A central plank of Anselm’s Ontological Argument for the existence of God is the claim that it is greater to exist in reality than in the mind alone. Simplifying somewhat, Anselm reasons that this, along with the idea that God is the greatest being we can conceive of, leads us unavoidably to the conclusion that God exists.
When I teach this argument, one thing that we talk about is whether this claim is true. Expectations are hard to meet: sometimes imagined holidays are better than real ones; and imagined jobs are better than real ones! The pictures we paint with our minds sometimes leave reality somewhat wanting. Thoughts like this led some philosophers – like Plato – to hold that the reality we inhabit is but a pale imitation of ‘true’ reality, which we cannot see or feel.
I was thinking about this in the context of the monumental launch of All Elite Wrestling’s new TV show, AEW Dynamite, last night.
Since it was announced in early 2019, AEW has represented something of huge significance to many pro wrestling fans, in different ways. For some it holds the promise of a better pro wrestling show than what they’ve become accustomed to after years of WWE dominance. For others it heralds a call back to the Monday Night Wars of the late 90s, where multiple major wrestling companies made for improved product all round. For some it is more about a different style and presentation from WWE, and the company’s promising to be better about its handling and presentation of social justice issues than its enormous counterpart.
In short, AEW has a lot to live up to. Some of the expectations are ones it has actively cultivated, and others are projections from its audience. Now it is reality. There have been pay per views so far, of course, but this was the first look at the reality of the week-to-week shows. What previously occurred in the occasional oasis now takes on a more regular form.
This is where the challenge lies. When it was just a dream, a fantasy, which only occasionally punctuated the ordinary lives of pro wrestling fans, AEW was a divine herald of all that is good about pro wrestling. Magic moments like Moxley’s debut and the drama of the Cody-Dustin match at Double or Nothing shone like beacons of hope. They represented the promise of something different; of a world beyond WWE. AEW also promised better handling of race and gender issues, exemplified in Nyla Rose, a trans performer of Native American descent, competing to be the first AEW women’s champion.
When it wasn’t real, when it was mainly just a fantasy, AEW could be all things to pro wrestling fans. It could be the promise of hope; of change; of a pro wrestling show that really was for everyone. Now that it’s real, though, entangled in the grubbiness of human reality, does it become just another pro wrestling company?
I ask this because, despite enjoying the debut episode of AEW Dynamite tremendously, there were some let downs. In particular, for a company that has promised to make women’s wrestling on a par with men’s wrestling, the fact that the match crowning the inaugural women’s champion was not the main event of the show was a disappointment. It made the women’s title feel less important than the men’s title, which was given the main event of a pay per view for its inaugural crowning match.
Moreover, the main event of Dynamite wasn’t even a men’s title match (not to say that that would have justified it), it was a six-man tag.
Given the way that played out, you can see why they wanted that match on last given that it involved a lot of big name interference and a surprise debut, but these were all parts of the men’s division. I can’t help but feel that the show should have been built around the crowning of the first women’s champion, and that the match doing so should have been the main event, and the culmination of the show. That it wasn’t immediately makes the women’s title feel less important not just than the men’s title, but than the men’s division in general.
Anyway, here’s the thing. I’m griping about it now. It’s become real. It’s become something we can pick holes in and wish could be better in various ways. It’s failed to live up to expectations in at least one way, even if it matched or exceeded expectations in others. That’s inevitable, of course, and we shouldn’t expect anything more from anything that is real. But it’s no longer a fantasy, an ideal, a vision of how things could be different and better that is untarnished by the realities and practicalities of putting on a live TV show every week.
For that, confusingly, I’m a little bit sad, even though I am very excited to have a great pro wrestling show to watch every Wednesday. Sometimes it’s surprisingly hard when dreams become reality, and we’re forced to replace the images in our minds with the real ones in front of us.
One question I’ll be really interested to keep in mind as AEW’s weekly shows progress is whether a new vision of hope will emerge to take the fantastical place AEW occupied in the minds of pro wrestling fans, or whether AEW Dynamite will prove to show that, like Anselm thought, it really is better to exist in reality than the mind alone.