United In Snobbery: What Music And Wrestling Dweebs Can Teach One Another
If your personal tastes landed you inside large, living Venn diagrams (like a gorgeous archipelago on a vast blue sea), I’d occupy that most narrow mid-point between indie music dweeb and pro wrestling nerd. It’s a lonely place, and I’m really aware of only a handful of my comrades (mainly the uber talented Tom Breihan).
While you probably don’t meet a lot of guys who know both Crystal Castles and Sami Callihan, these two worlds aren’t really that much different. The DIY element is a running motif for both, the art is forged for the sake of creation and not the endless mounds of cash available, and everyone dresses a little like Flock of Seagulls during the End Times. Perhaps the biggest commonality, though, is a profound sense of snobbery.
By definition, these groups are elitist by nature: Everyone not inside the gates can be perceived as an enemy to the cause. Ignorant peons who don’t understand the subtle beauty of Aphex Twin or the sheer awesomeness of a Superkick Party. It’s an isolation that’s thrust upon these groups by some external influence and yet reflective of uncertainty or disinterest with the rest of humanity. No matter where it came from, both groups happily embrace this two-headed sense of superiority and loser-dom. It’s a point of pride for my brothers and sisters, and a demonstration of their loyalty to a specific scene.
Given that I straddle the boundaries of music and wrestling, there are things I’ve noticed about the Chernobyl-levels of nuclear snobbery that have long since permeated both cultural groups. Lessons and insights that might help fans learn a thing or two about what it means to love something so much you think it makes you better than all the other squares.
To begin, it’s important to recognize the snobby tendencies of both indie music fans and wrestling aficionados. One grouping isn’t more likely to turn its nose up than the other, but there is an important bit of nuance to the two if you’ve swum around both pools. Namely, just how these groups react to certain perceived injustices.
For music fans, it’s seeing a once beloved artist falling from grace into the warm ocean currents of mediocrity or rampant commercialism. As a rule, calling someone a sellout seems counter-intuitive; it’s hard to make art if you have to live in a box on the side of the road. If something sucks from a purely creative standpoint, that seems more apt. Even if it’s hard to argue what about a song or new album is lackluster other than how any individual person feels about it.
Wrestling lovers don’t regularly age when someone jumps from an indie promotion to the WWE. There is perhaps some hesitation, but it’s less about the individual wrassler’s morals and more about how their style and character will be impacted by the machine-like culture of World Wrestling Entertainment. Guys who make it into the big leagues get a chance to make money off their skill, and that’s certainly a good thing. It legitimizes their work, moving them from the dangerous, low-paying world of gyms and rec centers and into the life of TV stars who sell out mid-size arenas.
Fame is a part of any entertainer’s life, whether you’re singing songs or breaking backs. To avoid it is to limit what any given “artist” is capable of. If we look at success as the enemy, then we’re not giving people the room necessary to grow their careers. Stagnation can occur if creative types aren’t allowed to expand their scope in ways that make sense to their artform and what they want to do as creators.
Rather than looking at this as selling out, we need to look at what happens when a band, wrestler, actor, painter, etc. makes the move up their industry ladder. Have they abandoned their creativity for commercial pursuits? Are they no longer pushing genre boundaries and making users think/feel/question/etc.? These are far more serious crimes than being able to eat or pay that electric bill.
If there is a reason why music fans are so critical of artists selling out, it’s not just because they love a reason to suddenly dump all over something with a cascade of hatred. Rather, I think it shows a unique level of commitment to these performers. Indie folks are notorious for being spotty with their devotion, and one bad Pitchfork score has ruined many a career.
But there is also a profound sense of devotion involved in these rascals. It’s why bands like The Avalanches can duck out for 16 years and return to their godly status overnight. It’s a perversion of that baseline loyalty that causes people to wildly judge when a band decides to make money by doing an ad for Honda or frozen orange juice. It’s a little over the top, and maybe even borderline obsessive for people to get personally offended when someone signs a deal with the The Devil. Sorry, Domino’s Pizza.
Still, it’s a lot better than what many wrestlers wind up facing. It’s practically a rule of the Universe that huge chunks of wrestlers die at a very young age. Usually alone in some drab motel due to an enlarged heart following years of drug use. That’s not to say they didn’t do it to themselves, but there is an element of the public’s influence involved. Fans and promoters are fickle, and while big muscles and an exciting finishing move can land you a career, it doesn’t take much for your career prospects to tap out shortly thereafter.
So, wrestlers do (a boatload of) drugs to handle the stress of life on the road and getting dropped on your head nightly, and eventually that lifestyle catches up to all of them. It’s a lonely life outside the spotlight, and wrestling fan’s endless hunger for the next big thing can eat up a person’s whole life. In those cases, a little devotion — no matter how misguided — may have saved some Mat God from their fate.
If that last bit seems a little hyperbolic, it’s really not. To believe that fandom can save a person’s life is a direct expansion of wrestling’s most essential narrative themes. That if we all clap and cheer hard enough, the babyface can make a grand comeback and secure victory over the nasty heel. It takes the total suspension of disbelief, but that’s what wrestling fans do daily with the grace of a Jack Evans 630 splash.
That to me is what makes wrestling snobs so interesting: They’re quick to dismiss so much yet will readily embrace such huge and fantastical situations. It’s led to a few embarrassing episodes for fans, but it’s generally a great worldview to maintain despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Most music snobs don’t seem to share that sentiment. Thanks to greater Internet access, endlessly streaming music, and a newfound flexibility and an eagerness to please by most new bands, fans have everything they could ever want nigh instantaneously. Yet despite that, people seem more jaded by the industry than ever before. Not that there isn’t a lot to hate about how we consume music in 2016 — pricing remains an issue, we contribute to a system that willfully underpays artists, etc. — but there is a lot to feel great about.
There are times when I bound between music on one of a dozen or so streaming services, and I can’t help but feel a little giddy about that prospect. Similar moments of Vonnegut-ian recognition would be nice from my many fellow ravenous music lovers.
Speaking of things in dire need of recognizing, the fact that there is such a gap between the fantasy-enabled wrestling snobs and the apathetic music snobs got me thinking: Is that sense of behavior even merited? That is to say, do these groups have the right to be snobby? No one needs the right, and it sort of feels like an unalienable part of life as an upper primate to lord yourself over others. But still, there has to be reasons why these people feel as insulated to outsiders and cling so heavily to one cultural construct.
For music snobs, there really does seem to be a sense of isolation and superiority as a means of establishing a reputation. Most of us have encountered people who listened to certain albums and followed Band X as a way of building up their own personal profile. This is in no way indicative of the pure intentions of music fans the world over, but it’s so often about the bump in status or how these affiliations look to others than the tunes, man.
There is a reason that the idea of hipsters is so fundamentally tied to indie music — that tendency for elitism and for apathetic behavior is best encapsulated by the songs we consume. It’s less about the tunes and more how people use them as a tool. Like a nice suit or waving around a fat stack of cash. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, since music is a construct to be used as people see fit. It just informs so much about modern music consumption and its general flippancy and people’s reactions in general.
Not to paint wrestling snobs in a better, less awful light, but there isn’t really a a sense of hipster-dom in this subculture. These are the guys in high school who never fit in to a single clique, either too lame for the jocks or too cool for the outcasts, stuck alone on their little island of SMW tapes. So it makes sense that as they get older and find the resources to build up personal groups/units, they’d reach out to other wrestling dweebs. It’s snobbery and wall-building as an exercise in self preservation and building meaningful relationships. It’s not always the best way to make friends, and it seems like it would be a way to shun people with a passing interest in wrestling.
But still, even with WWE’s cross-generational appeal as reflected via live events and merch sales, there is still the destructive misnomer that the true wrestling faithful are toothless yokels. So snobbery seems like the best way to distance yourself from a world that doesn’t understand your love of grown men fighting in brightly colored tights. There is something more pure about that, to use art to justify one’s life choices. And I would definitely call this art.
It’s not enough that snobbish behavior is a way to earn societal points or to act as coping mechanism. There’s an end goal for these behaviors that exceeds our own personal biases toward life and art. Snobbery, the act of feeling elite over something, isn’t just pretense; it’s a mastery of something far more valuable: This endless, driving need to celebrate things bigger than ourselves as a way of comforting our own fragile egos.
We tie the human spirit to sports and song and food and pictures and other artifacts because if we don’t, then we’re far too small to matter in comparison. Diving into these pillars of life is a way to land immortality, to exist outside ourselves. Being a snob about your favorite songs or pro wrestlers or gluten-free brownies is the ultimate sign of not just living life but that we’ve helped build something and all that it stands for in the end.
I suppose that sounds a bit scary, like clinging to a tree during a massive flash flood. But I take comfort in it, and I happily embrace my snobbish tendencies. It means I’m simultaneously invested in myself and some grand notion far bigger than I could ever hope to be. Being a jerk about the things I love may not be perceived as generally good, but I would argue that that this mix of appreciation and dedication is ultimately pure if not occasionally misguided. To snob is to live, for lack of a better phrase.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to listen to Wolfgang Voigt and watch old CZW tapes.