By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
I really, really didn’t want to write about the love triangle involving Lana, Rusev, and Bobby Lashley to which Raw is dedicating some of its most valued time slots. A loophole arrived last week when Liv Morgan became involved as Lana’s secret lover, making it a love rectangle, which is obviously the best love shape.
Now I have to write about the angle because I can just hear WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, during the next quarterly conference call with stockholders, gleefully touting the company’s social progress because a lesbian story is taking center stage. Never mind that both performers are straight in real life and that Lana attacked Morgan after Morgan summoned the courage to publicly admit her love.
Maybe McMahon will never gloat about this story, in which case I’m arguing against a straw man. But I’m also arguing with history on my side, because no company likes to pat itself on the back more vigorously than WWE, especially for its so-called advancements that are almost always behind the times.
No company accepts praise more eagerly than WWE, either, which is why I hope none is offered by organizations like GLAAD, which hopefully learned its lesson when it was duped by the Billy and Chuck wedding that never panned out 17 years ago. GLAAD, the country’s most prominent organization promoting gay rights and achievements, later denounced WWE for the swerve and would be wise never to associate with WWE again.
In 2002, it was somewhat novel for homosexual characters to appear on screen, whether or not the actors portraying them were actually gay. In 2020, the rest of society has moved on from the novelty of homosexual television characters, except when they’re actually advancing the issues gay people face and reflecting their real-life struggles. WWE’s Lana/Morgan angle got off to a horrible start and will probably address nothing important.
WWE has had at least two openly gay wrestlers in recent years, Darren Young, who came out to TMZ cameras in 2013, and Sonja Deville, and while there have been references on television to the orientation of both performers, neither character was portrayed as gay on-screen. In some ways, that’s admirable. WWE surely has had closeted gay wrestlers in the past and hopefully more come out in the future. Drawing attention to normalcy would make WWE more gratuitous than it already is.
But no NFL, Major League Baseball or NHL players have taken the field or ice as openly gay athletes and only one NBA player, Jason Collins, who came out toward the end of his career, has done so. WWE wrestlers aren’t necessarily equivalent to players in the top four American sports leagues, but they are athletes nonetheless, and there must be a way for WWE to detail the plight of gay performers without drifting too far from its storytelling style.
Instead, WWE’s angles involving homosexual or bisexual characters are always salacious and tawdry. It goes back to the Billy and Chuck wedding and the Eric Bischoff-led hot lesbian action, more affectionately referred to as HLA. Portraying gays and bisexuals as either phony, sex-starved or overdramatic, especially when there are no characters whose realism balance that out, is short-sighted at best and borderline bigoted at worst.
But McMahon knows best, a statement that I wish I could lace with even more sarcasm and cynicism. Unfortunately, McMahon gets over against the odds more often than not. When WWE viewership has never been lower, McMahon secures two insanely lucrative television deals from USA and Fox. When he signs a long-term deal to present shows for a Saudi Arabian regime that likely ordered the murder of a journalist with American citizenship, the biggest stars from the past line up to participate.
And when McMahon presents a never-ending love-triangle, then rectangle, story that has given us some of the worst acting and most painfully drawn-out segments in recent memory, Raw produces its best viewership, seemingly holding onto every single potential viewer than hasn’t already abandoned the product.
There is plenty wrong with the basic storytelling of the angle. Why did Rusev encourage the wedding of Lana and Bobby Lashley so he could avoid paying alimony, then interrupt and wreck the wedding? Why did none of Morgan’s reintroduction vignettes reference the deep-seated love for Lana she was dying to express? Why does any of this exist in the first place?
But the biggest problem is WWE’s continued failure to portray normal same-sex relationships. You might have noticed how the “ex-spouses” of Lana and Lashley delivered reasoned arguments for their desire to stop the wedding before Morgan hysterically pled her case. It’s a little thing except when it’s not, and WWE’s history with this kind of story makes everything a big thing.