By Will Pruett
In 2015, I sat in the audience for the Raw after WrestleMania in San Jose as a crowd greeted women attempting to have a great tag team match with chants saying they were fellating wrestlers they were dating. It was awkward, uncalled for, and it took attention away from the wrestlers at a key moment. This was at the height of the “#GiveDivasAChance” movement, before any “revolutions” could begin. It was in this moment that I realized fans have gone too far. They haven’t gotten better.
What troubled me the most about this moment was WWE’s inability to shut it down. WWE hadn’t equipped themselves with the ability and authority to have a crowd listen to them. They hadn’t shaped an audience to care about what they wanted or to give the reactions we’d consider standard. In fact, for a couple years at that point, they told these unruly crowds to do whatever they wanted. The Night After WrestleMania became like The Purge. There were no laws. Fans had three hours of Raw to do whatever they wanted. It was great fun, until it wasn’t.
When WWE started embracing these hyperactive crowds, they were simply going with the flow. They embraced the cynical spirit of the fans without second guessing it. They celebrated the fans for “speaking their minds” and let anyone know that “you can do whatever you want if you bought a ticket” without thinking of how this could affect the stories they were telling.
WWE has embraced cynical wrestling fans, because in the moment it was easier than rebelling against them. In the long term, they’ve conditioned fans to rebel against anything that is happening.
It was fine when Sheamus and Randy Orton were having the least exciting match they could imagine in 2013, but what happens when these same tactics get turned on hardcore fan favorite Finn Balor for the second year running? At one point it was simply cheering for the wrestler fans liked more, but now they reject a moment where Samoa Joe and John Cena are face to face for the first time in WWE.
When an audience is being super-served to the point of exhaustion, the audience is going to get restless. What happens next?
The unfortunate beach ball party WWE enable and encouraged on Raw wasn’t just one random crowd having fun. It wasn’t passionate fans showing dissatisfaction with WWE’s presentation. It was the next logical space for a fanbase with increasing options and a decreasing attention span to fill. WWE asked fans to be cynical. They branded cynicism as fun. Now, cynicism is overrunning their core storytelling and they don’t know what to do.
Do you act like John Cena and forget any serious storytelling you may have planned and play along with the wave? Do you have your wrestlers sulk and do less in the ring because the crowd doesn’t care? Do you structure these Raw after WrestleMania, SummerSlam, or Royal Rumble shows to take into account the preferences the fans at them may have? I’d argue WWE did this on Monday night and it didn’t work.
WWE’s first mistake was embracing cynicism and dissatisfaction, pretending they’re alright with it. Now, they have to discourage it, but they don’t know how. At the same time, wrestling shows become less enjoyable to attend for fans looking to have a good time at the show and not be the show. Wrestlers get discouraged because no matter what they do, they can’t please fans. WWE has trapped themselves in a destructive cycle.
I’m not sure how WWE rescues themselves from cynicism, but I know they need to do it soon.
Last week’s essential viewing:
What matches do you need to see from the last week of wrestles? Note: There are spoilers in this section, so read with caution.
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade Almas (NXT Takeover Brooklyn III, August 19, 2017) – This might have been one of the best opening matches WWE has ever had. The crowd was red hot for Gargano and, even if a little apathetic about Almas, willing to give him a shot. The last five minutes of this match legitimately had people standing. They brought fans to live and set a pace for Takeover that was hard to follow. Gargano vs. Almas was great.
Asuka vs. Ember Moon (NXT Takeover Brooklyn III, August 19, 2017) – The surprise of surprises this weekend was Asuka retaining the NXT Women’s Championship. Ember Moon seemed like the logical challenger to end Asuka’s Streak, but it continues. WWE is telling a really fun story with the dominant Asuka continuing to go undefeated. This match was my favorite of SummerSlam weekend and should be rewatched in the pantheon of great WWE matches.
Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman vs. Samoa Joe (WWE SummerSlam, August 20, 2017) – Any match where this happens
is a great match.
Braun Strowman destroys Brock Lesnar (WWE Raw, August 21, 2017) – Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar is a logical place for WWE to go and, hopefully, a really fun one. Braun has been the performer for 2017 in WWE and this is a chance to gain even more momentum. I hope WWE isn’t approaching their encounter with a finish in mind. I’d like to see them at least consider pulling the trigger on Strowman.
What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:
Braun Strowman – Is there anything better than Braun Strowman right now? I doubted him. I thought he’d be a nothing Wyatt Family member with weird ass patches on his pants. Instead, Braun is a beast of a wrestling constantly overperforming expectations. Name a singles match where Braun hasn’t delivered. Name a pay-per-view in the last few months Braun didn’t highlight. Braun Strowman is WWE’s biggest booking victory since they split Raw and Smackdown over a year ago. I never expected to love Braun Strowman, but his country strength has won my heart.
If you enjoy getting a little bit of what I love in wresting each week, check out my new YouTube series called “What I Love About Professional Wrestling!” This week’s episode was on wrestler hair.
What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:
The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit – I think you all may be tired of book recommendations at this point, but here’s another one. Reading is the quickest path to understanding a view you don’t have. It allows you to get into someone’s head in an uninterrupted way. Rebecca Solnit writes brilliantly about the social and societal pressures put on women at this time in history. Her voice is equal parts poetic and frank. Among the subjects she explores brilliantly is an essay on silencing women that opened my eyes to ways of thinking I hadn’t considered. I found her prose engaging and inspiring. If you’re looking for a great voice different than your own to read, look here.
Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!
DeMarcus left this comment:
“Stick to Wrestling and leave social and political statements to yourself, we come here for a break from everyday life.”
This is an interesting comment, because it assumes a few things. First, it assumes that wrestling itself is in no way a part of everyday life. I only need to point to the recent episodes of Smackdown where Jinder Mahal praised diversity to convince the crowd to hate him and Randy Orton assaulted every foreign wrestler he could find to prove this wrong. Wrestling deals with many of the problems we face in the real world and wrestling is at its best when it shows a hero overcoming them.
Second, you assume that art is not political. Wrestling, as an art form, will always be political. Any art is political. If you think some work of art is not political, it’s actually making a massive political statement by attempting to be apolitical. Don’t be ridiculous and expect me not to be political here.
Third, you’re acting like saying Nazis are bad is a controversial statement. F*ck that noise. White supremacy is f*cking evil and we should shout that everywhere we can, including in our wrestling blogs.
SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):
We’re Done Here:
Watching SummerSlam this weekend, I was reminded of how fun collectively enjoying an event can be. Wrestling has the magical ability to bring people together like they’re all sitting in the same room, to watch something. Good or bad, collective experiences are really neat. Community to the best thing. Let’s all get out there and be super cool to each other today!
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video series “What I Love About Professional Wrestling” subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at email@example.com.