AEW Revolution, Aristotle, and the Value of Friendship

This last weekend I was lucky enough to attend AEW Revolution in Chicago, which was my first AEW live show. I was planning to be in town already to attend the American Philosophical Association Central Division conference to collect an award for my book The Metaphysics of Truth (more on that in another post soon!), and managed to snag a ticket when they went on sale.

Revolution was an incredible show, with fantastic athleticism, and deep storytelling. It saw the crowning of a new AEW World Champion, when Jon Moxley defeated Chris Jericho, and a series of fantastic matches. While I will remember all of it for a long time, the match that really moved me in a way that I can’t remember many wrestling matches doing was the tag team title match between Adam Page and Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks.

The lead up to the match was a story of friendship, and the challenges we face when friendships are strained. The match was about what happens when they seemingly break down altogether. But it was also about the competing values of different friendships, and how bonds are forged in adversity.

The four men in the match were members of ‘The Elite‘, a group of friends that have travelled the world, and many different promotions together, before being significant founding members of AEW. The Young Bucks, Nick and Matt Jackson, are a world beating tag team, and their opponents were Kenny Omega and Hangman Adam Page. The build up to the match had seen Page in particular causing apparent disruption in the harmony of this group of friends. The match was set when the Bucks won a battle royal to take on the tag team champions, Omega and Page.

Perhaps what interested me the most was the development of Page and Omega’s team, and the different perspectives Page’s actions could be viewed from. From the Bucks’ point of view, they couldn’t understand why their friend had become aggressive and standoffish with them. From Page’s point of view, he couldn’t understand why his friends wouldn’t rejoice in his success and allow him the freedom he asked for, instead coming after him for his titles. The animosity between Page and the Bucks spilled over early on in the match, and there was great intensity between him and Matt Jackson in particular. Both sides went beyond what you’d expect friends to do to each other in a wrestling match, breaking out moves and aggression usually reserved for hated enemies.

And in the middle of all this was Kenny Omega: Page’s tag team partner, and also great friend of the Young Bucks. Omega’s loyalties have been challenged the most, as he tried to keep the peace between his friends. In this match, the Bucks’ frustration with Page spilled over to Omega, as they also took out their aggression on him, seemingly attempting to severely damage his arm, and drawing boos from the crowd in the process.

This seemed to forge a newly strengthened bond between Page and Omega. Now they were both fighting for their titles having both suffered at the hands of the Bucks. It was almost vindication for Page: the Bucks had been revealed as what he suspected all along, and it was he, not them, who really cared for Omega. The most heartwarming moment of the match was a demonstration of precisely this, when Omega, due to his injured arm, couldn’t perform his One Winged Angel finisher. Page, in a moment of touching camaraderie, tagged himself in and performed the move himself. Definitely reminded me of another famous friendship moment:

Page and Omega won, and after the match the Bucks offered Kenny Omega a hand.

Page left and stood on the ring apron, looking on, seemingly offering Omega a choice. Omega reluctantly took the Bucks’ hand, but, after a tease of Page attacking him as a result, left arm in arm with Page. Has Omega realized what Page did about the Bucks; has he seen the depth of Page’s friendship with him? Time will tell.

Anyhow, it was a wonderful meditation on the trials of friendship, and it made me think of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In my book Philosophy Smackdown I talk about Aristotle’s general theory of virtue and how it relates to pro wrestling, but this match made me think about his philosophical work specifically on friendship.

In his famous work Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote a lot about the good life, and the role of friendship in it. He distinguished between three different kinds of friendship:

(1) Friendship for utility, where people are friends because of the uses they have for each other (e.g. you might be friends with someone as you both work together and it helps if you get along)

(2) Friendship for pleasure, where people are friends because of the pleasure they get from one another (e.g. you might be friends with someone as they make you laugh)

(3) Friendship of Virtue, where people are friends because of the good that they see in each other. (e.g. when you are friends with someone because you deeply appreciate their virtues as a person)

Kinds (1) and (2) are quite common, but don’t count as genuine friendship for Aristotle, party because the friendships are only there because they serve some further end. In kind (1), if we are friends just because we can get things from each other, then that friendship is not very strong, as once those uses cease, so does our friendship. Likewise with (2): if we cease to enjoy hanging out together, or if you don’t find me funny any more, then our friendship will end too.

The only genuine kind of friendship for Aristotle is (3), as the friendship is based on an appreciation of the intrinsic nature of the other person, not on what that person can do for you. As a result, it is a bond that can withstand material changes in situations, or even times when you don’t see find a person particularly enjoyable to be around.

When it comes to Page and Omega’s friendship, this match seemed to be where a possibility for thinking of their friendship in this third, deeper, way opened up. Doubtless there have been elements of (1) and (2) in their friendship so far: they enjoyed each other’s company as members of The Elite, and have a clear use for each other insofar as they both want to be tag team champions, but their actions when both faced with the same peril seemed to forge a bond where their virtues were allowed to flourish.

Omega was able to see Page not as a loose cannon, but as a driven, skilled, and courageous person, whose willingness to help him when he needed it came from a place of genuine care and respect. Their friendship enabled Omega (and us, the audience) to see Page’s virtues in ways that they had perhaps been hidden before. Perhaps, then, there is a chance for Page and Omega to emerge not just as a great tag team, but as genuine friends in Aristotle’s sense, which is a rare thing. We’ll see what happens, but this is a captivating story.

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