...or Men of the Year
From the moment he arrived in AEW, Dan Lambert has adopted the classic heel tactic of insulting the fans based on their personal flaws and insecurities, while attacking the revival of the sport they love, maintaining the ostensible ability to change his mind for a dialectical approach. However, his commentary and the response to it are more significant than just a wrestling promo. They specifically are positioned as an affront to the AEW movement, the revolution bringing this generation modern, storytelling fighters who embrace emotion and social progress, with the counter-revolution of the entrenched interests in favor of toxic masculinity that tells men they have to fall in line.
This represents a growing social divide among young men and this fight symbolizes a fight that is playing out in our communities, especially online with the so-called “Manosphere” of self-help experts who denigrate young men out of their money, sanity, and solidarity. Toxic masculinity-driven ideologies have sadly started to enter into the MMA community and are epitomized by Lambert. The vulnerable young man who views himself as an “Incel” is told he must conform to be like the Men of the Year (or the Men of Years Past, in my opinion) to achieve their desires. However, there is hope: AEW role models like CM Punk bring a new Warrior’s Cry and tell them instead to embrace themselves, show their emotions, and choose a new environment to heal in. To have confidence to criticize a purported moral high ground like Eddie Kingston against Miro. Or to reimagine the true purpose of down-home traditional cowboy strength like Adam “Hangman” Page. (My article on Hangman covers these same subjects extensively.)
The positioning of this specific match between Jericho and Hager versus Sky and Page is surprisingly instructive on how we can fight for the greater good. One of the mottos I hold to in my political communication work is a baseball analogy: “be a pitcher, not a thrower.” In other words, you don’t have to throw the hardest to win you just have to do so in a strategic way, that makes the other side want to swing. It is also true that in many courts of law there is a principle that a party testifying against their own interests is granted great credibility. Both of these principles contribute to the rhetorical jujitsu utilized in working this match. You could take fighters who are emblematic of the movement and put them in as a direct attack on those who are claiming the invalidity of the AEW way. You could have taken a progressive firebrand athlete-activist like Hangman or a creative, skateboarding embodiment of anarchy like Darby Allin to rage against this machine and coffin-drop the insults away. But here we strategically use the least likely enemies, an esteemed MMA fighter and a politically right-leaning veteran of pro wrestling, who testify against their perceived allegiances in favor of AEW. Hager directly calls out the Men of the Year for falling for Lambert’s schtick. He also returns the fitness-related insults (I must note that his weight-based remarks ironically point to ideal weights of MMA fighters of that height) of the AEW fans and athletes by calling Lambert fat-faced while on the other hand you can see the strength and athleticism of Hager and Jericho clearly. Jericho points to the credentials and resolve of his Inner Circle team, engendering confidence in the AEW fan base.
To return to my baseball analogy, this feels like something the opponents are used to and feel comfortable swinging at. It also engages in the woefully underused tactic of creating a viable, facially equivalent replacement for a toxic ideology. You want the MMA fighter? You’ve got him. You want experience and classic strength? You’ve got him too. In the game of building sentiment and creating cultural connection, you never want to seem like you do not have a connection back to the intersectional identity of those who you are communicating with.
It is not as important in the fight for social change to cram down the most polarizing parts of our ideology and tactics as it is to show common ground culturally with a clear, strong, and decisive counterpoint to malevolent ideologies and leaders. Greyson Peltier is the host of The Fixerpunk Podcast, a communications consultant specializing in social impact, and founder of Laguna Beach, CA-based consulting firm Off Speed Solutions. Here, he writes analyses of social movements and subcultures through the lens of kayfabe. Peltier holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California and has been featured by media outlets like Vice, ESPN Radio KLAA, USA Radio Network, and Street Fight Radio.