Douglas Mitchell

Musician / Entertainer / Host

Your Catharsis Isn't Necessarily My Catharsis (Or Is It)

    In the eastern United States, there is an extreme wrestling promotion called Combat Zone Wrestling (or CZW). What makes CZW unique is that instead of a bouncy ring mat, and fake-ish fighting like in the more mainstream wresting, real blood is spilled. In the CZW Deathmatch, wrestlers use bats with barbed wire, a bed of nails, fluorescent light tubes, and they even have a round where the wrestlers use items (or weapons) brought by the audience. 

    For the curious, VICE has a short doc on the CZW and what it entails called Inside America’s Most Violent Wrestling Deathmatch. I found myself initially fascinated by the chance to look into a world far from my own, but soon began feeling removed from my own sense of inner calm, and I didn’t like it. I closed the browser tab saying out loud to myself “your catharsis isn’t mine” and moved on to something else. 

    And yet, here I am a couple of hours later still thinking about it.   

    What drew me to it in the first place? I wouldn’t consider myself interested in much of the fighting sports many people are devoted to, at least not the ones where the possibility of someone getting injured or worse is even a small part of the draw. I think growing up with quite a bit of transition (family, schools, homes, cities) and the insecurities that accompany that, I found myself often simply trying to find peace and equilibrium. Schoolyard fights were always both exciting and upsetting for me. On the one hand I disliked violence of any sort (and still do), but on the other, life can be a bitch in the depths of any system - especially the public school system where authority and obedience come before personal empowerment, and a fight was almost always exciting for multiple reasons:

  1. It’s against the rules.
  2. Even though fights can build for days/weeks/months, they are still unplanned and spontaneous.
  3. There was likely someone I knew involved, so I probably had a stake in the outcome - and with that an inevitable degree of catharsis of some sort.
  4. It’s unpredictable. The outcome was always an unknown that would unfold as the consequences would naturally occur, get handed out, and sometimes lives would change as a result. Real life right before my eyes!

    In the shorter view, these were bigger stakes than the score of a test, or being in a class where someone would lip off the teacher (that was a mixed bag of fun - often depending on whether you liked the teacher receiving the insolent attempt at undermining). But I knew these people. I saw them daily, and knew who their friends were. I could frame them into a social group in order to have a shorthand of who was likely to be friendly, and who wasn’t. Add to that my often recurring feeling of being stuck in the school system, and yes, I was drawn to a fight. 

    I still have those instincts these many years later, and while it happens less frequently with time, I still occasionally click on some video with the promise of contention and violence. I’ve begun to recognize that the frequency of my engagement with this energy is directly related to my overall mood. How empowered do I feel in my life? Am I angry? Am I truly bored? Do I feel like burning it all down? Often I’ll be answering yes to one or perhaps all of those questions when I find myself on the outset of watching something I knew deep down would just upset me.

    I should say that my reasons for the appeal and aversion of violence are my own. I understand that while we all are the same, we connect into life in a myriad of ways, and so, I wish to express that I don’t intend to create an impression of superiority over anyone who enjoys what I do not. Like it or not, it takes all of us, and we’re in this thing together. No one is really in charge of humanity (despite those who would try and convince us otherwise), and so our life is truly our own.

    Perhaps this is why I find myself still thinking about a guy getting a folding chair wrapped in barbed wire to the head, and what that actually means to me in my home office in a rural subdivision in the woods of Northern Alberta. The people in that documentary going somewhere to see blood are living a very different life from me in a different place from where I am, and likely have different priorities once we get beyond the basics of survival.

    Come to think of it, BBC’s second series of Planet Earth is now airing, and I think it’s appeal to me is related. I am always seeking insight into the diversity of what’s going on with us on earth - animals, insects, plants, cells, atoms - where we live, how we deal with problems, cope with adversity, how we love, what we value, what we aim for etc. 

    If I have to distill it down to its essence, I think I’m always looking for universal experience - especially when it seems unlikely that there would be any common ground. The thing is, we have far more in common all across the board than many of us think, and finding hidden strands of connection in unlikely places is basically finding a Rosetta Stone for the diversity of the human experience. That is magic to me.

    So while my mood often determines what I click on or what I decide to read, I don’t consider that inherently unproductive, or a bad thing. If I’m feeling angry and powerless, why not share the frustration of a bus driver who retaliates on a disrespectful rider, the youthful courage and recklessness of a Russian kid risking his life atop a dangerously high structure, or just watch 20 minutes of people failing in one way or another?     

    As long as I don’t fall into judgement of other people and feed my own resentments to feel superior, I tend to come out of a view into another way of living with some things to think about. It’s a reminder that while your catharsis isn’t necessarily my catharsis, I’m glad you’re all out there doing your thing, teaching me that while it looks different, so much of it is the same.