If There Is an Ethical Way to Watch WWE, It Is Via Piracy

Money in the Bank, WWE’s failed attempt at turning a lukewarm narrative conceit into another stadium show, airs this Sunday on Peacock/WWE Network.

Please do not pay for the pleasure of either means of watching WWE’s product.

Actually, let me walk that back: I love The ‘Cock. It features great shows like Columbo and Murder, She Wrote, as well as terrible shows like The Office.

It’s not the best conglomerate-specific streaming service (the only Jackass content it has are the gang’s various WWE appearances) and paying $9.99 to rid yourself of most advertisements automatically opts you into the WWE Network, but given how broken and unnavigable that aspect of the service is, it’s clear that The ‘Cock had reservations about their multi-billion dollar engagement with WWE.

And well they should have, as I’ve come to be convinced that giving one’s money to World Wrestling Entertainment is, at best, a morally dubious proposition. At worst, patronage makes one complicit in the bad deeds — alleged and confirmed — of a corporate entity that has seemingly tasked itself with being awful to an extent that’s impressive even for an American monopoly.

Raiding Titan Towers

Since becoming the editor of Fanfyte, I have written extensively about how WWE has handled the pandemic, its contributions to the Trump campaign, its treatment of its roster, and its past, and I have been happy to publish critiques of WWE kayfabe and real world transgressions. Frankly, I am surprised that nobody has accused the site of being biased toward AEW or me of being in the company’s pocket, but since whataboutism tends to be a common response to public moral inquiries about WWE, I want to say this quickly before moving on:

This article is about WWE and not AEW, about whom you are capable of drawing your own conclusions and, yes, pirating from. The reason this piece is about WWE and not AEW is pretty simple: no members of the Khan family have, thus far, tweeted their glee about the Supreme Court of the United States of America’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, imperiling the right of people who have uteruses to have an abortion safely and for any reason.

The big gotcha about Linda McMahon’s words and deeds being a reason to boycott WWE is that she hasn’t worked for WWE since resigning as CEO in 2009 to run for United States Senate as a Republican from Connecticut.

She is still a minority owner of a company who makes income off of the stock that she owns, which means that she is still doing what she has been doing since Vince McMahon purchased Capitol Sports from his father in 1982: make money from professional wrestling.

That she left it in an official capacity to fail upwards into a position in Donald Trump’s cabinet and the role of chair of the largest pro-Trump Super PAC is immaterial. The money that allowed her to do so, the money that will allow her to do so in the future, comes from the near-total control she, her husband, and her former employer have enjoyed over their industry.

Besides which, I am not asking you to boycott WWE’s product, I am asking you to pirate it.

Home Taping Is Killing Wrestling

In 1981, the British Phonographic Industry launched a campaign called “Home Taping Is Killing Music.” The mass manufacture and proliferation of blank cassette tapes and devices that could record music onto them from the radio or, if one owned a dual deck stereo, a pre-recorded cassette that was either officially released or itself dubbed from another source, caused panic in the industry because listeners could not only hear music for free, but keep it to listen to at their leisure, outside the jurisdiction of charts and rights fees.

Home taping is killing music

The problem for the BPI and every other entity that’s tried to control piracy via legislation and ad campaigns like “You Wouldn’t Download a Car” is obvious, but they mostly succeed in giving us hard ass logos and memes.

More Professional Wrestling

While often portrayed otherwise, piracy not just about an individual scoring something for free. It can be and frequently is something else. In video games, piracy is a means of preserving games the industry otherwise looks over or doesn’t import from one region to another. Rare films and records proliferate via obscure blogs and Twitter accounts. A generational aesthetic was created through trading wrestling tapes from Japan from person to person.

That’s all well and good, romantic even, but what I’m speaking towards here is piracy as a political act.

Seem ridiculous? It’s not. WWE’s revenue depends upon the creation and distribution of entertainment, most of which requires interested parties to spend money. Raw, NXT 2.0, Premium Live Events, and classic content are all behind various paywalls — cable packages and premium subscriptions to Peacock or Hulu. Smackdown is on Fox, a network station, but if you’re a cable-cutter your options, should you wish to acknowledge Roman Reigns, are services like Hulu and Sling.

WWE is able to partner with these services because the content they create and distribute is completely under their control. Their tape libraries are vast, the amount of new content they create is torrential. It is theirs to license, theirs to chop up and re-market, theirs to let molder while The ‘Cock satisfies itself with new episodes of Steve Austin’s podcast.

But not if you pirate it.

While piracy is portrayed as theft, it’s really duplication. At this very moment, it is likely that the only means of access you have to ECW Heatwave 1998 is Peacock. Say you download it. Now you have two points of access: one controlled by WWE, and one controlled by you. Odds are that unless the uploader doctored the file in some way or uploaded original VHS rips from the 1990s, you have the exact same show that WWE offers on Peacock. You no longer require WWE’s help to access Heatwave 1998. The $9.99 you pay for Peacock is not for access to Heatwave 1998.

Piracy in this instance is the erosion of exclusivity, which is an erosion of the grip WWE has had on its industry for decades. Is it grandiose of me to assert that a small group of people pointedly pirating their way through the WWE video library will hurt WWE in some tangible fashion? Sure, but I’m talking about morality — the dent in their profits is negligible (until enough people are doing it), but “erosion” is a word that implies slow time, that acknowledges that the larger goal lives in the future.

Getting there requires removing oneself from the WWE ecosystem. It’ll feel good, I promise.

Here’s What You Need

It doesn’t take much to pirate WWE content. Boiled down, all you need is a computer and an internet connection. It’s almost too easy. That said, if you’re new, I have some suggestions for how to get started without rawdogging the world wide web.

Buy a big-ass hard drive.

I may be advocating for pirating WWE content as a political act, but I am not asking you to engage in masochism — it’s not like NXT 2.0 needs help finding its way off of network television. WWE owns an absurd amount of wrestling footage, much of which has never appeared on its various streaming outlets.

Like a gamer housing a refugee ROM file of an obscure Game Boy Advance JRPG, you can house World Class Championship Wrestling’s various Christmas and Thanksgiving Star Wars shows, Georgia Championship Wrestling television, the Last Battle of Atlanta, WCW Worldwide, efforts to restore the original music to ECW broadcasts, the good NXT where there was obstacle courses and kissing contests, FCW developmental TV, The Shield’s first run, EVOLVE, and AWA’s WrestleRock Rumble.

This enviable collection will take up a considerable amount of space, so buy an external hard drive specifically for the task. Data is a lot cheaper than it used to be, so if you want to go buckwild and buy a 18TB one, it’ll run you $500. You probably don’t need 18TB though, so there’s no need to be a freak.

Be aware of wrestling torrent trackers and streaming websites.

If you did not know these things existed, you do now. I will not provide links. I am not a narc. If you’re on a torrent tracker, consider seeding. I don’t care about politeness, but the more people who have ECW One Night Stand 2006 on their hard drive, the better.

Use a VPN.

It would be very embarrassing to get a notice from your ISP that you got caught downloading professional wrestling, so using a VPN is essential. Do some research — I was a fool and bought a year’s worth of access to ExpressVPN before finding out that my ISP had blocked it — but putting a layer between you and a torrent is basic, essential infosec. Plus, you can see what Netflix is like in India.

Use an ad blocker.

Extralegal streaming sites are cool, but they are also out to make your computer sick, or at the very least serve up advertisements in numbers more numerous than the stars in the sky. Ad blockers are not a perfect solution to this issue, but they do help.

Approach with a sense of spite.

You have tasked yourself with liberating professional wrestling from the McMahon family. Act like it. While old carnies and podcasters do this through the stories they tell about the things that happened backstage or what should have happened in kayfabe, you are now in the business of preserving one of America’s great artforms, of keeping and sharing it with other likeminded people, of creating copies of material that a billion dollar company would prefer be kept under their control.

Act like it. Watch whatever live shows you want to watch. Download everything that’s of interest to you, even if you never watch it. This is not about watching. It’s about pirating, and pirating in this fashion is about causing harm. Do so indiscriminately.

No Judgement

I have been complicit in supporting WWE for a long time now. They contract a lot of my favorite wrestlers and I cover wrestling for a living, so The ‘Cock has been easy to justify, despite writing and publishing many articles about the personal and professional horrors perpetrated by the McMahons.

I was moving this direction in the wake of WWE’s partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to say nothing of the allegations against Vince McMahon in regards to his use of company funds to pay mistresses for their silence, and moved closer when Rita Chatterton’s accusation that McMahon raped her reemerged with a corroborating story by former WWF jobber Mario Mancini.

Linda McMahon’s tweet about Roe v. Wade pushed me over the edge.

I am sickened by my complicity in her transition to politics, backed by money she and her husband made by creating an unchallenged monopoly that they took public in 1999. I am sad that I have participated in wrestling fan culture’s ability to look past the McMahon’s issues for the sake of their content, for the sake of making memes and writing jokes that have made it possible to soft pedal their image as just another aspect of a scummy industry.

More Professional Wrestling

I’m not saying that I’m going to steal WWE content, but I do have a big hard drive, and it does have a folder titled “Wrestling.”

You have a line. I promise you this. WWE may not have crossed it yet, but they will. When they do, do not leave their ecosystem. Change your role within it. WWE may control professional wrestling, but they do not control you, nor do they control what you can take from them.

Take everything, like Corey Feldman in the wishing well in The Goonies. Wrestling does not belong to WWE, the same as those coins did not belong to the well. You don’t have to stand back and watch the company burn — you can help it do so.