Newsletter Special Feature #5
WhatCulture Content Producer
Michael Hamflett has risen to prominence in the Internet Wrestling Community since WhatCulture expanded their podcasting schedule in mid-2018. As one half of the, Jack the Jobber dubbed, ‘Dadley Boyz’ with his colleague Michael Sidgwick, Hamflett is a regular on a range of WhatCulture Wrestling podcasts.
WhatCulture has always produced high quality content but few would disagree that the work of the ‘Dadley Boyz’ has raised the bar even further. Michael Hamflett’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s biggest wrestling company combined with his wit, humour and strong sense of social justice enriches any podcast he appears on.
Michael Hamflett makes regular appearances on WhatCulture’s Wrestling podcasts usually alongside Michael Sidgwick and expert host Adam Wilbourn including preview shows, review shows, the Get the Table roundtable show and very occasional WrestleCulture appearances. He also writes articles for the WhatCulture website many of which are turned into videos for the YouTube channel.
Hello Michael and thank you for taking part in this interview! Can you give a bit of a summary of you path as a wrestling critic, ending up as a writer and podcaster for WhatCulture Wrestling?
Thanks for having me! My path is strange in that it had long stopped being my path when I found it again. I’d written on and off for years on websites that were part of the relatively primitive Internet Wrestling Community in the early 2000s, but those places were rarely stable and never paid. They coincided with my years at College and University doing English/Media A-Levels and a Degree in Journalism, but writing as a hobby didn’t pay the bills so I got jobs in IT, administration etc and virtually gave up any even faint hopes that I could do it for a living.
A friend pointed me towards WhatCulture in 2016 as they were looking for freelancers, and I got the bug back really quickly. I was fortunate enough to be offered a full time after submitting a few pieces, and lucky again that the company was local. Being in the office all the time was a thrill as wrestling became the job as well as the hobby, and gradually further opportunities such as the odd videos and eventually the podcasts sprung up alongside producing daily content for the site.
Myself and Sidgwick bonded in my first hour on my first day in a memory I genuinely treasure - he had a brilliant early-90s Sting t-shirt that I complimented him on, and when he mentioned where he’d found it I told him how I’d bought some Twin Peaks merch from the same place. I couldn’t have known, but he loves that show as much/even more than wrestling, and we already had two things to break the ice. Then we learned we were the same age, both had kids, both loved Bret Hart, and on it went. It was a year or so later when Adam Wilbourn asked us both to join him in doing some podcasts he was working tirelessly on. Because we had our own in-built chemistry and he’s a truly exceptional broadcaster that put us both at ease, it seemed to click quickly.
What is your ultimate goal with the content you create, do you have plans for the future or do you have a deliberate aim with the kind of content you produce?
I don’t plan a lot long term beyond making sure I’m still passionate about whatever I’m covering at the time. Luckily, I personally don’t find that particularly difficult. Ideas for articles and podcast roundtables tend to be a collaborative effort between those producing it and WhatCulture management, but that’s a process I’m mostly grateful for.
I imagine it’s the same in any job of this nature but it takes a short while to find a comfort zone to be completely yourself, and (wanky as this sounds) to find your “voice” in articles and podcasts. It’s not a conscious thing, but my feelings towards wrestlers, matches, events etc change from time to time, as does my writing style or what I’d choose to highlight on a podcast.
In terms of deliberate aims, occasionally I’ve used (and some would say abused!) my platform just to talk glowingly about things I love that I think might be fun to share with others. Getting to sing the praises of Sean Waltman, Kevin Nash and other favourites is amazing, because they were pariahs when I started writing about wrestling in 2000. NXT bringing In Your House back gave me an excuse to cover a lot of New Generation stuff and the opportunity to smash a few myths about that era. And more Bret Hart content. Everybody should always be striving to be doing more Bret stuff.
How has creating content about wrestling changed the way that you watch wrestling?
I watch even more than I ever did, and I always thought I watched a lot. I’d just gotten into NJPW when I started working at WhatCulture, and getting to cover the G1 (I reviewed every single match of the 2018 and 2019 tournaments for the website) meant no more skimming! By the mid-2010s I watched NXT avidly but Raw and SmackDown would often be confined to YouTube highlight packages on commutes and reading/listening to results later in the week. After starting this job (and especially when we started the daily review podcasts) I made a point to never read a write-up or listen to another review before we’d done ours. It means having to find space between work and parenting to watch all those original first-run hours a week, but it’s a fair trade for it being part of my job.
New (or old, but new to me) wrestling seeps into the working day almost every day too, through researching things I might be less familiar with for articles or during podcast prep. The pops are just the same, as are the eye-rolls, I’m just in the nice position to be able to talk or write about them after the fact. I’m still a pretty big mark, really. I was gladly buying t-shirts and tickets before and have continued to since.
You are the ‘WWE shill’ on the Wednesday Night ‘War’ podcasts, what is it about WWE that has led you to remain a fan when some many others have given up?
Habit, comfort, and sometimes genuinely earnestly still liking what I’m watching. I’m a clichéd WWE lifer in that regard. I always liken Vince McMahon’s version of wrestling - whatever it might be at the time - to a cigarette, in that if it hooks you young enough it’ll hook you forever. I love going to gigs and am a Sunderland AFC fan but beyond those things wrestling has been my only consistent hobby for 30 years. Every Birthday or Christmas present as a kid was a figure, a video or magazine. I’m culturally illiterate compared to so many people I know because I subconsciously frame virtually everything through the lens of stupid WWE. If somebody mentions something from 2010, my brain drops images of The Nexus or The Miz winning the WWE Title into my mind’s eye.
I’ve got a ridiculous memory for odd insignificant events in my life because I relate it to a wrestling show around that time. What’s nice now is that I can own how much it defines me, rather than just steaming into one of my former office jobs on Day One and asking alarmed colleagues what they thought of Raw the night before.
I don’t judge anybody for not being able to stick with it, and am aware I’m probably a rule-proving exception as somebody that’s never ever switched off. First and foremost it should be an escape, and if it doesn’t provide that service people should find something else that does.
‘Be born earlier’ is a phrase that comes up on the podcast often. How has wrestling changed during your fandom, for better and for worse?
That phrase is a bit of fun, obviously, but we’re mindful that WWE has had a pretty tight control of the narrative for the last 20 years and some listener/viewer feedback sometimes reveals the impact of that. This sounds hugely egotistical and I imagine everybody has their own version of this, but I feel like during my formative years, WWE was curated entirely for me. I was 5 years old when The Ultimate Warrior’s wash of neon blew my mind. I was a few years older when Bret Hart trained me how to appreciate the art without me even realising he was doing it. I was a teenager when the New World Order were the coolest thing going, when I first caught sight of ECW, or when Steve Austin swore and drank and the Sunny and Sable cover shoots made my Dad too embarrassed to buy Raw Magazine for me. It all seemed to fit exactly where I was, and when that stopped at some point in the mid-2000s, I couldn’t discern if that was about my age, or the product as a whole.
As much as I’ve never stopped being able to find some enjoyment, I often wonder how those types of symbiotic relationships were formed between wrestlers and fans from about 2002 onwards. I’ve no doubt they existed, but the monopoly changed WWE’s business model from star-driven to brand orientated. I still get knocked loopy by some of the things the company has trained fans to care about that I don’t believe matter at all – General Managers, what it means to work for WWE, idolising/fearing McMahons, bending over backwards to put over legends – but you risk becoming a Seymour Skinner if you assume entirely that your way was the only correct one.
How do you manage the demands of content creation on your mental health, how do you manage your Twitter presence and how are you affected by positive and negatives feedback online?
We have an absolutely fantastic (and growing, thankfully!) community of regular podcast listeners, so negative feedback is minimal and almost always in good faith. YouTube comments are a different beast, but I’ve never taken anything personally. I’ll instantly share the most caustic ones about something I’ve said or how I look with my friends in various WhatsApp groups too, because they’re typically too funny not to.
My relationship with Twitter is odd, as I know the supposed benefits of it are completely artificial, damaging and fundamentally flawed...yet I’m still always on there anyway. Working at WhatCulture has helped, in that I was able to curate my experience to be almost entirely wrestling based and it reminds me a bit of going on forums when I was younger. You can chuck an opinion of a show out there, people reply, and you have a conversation. Or see something cool somebody else has posted, and jump in yourself. I love that element of it. It’s relatively succinct, it’s the sharing of knowledge, opinions, information, clips and images, and then it’s gone. In that regard, better the chat be about wrestling than something that actually matters. I sympathise with people that lose their days to trying to save the world on there. Their intentions are clearly so good, but so little ever gets solved.
I’d like it to go away one day – I'm not on Facebook but people say that’s a bit of a graveyard now. I’d have no problem with that happening to Twitter just to show all along that all the numbers it uses to consume people’s time were of little significance after all. I’d like it not to be as big a thing by the time my kids are old enough to want it.
‘Wrestler X was named in the Speaking Out movement’ has become a very serious ‘catchphrase’ of yours. You have explicitly stated how important it is that we don’t allow the industry to move past the reprehensible actions of talented in-ring performers. What are your thoughts on this?
That happened entirely by accident, but it’s something I’m already rethinking because the last thing I wanted was that “catchphrase” tag being attached to it. I also became aware that without any other context of follow-through, it resulted some people in the replies getting trapped in conversations they didn’t expect. It’s an extremely delicate subject, and though I thought it worth mentioning as regularly as possible in a way that only stated actual facts, it wasn’t my intention to create a mini-forum for online verbal abuse or hate.
Fundamentally, it’s all totally awful and extremely difficult to approach, which only makes it more amazing that anybody had the incredible bravery to come forward and speak out in the first place. The lack of transparency from within the industry after the fact has only made things worse, and harder to engage with. In a professional capacity, there can’t be a word or line or name remotely out of place or you risk possibly libelling, defaming or slandering somebody. I choose to believe victims and survivors, and the nine words were as much a way of explaining why I myself simply could not suspend disbelief about performers based what I personally chose to take from the allegations. There was a strong sense of collectivism and support at the time, and only in the months and years to come will we all know what – if any – impact any of that has made.
Are there any stories or insider information from your time at WhatCulture or otherwise that you would like to share with the readers?
Boring answer and not really insider info, but on a personal note I’m tremendously proud to work at WhatCulture. I can appreciate why all the stuff we do might not be for everybody, but being on the inside and getting to see just how hard so many extremely talented people work at producing as much as we do is as big a privilege now as it was when I started nearly four years ago. I don’t know the first thing about comics or games, but I’m dazzled by the knowledge our teams have on those subjects, and I aspire to be thought of in the exact same way about wrestling.
Also I’m the best pool player in the office but cursed by my lack of competitiveness, so my head goes to bits when it really counts. And I do not look like Walter.
Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelHamflett