Learning the Ropes
This case study reveals how complex and multifaceted the professional wrestling fandom is through the exploration of one fairly typical fan community, the Wrestling Boards. Interest in professional wrestling brings members of this community together online, often aided by a lack of local community, encouraging participants to seek out new places to explore their interest.
Community members support each other and welcome new members, with peers coming together to encourage one another. The peer support of the community fosters a learning environment that encourages exploration and skill development. Although professional wrestling often is viewed as antiacademic and lacking in intellectual rigor, this case study brings to light the level of involvement participants have and the types of skills and level of expertise required to participate.
The Wrestling Boards offers participants a safe and supportive environment to explore their interest in wrestling, as well as utilizing academic skills in support of their interest. These academically and career-relevant skills, such as writing, digital media skills (i.e., videography, website design), and communication skills are developed and strengthened through feedback given by peers in the community.
The community exists because of its members’ interest and dedication to production. The activities of the community are completely production-centered, focused on discussion, argumentation, and narrative in writing. The openly networked nature of the community allows fans to come together despite being isolated by geography. The members of the Wrestling Boards use the support of the community, which fosters respect and friendship, as a way to overcome their isolation, which is due to local social stigma surrounding their interest in professional wrestling. The members have a shared purpose of participating in and maintaining the forum, and they are dedicated to maintaining high standards and an educational mission.
As a connected learning environment, the community allows everyone to participate with low barriers to entry. Learning in the community happens through participation and engagement. The Wrestling Boards offers its members new challenges because of the changing story lines of WWE and new participation opportunities in the community. The connectedness within the community and between it and the Internet wrestling community demonstrate that the Wrestling Boards gives members many ways to be interconnected and to participate in their interest.