
“Oh, me? I like Kozlov!”
“NO!!!!” The first boy yelled out. “He sucks!” All of us started laughing at the boy’s blunt and honest critique.
“Well I think he’s great and I made this sign for him! So where are you guys sitting at?”
“We’re gonna’ be on the first level of seats in front of the camera,” the father said. “Not on floor level but definitely where we’ll be in view of the cameras.”
“Really,” I looked at him and then quickly turned my attention to the boys. “Well, I’m going to be on the upper level behind the camera, so no one is going to really see me. Could you guys do me a favor?” All three looked at me intently. “I made this awesome sign for Kozlov, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to see it where I’m sitting. Could you guys hold it up when he comes out?”
“NO!!!!” They shouted in rejection. All of us adults laughed again at their disgust. I looked at the father who just couldn’t stop smiling but then turned my attention back down to the vocal trio.
“But I made this great sign for him.” One of the boys shook his head so violently in disapproval, his Mysterio mask almost flew off his head. “Look all around you. Everyone has signs for Cena, Randy Orton, and Rey Mysterio, but no one has a sign for Kozlov. Now, when Kozlov comes stomping down that ramp, the cameramen are going to be looking for Kozlov signs. Now I’ve looked around at all the signs everyone has brought to the show and no one has one for him!” The fathers began to chuckle as they knew what I was trying to sell to their sons.
“I’m not asking you to hold this sign up the entire show. I just want you to hoist this sign up when he comes out. Believe me, you’ll get on TV! You’ll be the only ones holding a Kozlov sign! What do you say?” The boys continued to shake their heads in defiance. One of the fathers, grinning from ear to ear, reached for my sign.
“We’ll do it,” he said, trying to fight back his laughter.
“Awesome! Thanks!” I replied with joy. Throughout the wait in line, I would continue to talk with the group of five about the show, who they liked and didn’t like. We made our way into the arena, Andy and I found our seats parting ways with the group of five as we trekked up the stairs.
Andy and I would sit there during the show, laughing throughout, and making acquaintance with everyone sitting around us. We would object to the referee’s slow three-counts, causing everyone to laugh with us. The two of us would crack jokes throughout the show but not to the point where it was obnoxious or repetitive, nor would they be laced with obscenities. We would have a great time, inviting others to laugh with us.
Near the end of the show came a match involving Santino Marella and William Regal with Vladimir Kozlov as the special guest referee. Once Kozlov’s entrance theme hit, I looked around the arena looking for my sign. Down below, I could see two middle-aged men jumping up and down with sheer delight hoisting a ‘HAIL KOZLOV’ sign up high for all to see. Their kids sat in their seats, looking at them with disappointment. Everyone around them remained seated but laughing and clapping at the two. They stuck out like a mole on a supermodel’s face, begging for the cameramen’s attention. I nudged Andy, pointed them out, and veered everyone’s attention to the two.
After the show had ended, making our way for the exit, I found the group of five responsible for showing my appreciation for Kozlov. I gave the boys high fives and shook their fathers’ hands.
“What’s your name?”
“My name’s Doug.”
“I have to tell you, Doug,” the father said, “I have been to a lot of wrestling shows in my lifetime, but I have never had this much fun. I want to thank you for making our night. Do you go to every show?”
“I try to go every time it comes to town.”
“We have got to make this a regular thing,” he digged into his wallet and handed me his business card. “E-mail me when you find out the next time they come into town. We could meet somewhere. I owe you some drinks for how much fun I had!”
I e-mailed Scott the day I bought tickets for Tuesday’s ‘Smackdown’ show. I’ll be meeting him, his friend Rob, their sons, and a whole group of people in one of the lounges overlooking the arena as we enjoy the show. All of us fans. All of us there to have a good time. I can only hope that those of you reading this right now, who attend live professional wrestling events on a regular basis, have as much fun as I have.