Trending in USA
I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a Twitter user. I prefer Facebook for my social media discussions on wrestling, so my Twitter account really only serves as a promotional tool (and I wanted to make sure no one else got @buckwoodward besides me). When I logged on earlier this week, and saw the name “Cornette” was trending, I didn’t think for a minute it was Jim Cornette. Surely, it was the name of a town in the news, or perhaps a political figure… then I went on my Facebook account and found out that, yes, indeed it was the one and only James E. Cornette, legendary manager of the Midnight Express, founder of Smoky Mountain Wrestling and who in recent years has appeared for Impact and MLW while also becoming known for his podcast rants.
For those that missed it, Jordynne Grace, best known for her work in Impact Wrestling, had made a tweet in March of 2018 giving the opinion that wrestling should be called “performance art” rather than referring to it as a sport. Almost a year and a half later, a Twitter user replied in the negative, and tagged Cornette (who is seen by many as being fully entrenched in the old school ways of wrestling) in his response. When another user referred to Grace as “what’s her face” in a tweet, Cornette called her “butterface” and we were off to the races. Cornette and Grace traded insults, with supporters and detractors of both quick to join in, and soon Cornette was one of the top trends on Twitter.
The wrestling world quickly moved on from this story (in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of interesting things are going on in the industry this week), but it demonstrated the power of social media. A tweet from March of 2018 resulted in Jim Cornette being a top trend for a brief period in August 2019 and, with all due respect, gave Grace more attention from the wrestling media than her Impact run or being the only female in the Over Budget Battle Royal at the All In Pay-per-view last year. It remains to be seen if this little Twitter tussle can be monetized by either participant, however it made me think about the positives and negatives that Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets have brought to wrestling in the last dozen years or so. What is the Good, Bad and Ugly for wrestlers on social media?
Good – Self-Promotion. Prior to social media, wrestlers’ careers were held in the hands of promoters and bookers. You could have amazing matches, but if the promoter wasn’t advertising the show well, those amazing matches were only seen by 30 fans. You could have a spot in a major company, but if the booker wasn’t giving you TV time or opportunities to shine, you couldn’t do much to stand out from the pack. Social media allows wrestlers to plug the shows they are appearing on, get their name out there, and becomes a presence in the minds of fans. Wrestlers who aren’t posting about where they are appearing next are missing a golden opportunity to grow their following and build an audience to support them.
Bad – Once you put it out there, you can’t take it back. Context of what a person tweets is important, and there’s numerous examples of people tweeting something, realizing it didn’t come across right, and then spending time explaining what they “meant” initially. Worse, there are tweets that, on second thought, are just bad moves to make. The tweet gets deleted, but someone has already taken a screenshot of it, and their momentary lapse of reason is on display for everyone to see. This past week Kalisto tweeted “10 months… #freeagent” and despite taking it down a short time later, fans had seen it, and it was reported on and reposted in numerous areas. Maybe WWE asked Kalisto to remove it, maybe he took it down on his own, but either way, the tweet probably got more attention because it was pulled than if it had stayed up.
Ugly – Don’t cross the boss. Freedom of speech does not guarantee you freedom against the consequences of what you say. Now, wrestling has a rich history of people having short memories, and grudges can quickly be forgotten when there is an opportunity to make money. That said, you shouldn’t expect a promoter to put you on their show after you disparaged their building, or a top star to let you “get your stuff in” after you mocked their matches or interviews (and it wasn’t part of a storyline). Maybe your talent and drawing power will get you another chance but biting the hand that feeds you is usually a poor choice in any business.
Good – Character Development. Storylines aren’t just for television anymore. Sure, if you are given a 15-minute segment on Raw or a promotion’s web broadcast, you can set up matches and know the audience is following any changes in your persona. However, if your television time is limited (or non-existent), social media gives a wrestler a chance to develop, explore and expand their character and story. Instead of just having a match on an upcoming show, the bout can be given some sort of backstory, and if even only a third of the live audience is aware of it, their enthusiasm and interest can end up being contagious to the rest of the crowd.
Bad – Everyone’s a critic. Social media gives everyone a voice, and if you can’t handle criticism, you might just want to stay away. A segment of Raw or Smackdown doesn’t go by without fans commenting, with the views ranging from overwhelming praise to heated, angry damnation. Posting a link to a match or interview you want to be seen will be met with joy… and disdain. Unfortunately, the negative voices can seem to drown out the positive, and to be blunt, there is a whole online industry based on criticizing and finding fault in everything. While some do this humorously, others aren’t playing for laughs.
Ugly – If you can’t monetize it, what’s the point? For those that are, why are you a wrestler? Probably because you have a passion for it. That’s great, and if you just want to think of it as a hobby, so be it. However, wrestling is a business, and your goal should be to make a living in the industry. If you’re making the effort of using social media, it should be to expand your brand, get more bookings, sell more merchandise and further your career. Social media can be a monumental time waster, or it can be another part of building your passion into a full-time business. If you’re not looking to monetize your online presence, then you might as well go play Minecraft or Fortnite instead.
Good – Engage the fans. As previously mentioned, wrestling is a business, and it is based around the fans. They watch the shows, buy the tickets and merchandise, and their support is what ultimately makes or breaks careers. Social media allows wrestlers to directly engage with the fans. In many ways, it makes these larger than life performers “human” and relatable, which can result in a stronger emotional connection from the audience. It is that connection that will have fans traveling to see a performer live, wearing their t-shirts, and complaining (loudly) when their favorites aren’t getting a push. Engaging the fans is a simple grassroots way to build your following.
Bad – Work, shoot or both? In 1989, Vince McMahon stated to the New Jersey Senate that wrestling was “providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide athletic contest,” confirming that the industry was, to use the “smart” term, a work. However, in 1996, the late Brian Pillman famously showed that you could still make people believe aspects of the business were real, or “a shoot” (fooling even those behind the curtains). Where does social media fit in? Should it be a continuation of the characters and stories on television and in the ring, or should these men and women use their Twitter and Facebook accounts to give their followers a look into their “real life” away from the squared circle? Should a wrestler be trying to “work” the fans into believing something is a “shoot” when it isn’t? It is a decision for each wrestler to make, and followers will praise or damn them regardless of how they choose to go. Some want the illusion to never end, while others will feel insulted. You can’t please everyone.
Ugly – Psycho fans. Let’s just state it like it is. When you post items on social media, you are inviting the world to respond and follow, and that includes a subset of individuals who may become “too committed” to responding and following. I once attended a wrestling convention where a fan tried five different ways to ask a female performer what town she lived in. It was beyond creepy. As a wrestler, you want fans to come see your matches, but you don’t necessarily want them following you around Target while you are shopping for school supplies with your children. Opening yourself up on social media has benefits, but there is a less savory, and to be blunt, dangerous side to revealing too much about yourself for the world to see.
Thanks to everyone who checked out last week’s column, “Macho Madness: What Set Randy Savage Apart (And Still Does).” It is available in the Pro Wrestling section here at WebIsJericho.com.