What's Old Is New Again
While perusing this weekend's wrestling news and finishing up my viewing of a rather underwhelming episode of Monday Night Raw (more on that later, of course), my attention was drawn to comments by former WWE creative team member Court Bauer. You can follow the link to read the entirety, but of particular note to me was the section regarding his criticism of the current McMahon vs. Rhodes storyline:
On the recent appearance of Dusty Rhodes on WWE RAW: "The problem I have is that you're going from Virgil to Dusty and Runnels to Rhodes it's just to me, that you're playing to such a small margin of the audience when you do that. If you look at anything in the world of entertainment, you know you don't call Tom Cruise by his real name, which isn't Tom Cruise, you just call him Tom Cruise because that's what everyone identifies him as. Wrestling in general is a fantasy world so you play within the rules of that world but then when you say y'now 'Oh this is happening behind the scenes' and you play on it too much, it's not as provocative and fascinating as it was in say 1998 because it's kinda been done to death. I just don't know how much of this audience knows who Dusty Rhodes is. He's 67 years old, I don't know when he last performed for WWE in a regular capacity or with any notoriety, and now you're calling him two different names, it's hard. There's a lot of kids watching that weren't even born when WCW went under, and they're watching this so do they understand Dusty? Do they know who he is? Now you're calling him two different names, it's just confusing. I'm not saying you need to dumb down a product but just sometimes I think there's way too much of that stuff."
Before I reply with my feelings on the matter, I find it of interest that very recently the touring Chris Jericho took on a similar topic during comments he made on a radio show:
"I think sometimes it confuses the fans when you do too much insider stuff, before I came back in 2012, I remember when Punk and Nash were having their feud and their were going back and forth and Nash said: 'You would never draw a dime.' I think people do not understand what that really means. I think we all assume that people read the sheets and read the Internet and really eighty percent don’t. I’m a big music fan, I read Billboard magazine and I follow charts and read the reviews and see what’s going on but I guarantee that eighty percent of people that like music don’t or eighty percent of people that watch movies don’t read the receipts every week.
"I think when people say: 'Edge didn’t draw a dime' and that’s supposed to be a 'heat getting line' and people really do not know what that even means. Edge was a ten-time World Champion so doesn’t that mean he was good? So what, he never took a pencil, drew a circle and wrote '10 cents' in the middle of it. I mean, what does 'drawing a dime' really mean? I think we assume that everybody knows as much about wrestling as we do.
Both of these quotes bring to the surface an interesting topic regarding the current main plotline of the WWE: have they gotten too "insider" for general consumption? Has World Wrestling Entertainment run the risk of alienating potentially a large number of fans with the way they have presented this angle?
In regards to the first quote, to say I completely and utterly disagree would be an understatement. I appreciate the point Mr. Bauer is making, but he is most certainly saying they need to "dumb down the product" and I think he'd be better off just coming out and stating it. Marginalizing what you interpret to be what people "think" you're saying is generally a case of the lady (or gentleman, in this case) protesting a bit too much. A huge part of what makes professional wrestling different is its over-the-top and storied history. To assume that a great deal of the current audience doesn't know who one of the biggest legends in wrestling history is not only doesn't give us enough credit, but reinforces the necessity to cater to the uninformed.
Everyone wants to know what's going on behind the scenes. It's something you always carry with you, from rooting through your parents' closet to find what Santa may have brought you all the way to watching actors and directors on your favorite DVD in deleted or extended segments. Never is this maxim more true than in the secret, hush-hush world of pro wrestling. Fans have always wanted in from the start, and the current climate of social media and constant leaks have been a gossip's wet dream. Lest you think that this is merely an issue with wrestling fans, put yourself in the role of a TV producer. Anyone that's ever tried to avoid spoilers for a scripted or reality show that you've got stashed away on your DVR can attest at how nearly impossible this has become. Not only do WE want to know what's going on, but we want to tell you all about it as well.
"Spoilers" might not even be accurate terminology, as I don't think the intent is generally to spoil anything. Not only do we want to know about it, we want to discuss it, dissect it, and add it to the group think tank in a quest to constantly make things better. Don't tell me that the folks behind shows like Breaking Bad and Dexter aren't paying very close attention to the expectations of the viewing community and then generally doing the opposite. It's part of the fun. Whether you liked the ending of the Sopranos (nope) or Lost (sort of), you have to appreciate the fact that the creators of said shows wanted to go out on their own terms.
Wrestling is the same way. It's a scripted competition, and that competition firmly extends into the creative side. The writers and the backstage folks are always trying to misdirect their "smart" audience and stay one step ahead of them. The business guys blame the Internet, the Internet blames the traditionalists, and each needs the other to survive. It may sound crazy, and perhaps on some level it is, but it's the nature of the beast and I love it. Wrestling angles have always been "done to death." There are a limited number of ways you can tell the same story of good vs. evil. It doesn't mean a great writer like Stephen King or Elmore Leonard can't shape those stories in new, exciting, and utterly captivating ways. That is what the WWE and any entertainment company should aspire to. Make it fun, make it topical, make it controversial, and we won't notice we've seen elements of it all before.
As to whether people know Dusty Rhodes or not, let's have an expectation that wrestling fans familiarize themselves with the product, shall we? Heaven knows the WWE owns enough tape to educate everyone. If I pick up a newspaper today, should I expect that past history will never be mentioned because someone doesn't know about it? It's called Google. I'm over and done with people assuming the worst about wrestling audiences. Do I know about the history of my favorite sports team? You bet I do. Does that make my enjoyment of the current product better? It sure does. Buying into the history of the business makes people fans for life, not the opposite.
The Rhodes segments have been emotional, intelligently done, and smartly focused on taking kernels of truth and turning them into camera fodder. It's what Vince McMahon has always done to create characters and by and large it's worked brilliantly. It's why they are still in business and still making a killing, even after the '90s boom. The attack on The Shield by the Rhodes boys was one of the highlights of Raw. It was set up by the attack on Dusty last week. If you tuned out because you don't care about context and don't want to pay attention to anything you don't know already, I sure as hell don't want to watch TV with you. And I'm very okay with you not being a wrestling fan.
Chris Jericho has one of the best minds in the business, for my money, and I've always appreciated his comments about the wrestling business. He tends to be even more introspective when he's away from it, and I appreciate what he's saying about "drawing a dime." Again, however, all jokes aside, the onus is on the viewer to do a little work sometimes. The segment between Edge and Triple H may have confused some fans, but it also made a lot of fans head to YouTube and check out some of the history there. That's a good thing. Wrestling has a responsibility to not just mention the past, but to embrace it. It has to be done incrementally, like anything else, as attention spans are at a premium. But that's a far cry from shying away from creative directions because of worries that your general fan is not going to understand. Just because there are 9-year-olds are in the building doesn't mean they stay that age forever.
Many things, like heading in a PG direction and trying to turn into a movie studio that also produces wrestling matches, are a given in this day and age and I support them. What I may desire as a fan of the sport (just like hockey fights) may not be in concert with what the rest of society is demanding and I'm okay with that. But wrestling fans are an informed, passionate bunch and don't need to be spoonfed every plot like a bunch of zombified buffoons. It's okay to make those of us who DO enjoy the whole scope of the business feel like we're getting something extra once in a while. We've earned it. I don't like every direction that the WWE heads in, particularly creatively, but I appreciate the way this has been fleshed out and built up. The crowd reaction to Daniel Bryan even after the NOC "screwjob" shows that most folks like it also.
I can remember Jim Cornette telling a story about how a WWE producer told him during Badd Blood that nobody would know who the legends of St. Louis wrestling were. I can't do justice (naturally) to the way Corny relates it, but I think it says a lot about what all of our reactions should be when this idea rears its head once more. What's old is new again: in wrestling, in history, in life. I for one wouldn't have it any other way.
* My favorite thing about Raw? As usual, Punk/Heyman sold it in spades. This feud could go on for the rest of the year and then some and still feel fresh to me, due entirely to the way these two gentlemen are selling their hearts out on a weekly basis. Following last week's kiss of Ryback, Heyman came out in his motorized wheelchair serenading Punk to "My Kind of Town." This followed Punk's excellent promo in front of his hometown crowd. If you didn't know how it would end, you haven't been paying attention to what happens to pretty much every wrestler in their hometown. Or what happened to The Miz a week ago. Gripping, funny, and original.
*My least favorite thing about Raw? The main event. I have no idea what we were supposed to feel about half-stars, half-jobbers taking on The Shield. Is it the harbinger of a corporate breakup? Is it a glimmer of hope for guys like Ziggler and The Usos? What it ended up being was predictably status quo. Half-hearted attempts to feed RVD and Kofi Kingston to the lions by sending them out injured would have worked better if they couldn't make it at all. Everyone you expected to be pinned was. And was this the worst eleven-man tag team strategy ever? What I was missing was an appearance by The Big Show as an added surprise partner for The Shield. That would have been much more entertaining.
*Poor TNA. Having exhausted each and every opportunity to take former WWE stars and turn them into new TNA stars, they continue to bleed money and talent. On top of the departures of Mickie James and Mr. Anderson (two talented hands), they have now gone down the road of Dixie Carter becoming the "evil boss." Hmm, what OTHER major wrestling company is working that angle at the moment? While everyone borrows from everyone else, and I appreciate and acknowledge Dixie's shoot promo from last week as being better than I expected, she doesn't have the chops or the acumen to pull it off. The only way they stay in the game is to build slowly and originally. This doesn't bode well.
*I don't know if you've heard, but the WWE Title is currently in abeyance. Much like the WWE App, we've been told that approximately every five seconds during broadcasts. I'm surprised it hasn't trended on Twitter. My current plan is to use that phrase as much as possible in everyday life. Already this week I've put my credit card, my social life, my tropical fish, and my spleen in abeyance, and I'm just getting started. It certainly did make Trips sound much more COO-like, didn't it? In abeyance should be put in abeyance.
That's all I have for this week. I'd like to thank you for reading and encourage you to leave your comments in the space below. You can as always also reach me on Twitter @coffeyfan77 or fire a missive to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will see you all on Friday with the headlines. Have an excellent week!