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    Friday, August 6, 2021

    Max Caster Is Proof That Heels Can Cross a Line


    There’s a lot of discussion surrounding Max Caster’s rap during the August 3 episode of AEW Dark. As The Acclaimed was walking out to the ring, Caster performed a diss track mentioning Simone Biles, who withdrew from the Olympic floor exercises finals to focus on her mental health, a rape joke that referenced the 2006 Duke lacrosse case and went so far as to make fun of Julia Hart’s privates.

    The bit obviously didn’t sit well with several fans and the online backlash prompted AEW to edit it out and reupload AEW Dark on YouTube. Tony Khan admitted on Busted Open Radio a day later that it was distasteful and should never have aired. He also promised that he will oversee editing in future Dark and Elevation episodes to avoid a similar situation.

    If you missed the rap segment, you can watch it below.



    The incident brought up arguments on whether wrestlers like Caster should get away with such comments. Many have said that since he’s a heel, it’s only fair for him to say stuff that would generate “heat” from the audience. And if he managed to get people worked up, then he did his job as a performer. I completely understand that as a fan of various fictional media where characters exist to represent the good and bad in the world. Professional wrestling may be imperfect, but it does the job well if you look at its theatrics.

    That being said, Caster’s rap was still insensitive, and it’s completely valid to point out that he crossed a line when he joked about rape and someone else’s mental health problems. Sure, it was supposed to be mean-spirited, and the wrestler and his team may even be praised for their ballsiness. But when someone or a group of people rightfully calls foul, the response shouldn’t be, “Get over it. It’s heat.” The reality is there are still people who believe it's totally okay to joke about these things without considering how their actions would affect survivors and those with mental health issues, both of whom have to deal with people invalidating their experiences.

    As a female fan, I firmly believe Caster's rap was demeaning and minimizes people's struggles—particularly those of women. It's not being overly sensitive since I know I can't expect wrestling to be politically correct all the time. I just think that if you laugh at such jokes without thinking anything's wrong about it, it reflects on your morals. On a related note, the offending party and people who believe that "heat is heat" don't have the right to tell anyone how to feel when they’re hurt.

    I also don’t think Caster is the only one in the wrong here. This surely went through a series of approvals—from the lyric composition to the episode’s editing. If Tony Khan’s claim that he wasn’t given a heads up is true, then who made the call to approve the final cut? And how come AEW hasn’t publicly addressed this? Plus, the commentary team—particularly face commentator Excalibur—lacked the appropriate reaction, almost audibly laughing it off when it was clearly wrong. Heels are there to piss people off and it's the commentators' job as the voice of the fans watching at home—as well as that of the company—to be the voice of reason and fill in the gaps when needed.

    This begs the question: Should heels be made more palatable to appease wrestling fans? I’m personally not a fan of people saying and doing things for shock value—just for the sole purpose of making people angry—regardless if it makes sense to the story or not. I also acknowledge they shouldn’t be mellowed down since the heels’ job is to evoke strong emotions from the audience. Wrestling is a performance where wrestlers are expected to act a certain way in front of a crowd—they bank on all types of live engagement. As consumers, we’re free to enjoy what we’re watching and still criticize the product and hold the people behind accountable when things get problematic. It’s a sign that we’re not brainwashed by the media we consume (yet). (In addition, when we criticize the product, we do so because we expect and want it to be better. —Ed.)

    Granted, it’s not the responsibility of wrestlers and promotions to tell fans how to discern. But using the “heat is heat” excuse when criticized can be very reductive because discussions on how certain media have the power to hurt and influence people’s beliefs and actions are unavoidable despite wrestling storylines being fictional. This type of content could probably work back in the day or in small-time promotions with a limited audience, but not global-scale companies like AEW.

    It's important to note that AEW has always been open about being a competitor to WWE, which we at Smark Henry respect because they are doing their own thing. But if AEW wants to be held to the same standards as WWE, they should start by exceeding their competitor's baseline, starting with immature and offensive jokes that don't achieve a promo's primary purpose—to put either talent over and to advance their storyline.

    I think one of the reasons it can be hard to suspend one’s disbelief in wrestling is because the line between kayfabe and real life is still blurred. Just like before, some talents still carry their act over into the real world, so no one knows where the character begins and ends. One could argue that fans should know better and separate the act from the real thing, but then you have real people like former U.S. President Donald Trump, who was using heel tactics to troll and demean his critics. To quote a 2016 essay that compared Trump's presidential campaign to pro wrestling, his actions were performative and conveyed lies he believed in to get people with the same right-wing beliefs to support him.

    It’s pretty naive to assume that reality and fiction can’t intertwine in wrestling in some way. What happens in wrestling can have physical, emotional, and societal consequences. Heels can still do their work on the mic and in the ring, but I believe they should learn to step back from their characters. Heel wrestlers like Sami Zayn and Mustafa Ali know when to play the part in real life, and when to dial it back. Remember that heat is a performative act in works of fiction, and no one can use the “But I’m a heel!” card all the time when they’re asked to take accountability for their actions.

    Photo from AEW


    *****


    Jackie Arias (@bouvierx) is a writer and former content creator for a feminist lifestyle website. Aside from casually catching up on wrestling news, you can find her listening to music and playing video games she can never finish while drinking copious amounts of coffee. Her Twitter and CuriousCat are open for story suggestions and comments—or photos of your cats.
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    Item Reviewed: Max Caster Is Proof That Heels Can Cross a Line Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Jackie Arias
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