They Don't Care About Us: Ignoring the Audience
I have a task for you, erstwhile professional wrestling fan. It will require some mental straining, some thinking to a different time. It might even take you to a place you might not want to revisit. Contrarily, you may want to revisit it, but it will give you a painful memory of how something so exciting can turn into something so turgid, so void of meaning and value. If you can, think back to August 18th, 2013.
That date might trigger some cells immediately in many of you. It was, of course, the date of SummerSlam 2013. On that fateful night, Daniel Bryan finally ascended to the very top of World Wrestling Entertainment, when he pinned John Cena clean in the middle of the ring after a running knee. Sure, the immediate joy was dampened a little by the Triple H turn and subsequent Randy Orton cash in, but we knew where it was heading. It was heading to a title chase for Daniel Bryan, the embodiment of a professional wrestler, against an authority stable headed by Triple H and Randy Orton, the embodiment of WWE entitlement culture.
I know, it feels like a long time ago. Little did we know that this was all going to lead to a Survivor Series main event of Randy Orton vs. The Big Show, after three straight pay-per-views of Daniel Bryan getting shafted. In the words of Johnny Rotten, ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
Fast forward to this Monday night, as RAW headed to Long Island, New York. It's blindingly obvious to everyone, but this past weeks television product really kicked it all home to me. The WWE, or at least those in charge of it, really do not care about what the fans want.
As Randy Orton strode to the ring on Monday, swiftly followed by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, a chant of 'Daniel Bryan' quickly spread throughout the arena. Hunter was quite visibly shook up by them. Why, I'm not sure, as the chant has filled arenas worldwide for months now. The man that seems to have been blamed for poor buy-rates is still the most popular man on the roster. John Cena then made an appearance to a mixed reaction. To his credit, he addressed them and tried to incorporate them into the story. Truthfully though, when John Cena says that the Daniel Bryan chants are because the fans are sick of administrative BS, and sick of a sense of entitlement, I immediately begin doing that thing where you chuckle externally but you're insides begin to make noise suspiciously similar to those made by Charlie in the sauna in 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.'
For years now, the idea of a John Cena vs. Randy Orton pay-per-view main event championship match has garnered only groans and wincing. This comes from fans all across the range, not just those who get paddled with the 'smart fan' brush. Their first main event pay-per-view championship, as far as I can tell, came at Unforgiven in 2007. That's over six years ago now. SIX YEARS. They've faced off in pay-per-view matches over ten times already. There's a reason that every time TNA does a big reveal that turns out to be Jeff Jarrett, everyone groans. Familiarity breeds contempt. The reason fans chant for Daniel Bryan is twofold. One, they really freakin' like Daniel Bryan. Two, they genuinely are tired of John Cena and Randy Orton. Still, the fact that WWE is returning to immensely barren Cena/Orton well shows that they have little regard for what the fans want. There is an overarching assumption that they will tell the fans what they want.
(Quick side note: How hilarious are the riffs in Triple H's 'King of Kings' entrance music? Ridiculously silly.)
Further evidence of little respect for their fans came in the very next segment. The Rhodes Boys and Rey Mysterio faced off against The Shield in a six man tag. We learnt that Daniel Bryan and CM Punk would take on the Wyatt Family, and there would be a straight Survivor Series rematch, when the seven Total Divas would take on the seven True Divas. I don't know what the dark match that night was, but I can only assume it was The Real Americans vs. The Usos. Many have touched on this, but it's a point that really needs ramming home. The reason people are streaming PPVs is because they know full well that practically the WHOLE FREAKIN' CARD WILL BE ON THE NEXT NIGHT'S RAW. Why shell out whatever they ask for nowadays if the next night you'll get it for free with extra added on? This isn't to say the six man and handicap matches weren't fun, they certainly were, but there's no incentive to pay to see them. The reason PPV buy-rates are always a struggle isn't because of Daniel Bryan, it isn't because of CM Punk, it isn't even because of a lack of Mr McMahon. It's because there's no need to now.
Which leads us to the holy grail of not reacting to or taking on board the reactions of the crowd. Since September last year, The Miz has continued his descent into irrelevance by hosting a now and then talk show, called Miz TV. Not a single episode of this has been worth more than dick, off the top of my head. The crowd reactions have been tepid to say the least, yet WWE continues to insist on running the thing. Another chapter of recent WWE history that was roundly crapped on was the Guest Host era, a time that oh god please don't make me relive. Well, for those of you who love Miz TV and miss the day of Guest Hosts, the segment on Monday was absolute boner-ville for you.
The segment was all over the place. Miz, recently returned to heel status, was in the ring with Titus O'Neill, recently turned to the good side, making fun of Michael Strahan. It may be 2013, but alignment still means something in this day and age. To make things worse, Miz made clear reference to alignment, and then Strahan came out with his Brad Maddox Bane voice and I wasn't sure where I'd left my will to live. The only way this would ever, EVER work would be if Miz and Titus were replaced with Chris Daniels and Kazarian. Even then, it would have sucked. The crowd rightfully sat on their hands through the whole thing, as their intelligence was almost constantly insulted. Miz vs. Strahan at WrestleMania XXX, remarked absolutely no one.
The seven on seven Divas came next, and the crowd remarkably managed to go down another notch in volume. (Side note two: Why were all the 'true' divas stood on one side of the turn-buckle?)They woke up for a second when Tamina death kicked Naomi's face off, but one thing is abundantly clear. The days of the crowd reacting to sheer eye candy are over, and rightfully so. The match went a whole 20 seconds before a JBL chant started. The 11 eliminations took just over nine minutes. Earlier this year things seemed to be moving in something approaching a right direction, when AJ Lee and Kaitlyn (the two best Divas on the roster no less) were embroiled in a logical storyline that was more than 'YOU'RE A BITCH' 'NO YOU'RE A BITCH'. They were well rounded characters, with history and the ability to pull off the story. The crowd lapped it up. It's clear that fans want that, but what do we get? Misogyny.
The main event of the show, our double team tag team main event, featured John Cena and The Big Show going up against Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio. With the exception of Del Rio, these guys have been around forever and the lack of reaction from the crowd confirmed their staleness. Even Del Rio, who has been on the main roster all of three years, but he seems to have faced these three guys on an almost constant basis. There was another concussion story (the third this year?), and Cena proceeded to win despite being against two men. Against all the odds! Vomit.
The vast, vast majority of crowds are tired of Cena, tired of Orton, tired of Show. It's a well trodden complaint, certainly nothing new to speak of. Complaints against this happen on an almost weekly basis. Still, it's not as if fresh faces, popular fresh faces haven't emerged over the last few years. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler to name but three. All three gained huge popularity through the quality of their performances, got sniffs of the top of the card and now find themselves in similar positions to two or three years ago. Crowds are baying for them, as the 'Daniel Bryan' and 'We Want Ziggler' chants will show. But no, those at the top of WWE have decided you want Randy Orton, John Cena, Triple H. Sit down and enjoy it.
Truthfully though, why should they care? They are back to being a billion dollar company. I'm going to keep watching despite the constant insults to mine and others intelligence. And maybe that's the biggest problem.
That'll do for now. What do you think? Do you think the desires of the fans ever come into view for WWE creative? Why on earth do we have Cena and Orton dominating in 2013? Was Big Show trying to tag Orton not because of a concussion, but because he has turned so many times that he forgot whether he was heel or face? Drop a comment in the lonely comment box below, or we'll duke it out on twitter (@pingvinorkestra) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Happy December.