For some reason this 5 foot 3 inch Diva is the darling of the Internet. I profess that I love the character of AJ Lee myself. But I have always wondered why. What is about AJ that we all love?
In a previous article (We Need More Trish Straus), I examined that Hall of Fame Diva using film studies Professor Richard Dyer’s “Star Text” theory. AJ Lee, arguably the most influence diva of the current WWE, will be examined in the same way. By looking back at her history, we can determine the popularity of AJ and what role she currently plays in the WWE.
AJ Lee or April Mendez used one of the most important and successful elements of establishing a successful “Star Text”, accessibility. I know one of the reasons I have so much respect for her is she seems to be one of us.
The accessibility factor begins with the fact she is a lifelong fan. Influenced by her brother’s fandom, she became a fan herself. She has cited the influence of the Attitude Era Divas in wanting to become a wrestler. As such she has the traditional background of working her way into the business simply for the love of wrestling. We always have more respect for the lifelong fan than the other way we seem to get Divas. You know the model or the Lingerie Football League player, the other route to becoming a female wrestler.
But the accessibility takes another form in AJ’s “star text”. She is one of us nerds and we love her for it. She plays video games. She is obsessed with comic books. She was dressed as Kitana from Mortal Kombat on WWE programming. The self-described “Geek Goddess” has always set herself up as different kind of Diva. It is a good way to establish her character in a unique way and stand out from the rest of her colleagues.
Her character got off to a very slow and uninteresting start. No one will care about you or your character with limited time or challenges. AJ got her start in the one of the worst shows in the history of WWE programs, NXT: Season 3. You know your program is in trouble when you have “Capture the Flag” as the focus of an episode. Michael Cole made fun of the show constantly while announcing it. This was not the best start for AJ Lee’s character development.
In May 2011, she joined the main roster. However, she got off to a rough start. AJ Lee and Kaitlyn, the “Chickbusters”, character were established as jobbers. They repeatedly seemed to lose to Beth Phoenix and Natalya. While this might be logical, it didn’t do AJ any favors in establishing a credible, believable character. If you are never successful, why should we care? Her character even begun to like Hornswoggle in NXT Redemption, the first sign your character might be doomed.
But one of the best ways to establish a successful “star text” is to elicit sympathy. It has been quite effective in establishing successful Divas in the past. It was the first step into developing AJ into the successful Diva she has become. It was thanks to Daniel Bryan and his villainous ways.
While we knew little about AJ, her character was clearly established as a “nice girl”. The WWE is full of “nice girls” who were emotionally and sometimes physically abused by their boyfriends. The key to character establishment seems to see the slow build and we watched AJ get abused by the likes of The Big Show and others over the course of months leading into WrestleMania 28. After AJ “cost” Bryan the title, she was dumped. AJ had elicited an emotional response from the fans but what would happen now? Her character would become a very interesting one that the fans love today. She did it by being the most unpredictable Diva possible.
The dumping by Daniel Bryan was the best thing to happen to her character, it made her crazy. If you remember we had, for the first time in years, Divas involved in the main event of a Raw. This was a monumental event that occurred because of the unpredictability of her character. Predictability kills a star and AJ certainly was anything but. We didn’t know if she would align with Kane, CM Punk or Daniel Bryan before No Way Out 2012. They made the smart decision to make her not pick sides and become even more unpredictable in the coming month. She was acting crazy and manipulating the wrestlers in the WWE Championship title chase. The WWE fans noticed and cheered her appearance at every show. This was the height of her character.
However, they seemed to hurt her success by giving her too much power. Her strength seems to be in her unpredictably. That was taken away when she became the General Manager of Raw. She got involved in fights with Vickie Guerrero who constantly undermined her credibility. The WWE proceeded to damage her character by taking away its edge and have all the other characters insult her maturity. It is hard to be an authority figure if you are constantly undermined.
However, the next part in her “star text” didn’t help too much. It was Soap Opera Time! Besides the fact that Vickie Guerrero had nothing better to do then harass AJ and John Cena for a month, it continued to hurt the power of a character many previously enjoyed. It did however elicit more sympathy for AJ Lee. After she turned heel, she begun working as Dolph Ziggler’s girlfriend and seemed to regain some of her power again. Most importantly, she regained her crazy ways.
AJ’s character seems to work the best when she is unpredictable. We seem to be back to a place where her character is back to the one we know and love. Whether it is helping Dolph cheat or threatening Kaitlyn’s Divas Championship reign, it seems to be the best use of her abilities.
With a quick evaluation of AJ’s “star text”, I go back to my original question: “Why is she so popular?” It seems her accessibility was her initial draw. Now, it is her unpredictably that draws us to her. Her constantly changing image is one we fans truly enjoy. It is one of the main reasons we are fans, to be surprised by the program we love after all these years.
The best part about AJ is she is still young and growing into her character. Maybe she will grow out of all that skipping and hair twirling too. I hope AJ, along with some of the future NXT Divas, will lead a new age of exciting, powerful Divas. After all as CM Punk famously said, “I dig crazy chicks”! Don’t we all.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope you enjoyed “Extreme Rules 2013”. However, it was lacking in AJ Lee screen time.