Welcome to my regular blog series dedicated to justifying my wrestling fandom. Here I will tenuously relate the WWE universe to larger issues in the wide world of fandoms and maybe even that cold lonely place known as “reality”. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you: WRESTLING WITH SHAME.
In the WWE, does it matter more: what the wrestler does or why the wrestler does it?
When professional wrestling was at its apex, during the Monday Night Wars, the WWE was different. Most people assume it was because there was more sex, violence, and swearing on Raw, but this doesn’t give the average wrestling fan enough credit. Wrestling nerds have never needed wrestling to fulfill those needs…we need wrestling to be entertained. This is best done through complex, multi-layered storytelling that just happens to be resolved through feats of athleticism. It’s easy to understand why the wrestlers at the top of the card are motivated. Fame and fortune (theoretically) exist for those who reach the pinnacle of the profession and win championship titles, but in a scripted drama only so many people can be actively chasing that dream. So what does the rest of the roster do while waiting for their chance?
During the “Attitude Era” the storytelling was focused on characters being individually motivated and pursuing their goals in the way best suited to their abilities. It didn’t matter to the APA that they weren’t vying for the tag titles because they were chilling in the basement, playing poker, waiting for their next contract. The Godfather was more concerned with his “business associates” than obtaining bling, Kurt Angel (same clip) was obsessed with being the perfect example of Americana, and DX wanted to save the wrestling institution by destroying it. Heck, Mick Foley managed to have 3 different characters, plus himself, because their individual stories were developed. Motivation mattered.
Many shows have suffered from a change in focus, sitcoms being the most noticeable. Friends and The Big Bang Theory, for example, were very strong comedies for the first few years of their respective runs…until the writers became obsessed with their characters finding drama, rather than finding love. Star Wars was a fun space western until Episode 1 turned it into a (semi-racist) conspiracy theory that pleased no one. NO ONE (Fix this, JJ, you’re our only hope).
In the current WWE, the so called “mid-card” wrestlers now exist only to fill time and to create YouTube moments.
Adrian Neville has existed on the main roster for almost a year and, well, I have no idea what he’s about. Yes, he’s been involved in a bunch of matches and almost won a championship once, but his character has been mired in nothingness. Even the vague alien / superhero angle has never really be explained or explored. Adam Rose had a bunny – but then didn’t – and is now the anti-Adam Rose version of Adam Rose. This has never been explained and only barely mentioned. Wade – I mean Bad News – I mean King Barrett – just lurches from gimmick to gimmick looking and sounding great, but never doing anything interesting. This character malaise even extends to the very top of the roster. Roman Reigns is theoretically still a gun-for-hire since he got to keep The Shield’s entrance and attire, yet he immediately refused a very strong offer from the boss to get the Championship he so desperately desires. Why? I don’t know. Reasons, I guess. Randy Orton gets championship shots but is best known for the “RKO out of nowhere” meme. I’m not sure if his character is unhinged, super athletic, or an evil snake. Whichever is true, his semi-unexplained presence hasn’t been missed. <snark> John Cena hasn’t been missed nor is anyone looking for an explanation as to why </snark>.
On Sunday night Sheamus became the new WWE Champion and his reign, no matter how short it is, will be remembered as a nadir for the company. Wrestling fans will blame Sheamus for being an uninspired champion and will openly wonder why he was given the most important role in the company. Sheamus became champion by winning the Money in the Bank match (MitB is an annual multi-wrestler event where the winner of the match is given a briefcase containing a contract to enter into a WWE Championship match at any time) in June and using contract to challenge Roman Reigns to a match immediately after Roman defeated Ambrose and Del Rio in separate matches during Sunday night’s pay per view broadcast. That is the totality of what Sheamus has done this year. Theoretically the time between winning the briefcase and cashing in the contract should be an interesting journey, but sadly the WWE uses it as a crutch to explain all back story and future motivation.
The Lord of the Rings franchise is occasionally derided for being 6 movies were the characters just go on a long walk; this is true, but what a walk it is. The journey was more than the sum of its parts. The characters grew, they learned lessons about themselves and the meaning of existence, and were pushed to heights previously thought to be unimaginable. That is the journey Sheamus should have been on. Testing and preparing himself for his one moment to not just grab the brass ring but hold on to it. If I draw an analogy better LotR and MitB I’d call the former “a long walk” and the latter “a long wait for the bus.’
I blame the WWE Network and reality TV for this. Like modern politicians, the WWE is now obsessed with the 10 second soundbyte or OMG moment. Did you know they now get 90 seconds on ESPN Sports Center? I’m sure they’ll try to cram as much character development as possible into that. It doesn’t matter if a key plot point doesn’t make sense, as long as people seem excited. Was it better for the Dudley Boyz to be a surprising return or could their character & story be better explained, making their subsequent actions matter more? Had Alberto Del Rio’s firing and subsequent return to the WWE been explained in a way that made the viewer care about his journey, maybe the MexAmerica gimmick would make sense. Or maybe they would have scrapped that idea all together because enough ground work would have been done to make people realize it was dumb.
A franchise like The Hunger Games succeeded because it made people care about Katniss. Even though some people (editor’s note: one person, only one person) don’t like her because of a few absurdly written character flaws, at least I can understand what she’s fighting for and why the question of Gale or Peeta would matter to her. If it matters to the character, it will matter to the audience.
Quick Slams: Sheamus has more X-Pac heat than X-Pac ever had… Survivor Series is not officially irrelevant, it needs to be reinvented or forgotten… Someone should have consulted a vexillologist before unveiling the awful MexAmerican flag… Had I named this series today it would have been called “Monday Night Rico” – I apologize for not thinking of that sooner… Bray Wyatt has done nothing but put wrestlers over this year and now it’s time for a push… The New Day should hold every title right now… Why did Charlotte not help Becky, and vice versa, on Raw?… Mark Henry should retire, for real this time, he’s being abused right now and it’s sad… But seriously, congratulations to Sheamus, I guess.
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