Blog: Mike Quackenbush (11.17.16)
Got a letter that was kinda angry, but also, kinda true.
It’s true that when I was first breaking on the East Coast independent scene I was different, and by wrestling standards of the day, small. I was 19 years old, dumb, gawky and immature; I liked weird wrestling styles and did overly-complicated moves and showed up in my pathetic homemade gear. People rolled their eyes, and I was often the punchline of jokes. In the locker room, it was always made clear I did not belong. I was made to know it backstage, and sometimes, made to feel it in the ring.
Back then, I was starting as a freelance writer for the wrestling magazines of the day. Insider newsletters were growing in popularity to keep pace with the Monday Night Wars, and the internet was expanding exponentially. I had connections in all those realms, and it’s true that I manufactured my notoriety. I manipulated every aspect of the media that was available to me for maximum exposure and coverage. I did it shamelessly. There’s no denying the truth of that.
It’s true that I was never one of the boys. The generation of pro-wrestlers, and managers, and valets, that think the only way to honor tradition and legacy is by clinging to the old ways of doing things…I will never be one of them. The performers who were hand-selected, because of their size and stature, and then afforded every opportunity at success by the old guard…I will never be one of them. That old paradigm has no room for an undersized nerd with a pathetic homemade costume and weird ideas about “the business." For that reason, and for so many more, I will never be one of them. It’s so true.
I think about the favored few, those well-tanned guys and their awesome physiques, and those gorgeous ladies and their perfect poise, and me - the awkward neurotic freak in their midst. They were not my tribe. I’ve always been a misfit toy and no matter how hard I work, that will never change…and I guess in the intervening decades I forgot that. I needed to be reminded, and luckily, this letter said just that in explicit terms that could not be ignored.
Thank you. Thank you for reminding me not just that I am an outcast, but also the feeling of being ostracized. You’ve given me new resolve. This simple reminder of the sting of exclusion makes it so clear to me that pro-wrestling must grow to include everyone. These last couple days have been filled with impossibly complicated decisions and conversations, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t second-guessed the things I’ve said and done. It’s been so hard. But nowhere near as hard as it was to swim with the sharks that mocked me, and pummeled me. Thank you for the insults and the lumps that have made me who I am today. Thank you for excluding me, so that I could grow up to learn the value of inclusion.
I’m not that gawky kid in the homemade gear anymore. And better still: I’ve found my tribe. Because I’ve spoken loud enough and often enough about what I believe professional wrestling can be, I’ve attracted a tribe all my own. So many misfit toys in one place, we are practically an island unto ourselves. We are not the hand-selected. We are not the favored few. We will never be one of them, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. I had only to read this letter, and then it Dawned on me: my responsibility is to manipulate and manufacture an island where no misfit toy will ever feel the alienation that I did.
Ideologies like the one in this letter, they are relics of the past. And yes, the old paradigm has written the history books. But the future? That is ours to write.
Blog: Mike Quackenbush (11.14.16)
The events of the last few days have been just cause to take a look at the state of professional wrestling. The art form that I love, and have dedicated my entire adult life to, is embarrassingly behind the times. It is beholden to outdated tenets that threaten to render it...obsolete at worst, and a punchline at best.
I know there are others, influential and celebrated, that imagine pro-wrestling to be a bubble in which the social norms from a bygone era are still relevant and valid. At CHIKARA, we rail against them, and those ideals, with everything we make. It is one thing to speak, to voice an opinion. It is one thing to call for change, to wish for change, to imagine how that change might come about. It is another thing to make it. At CHIKARA, we make it happen. It doesn’t matter to us in the least how many people show up to see it, or how many people recognize it for what it is. Our mantra is not about critical acclaim or pats on the back: “We believe pro-wrestling should be fun. That’s why we make it for everyone.”
Effective today, we are terminating our relationship with Joey Styles. Effective today, we are instituting a zero tolerance policy for misogynistic, racist, and/or homophobic speech, written or verbal, whether it’s directed toward our cast, our crew, or our patrons. This is the shape of CHIKARA.
To all that craft and shape pro-wrestling, we must fully understand this: the patrons of our art form demand more of us. It is to them - those that empower us to create the larger-than-life spectacle of professional wrestling - that we are beholden. Not to an archaic sub-culture made up of turn-of-the-last-century carny values.
The time for us to do away with antiquated and insulting vocabulary, like the term “mark,” is right now.
The time for us to relinquish any last vestige of power we’ve given to outmoded wrestling rhetoric is right now.
The time for us to draw a line in the sand, and to say this is where we stand on equality and integration in our art form, is right now.
The patrons of our amazing art form deserve not just our respect, but our thoughtful presence of mind in 2016 and beyond. We owe nothing to “the business.” The people our antecedents called “marks” are not handing us their dollars because they fail to understand what it is we truly make - they support us in spite of it. They come because they know our kind of live entertainment is a viable art form, not some midway hustle. They come for an inclusive experience where they can be bolstered by a passionate community of like-minded fans.
At CHIKARA, we love pro-wrestling every bit as much as our fans do. We love it so much, we want it to change. Let’s take a step toward a world where we need not be subject to any type of hate speech, and that the only violence we witness is of the neatly choreographed variety.