Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A RAW REVIEW (6/4/12)

Remember when it was RAW IS WAR...before we invaded two countries?
I'm blessed with basic cable.  This means I'm only subjected to the evil of fourteen or so channels and one of them is not the USA network.  While I enjoy watching Monday Night Raw on the night it airs, doing so often results in a depression only wrestling can induce and an increased awareness of my mortality and how I'm wasting the precious seconds of my existence.  Watching it on youtube on Tuesday or Wednesday, where I can skip not only the horrid commercials but the horrid segments that often involve the bottom-barrel wrestlers, divas, Big Show, John Laurenitus and for the past several months John Cena, allows me to maintain a certain level of sanity, and focus solely on the good of the broadcast.  Being that this is the case, however, I'm left with very little to talk about seeing as how the WWE adores John Cena at the expense of far more talented wrestlers who are better on the mic and in the ring and at life in general, and the WWE also seems to adore everything that is fundamentally opposed to logic and quality.

Normally I would skip discussing Cena's segment this week because I would not have watched it, but I did catch the last ten minutes of it (I didn't listen to his opening speech because I can no longer endure his speeches or his matches, both are beyond predictable and dull.  I can't even handle his entrance anymore, his happy little quips to the camera and his amped-up demeanor.  And the crowd is more behind him nowadays so I don't even have the interesting dynamic between him being "The Man" and everyone hating him for it).  I must say that there was a period of time where I was a Cena fan.  I never thought he was an adequate follow-up to The Rock or that his character was that interesting, but from 2006 up until around 2009/2010, I rooted for Cena and respected him mostly because of how much everyone hated him.  I went to a RAW and I was one of those people chanting "Let's go Cena!" Nowadays, despite my dislike of him, I would not be a "Cena Sucks!" chanter.  When he appeared I would try to start a "Why am I watching this?!" or a "Hire new writers!" chant, because I don't hate him, I'm just utterly bored by him.  Regardless, I found myself enthralled by Cena's lashing of Michael Cole, but not necessarily for the reasons the WWE would want.

While I've always hated Michael Cole for his blatant awfulness, I've slowly started to accept him, not because he's good at commentating, but simply because they have made his dynamic with Jerry The King Lawler and his relationship with the wrestlers more interesting.  The company acknowledges his awfulness in a way that occasionally yields some interesting comments from the Cole and King characters.  Knowing that McMahon is barking in Cole's ear also adds to the depth of both his character and the man. I wonder about Cole as a human, as I do many of the wrestlers.  I feel sorry for them and wish them a level of happiness and artistic freedom I know they will never have.  So hearing Cole and King chat, embrace the awfulness of the situation, and subtly break the forth wall with a shared chuckle every now and again makes me smile.  I also like how King directly addresses the idiotic things Cole says now, especially how he calls Cole out about flip-flopping on his opinion of Daniel Bryan.  Cole used to lambast Bryan nightly but now he sings his praises for seemingly no reason and normally this is the kind of thing that would happen in the past and we wrestling fans were supposed to just forget about it and it would never be addressed, but King's acknowledgement of the pointless transition adds a touch of depth to the commentator-characters and the entire brand.  CM Punk has truly done a great thing by calling attention to the absurdity of the business.  His "shoot heard round the world" has had a subtle trickle-down effect (from the commentary to even The Rock/Cena feud) where truth and honesty generates positive results.  This philosophy has not been completely embraced by the company, of course, and that's why there are still terrible story lines and why a great wrestler and orator like Punk is relegated to the midcard.

But back to Cena/Cole.  The reason I was enthralled by the following imagery...
WWE: Inspiring children everywhere. because Cena is supposed to represent the ultimate good guy, a mentor and role-model for the kiddies in the audience.  The WWE (for reasons I will never comprehend) is a big proponent of the anti-bullying movement.  And yet the spokesperson of the company and the biggest granter of wishes for the Make a Wish Foundation is ripping the clothes off of another human being in an arena full of children and dousing that human being with barbecue sauce.  Now the WWE shouldn't be involved with anti-bullying in the first place; not because bullying is good, but because the irony of this affiliation should be entirely obvious (children who watch this are simply going to be confused about morality, what is right and what is wrong behavior).  It would be like Phillip Morris leading an anti-smoking campaign, or Teddy Roosevelt donating money to PETA, or a sex-addict preaching the values of abstinence.  You can't be a company founded on choreographed violence, a company that essentially argues that all conflicts must be resolved through violence, and then preach against violence.  This is not a subtle Martin Scorcese movie where violence is shown for the purposes of condemning violence.  This is wrestling, where (at its worst) big men beat on each other to satisfy an audience's primal urge for bloodshed, or (at its best) two skilled in-ring-artists stage an exhibition of athletic prowess for the sake of telling a violent story.

I have never believed wrestling was suitable for children.  Despite the PG rating, there is always a segment featuring the scantily clad, stripper-like divas, teaching children that women are nothing more than dumb sex-objects undeserving of well-written programming.  The Bella-Twins, for example, came out and gyrated each and every night in an incredibly sensual fashion.  Now we have Brodus Clay doing the same thing, even going so far as to involve the actual children in the dancing.  This is absurd and downright strange.  I probably sound like a right-wing Tea Party prude right now (believe me, I'm anything but.  My favorite movies last year were Shame and Beginners, and I have no problem with half-nude gyrating women or violent fighting men so long as there is a proper context and the imagery is not subjected to impressionable young minds that don't need to worry about sex and shouldn't be exposed to violence or human degradation).  The overly violent or inevitably offensive segments (offensive mostly to one's intelligence) have gone on even throughout the modern-day PG era which has only deepened my confusion and disgust with the product.  This has been my fundamental issue with the PG era of wrestling (not that it's childish or that it doesn't allow for mature programming).  It's a giant contradiction that produces unclear, uninteresting programming that lacks intelligence and courage, a strange middle-ground that is neither appropriate for the intelligent adult wrestling fan nor the enthusiastic child.
Why can't I be more honest!
And here, at the close of RAW, we see the man that the WWE has carefully crafted into the marquee Face, the wrestler children love by default, humiliating another person.  The context becomes irrelevant.  Sure, for adults this is fun because we hate Michael Cole, we understand what makes him awful, and we know that his humiliation is all a part of the show.  The really savvy wrestling fan is aware of things behind the scene that make this humiliation even more interesting.  We also know that this isn't necessarily something we should do to someone who offends us.  But a child isn't going to understand that subtlety.  They are simply going to see their favorite wrestler doing something whilst smiling, hear the other people in the audience cheering, and think that this is acceptable behavior.  I wonder how many kids in this country are going to be choked out and told to say they're sorry, or sprayed with a fire extinguisher in homage to John Cena, or how many little girls were called "Hoski's" when John Cena berated Eve some months back.  Wrestling is a carnival that directly teaches others how to disrespect the human mind and body, and this is why children should not be exposed to it.  My only issue with this segment and segments like it would normally be that it's poorly written, dirty performance art that appeals to the lowest common denominator, and in that way I would almost accept it.  But the fact that WWE so blatantly contradicts themselves disgusts me, and truly wonder about their goals.

All I want is consistency from my art.  I want a clear philosophical perspective and a point of view.  I want honesty and integrity.  I've never liked the WWE segments where someone was humiliated by being doused with something or stripped down or made to kiss Vince's ass.  It's simply awkward, poor-story-telling and I've never understood the backwards hickish wrestling fan that enjoyed such moments.  All I want to see is the artful craft of wrestling, infused with the emotional tension of two rivals who know how to articulate their characters on the mic.

Wrestling can teach children to stand up for themselves, that being strong and confident and not allowing people to walk all over you is a virtue.  The Rock taught me this when I was twelve and very impressionable.  I drew confidence from his confidence, from how he never took any crap from Triple H and how he typically did the right thing.  He was never supposed to be an idol for children in any capacity, he simply was himself and an excellent entertainer, and inspired a viewer through the quality of his performance.  There was no mixed message, the character was consistent and free to do anything and you were free to judge it.  But with Cena, we are supposed to think everything he does is good (all the while his actual performance is incredibly trite and cartoonish).  As wrestling is today with his particular character, whatever virtues he possesses are lost when he does something like this and nothing good is taught to the impressionable children that adore him, who the WWE pretends to value.

But now...onto more important wrestling matters in the form of Sheamus & Dolph Ziggler, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Kane & AJ.
I have slowly warmed up to the excellent Dolph Ziggler.  I remember the night he premiered I ironically rooted for him because of his ludicrous name.  Ever since his pairing with the atrocious Vicky Guerrerro and the abysmal Jack Swagger, I lost interest in him and disregarded his character.  But several months back around the Elimination Chamber I started to enjoy his "show-off" attitude, especially how he does sit-ups using his opponent as a prop, and mimics Ric Flaire's swagger.  He's beloved by fans for his ability to sell and I've grown to appreciate his in-ring ability too.  I hope that he eventually moves away from Vicky and perfects his mic-work.

I have never, nor do I think I will ever, like Sheamus.  I don't like the big, blocky guys for a variety of reasons.  They're typically slow, but more importantly I have a very hard time believing that anything can put them down for a three count.  Cena, for example, barely ever breaks a sweat.  At the end of his Wrestlemania match he was barely winded due to his excellent conditioning so it's hard for me to suspend my disbelief when The Rock pins him (especially when Dwayne looked ready to pass out).  Sheamus is definitely big but he's surprisingly nimble.  His mic-work doesn't interest me and I dislike nationality-gimmick wrestlers, but I have to admit that his match with Dolph this Monday was pretty spectacular.  I was ready to skip it but realized that it was likely going to be good so I kept watching.  They both did an excellent job countering and selling their moves, and told an adequate in-ring story with a pretty powerful Brogue-Kick climax.  I look forward to seeing more of Dolph in the future, and even Sheamus' No Way Out match.

Now onto my wrestling hero...
CM Punk has consistently had the best matches on RAW the past several weeks and at all of the PPVs.  As I watched his match with Kane (someone who, in the ring, is typically slow and easily dull to watch) I realized that Punk is very similar to Shawn Michaels in his ability to have a great match with anyone.  Punk does not rely on his familiar suite of moves to get him through, doing what is expected of him at the expected moment for cheap applause the way someone like Cena, Orton, or even The Rock does.  While you can almost always expect to see him do his knee-to-the-face-bulldog combo, or his Randy Savage-elbow, or his leap through the ropes, it never feels contrived and always comes at a different point in each match.  He mixes up his moves in a beautiful, natural fashion that makes each conflict unique and fresh every time.  In a recent interview Punk discussed how Eddie Guerrerro taught him that it's not about how you do the move, but when you do the move and Punk proves this to be true.  This is a man that knows how to infuse each match with originality & honesty, aware that he has the opportunity to tell a new story each night.

His Kane match opened with a flurry of quick leaps and bounds.  I don't think I've seen him go to the top rope so quickly and frequently before, adding an intensity and drama to a match that could have been very slow and predictable.  His subtle variations to his most common moves (such as a high-knee to Kane as Kane stood upon the top rope) keeps the character fresh and demonstrates how inventive Punk is as an athlete and performer.  Punk's devotion brings out the best in his opponents as well, even in the likes of someone like Mark Henry or Kane.

Initially dissatisfied with this Daniel Bryan feud (not because I dislike Bryan, quite the opposite, I simply dislike how this glorious pairing gets midcarded and poorly written), I've come around to it in large part because of the inclusion of Kane and the evolution of the AJ-character.

I've always liked Kane because the guy can be good in the ring and he's surprisingly excellent and even operatic on the mic, he's simply a tough character to use well.  But his inclusion in this story has added something I can't quite articulate.

Then there's AJ, who apart from being irresistible and the perfect balance of painfully cute and ridiculously sexy, is a fun character that gels well with the likes of Bryan and Punk.  It's fun to see a female wrestling character that, while exemplifying a certain kind of female stereotype, is, at the very least, a clearly defined character with a unique personality and an actual motivation.  She is also short, with a realistic body, and a natural, approachable beauty that sets her apart from the other obnoxiously top-heavy, face-painted divas like Eve.
Don't you just want to hug her and let her be crazy for you, threatening to cut herself unless you let her in for a late-night cuddle as she stands outside your window at 3am in the rain?
She's clearly embraced her character and it's easy to believe her actions and the potential interest a guy like Punk would have in her, and throwing Kane into the mix adds some interesting opportunities for accentuating both her craziness and the Big Red Monster's.  I normally don't like wrestling love-stories or love-triangles because they're typically played straight.  But this angle acknowledges the absurdity of everything, and, like a good cooky film, is played with conviction by its cooky characters.

I will close with my hopes and dreams for the coming months, that I fully expect to go unfulfilled.

I would love to see Kane win the WWE title at No Way Out.  Yep.  That's right.  Kane should win.  It's unexpected and would give this character a meaningful boost that would permit him to orate more.  I think it would create a wonderfully interesting dynamic between all the characters.  After Kane wins (possibly due to AJ's haphazard interference), AJ sides with him because he's the craziest and the victor.  Punk and Bryan will continue their feud, both believing themselves the true and rightful champion and deserving of a rematch.  This leads into a triple-threat rematch at the next PPV wherein Kane wins again! (I don't like one-month transitional title reigns).

The WWE seems to think that audiences will grow bored and impatient with an ongoing story, hence the swift destruction of a variety of angles that could have evolved into something spectacular (Punk/Jericho for example), but the truth is that any audience of any art form will remain enthralled so long as a story evolves and remains entertaining.  After the triple-threat rematch continue the Punk/Bryan feud, with the two vying for the number-one-contendership (and maybe AJ's twisted, delicious little heart).

On some Monday Night Raw in the future have an epic Punk/Bryan match to determine who will be the number one contender.  Perhaps have Bryan win, leading to a Bryan/Kane match at a PPV (perhaps with Punk as guest referee simply to keep him involved, with AJ as Kane's manager).  Have Bryan win straight up with no funny business from anybody.

This then leads to the true Punk/Bryan feud we've all been craving, where Punk earns back the WWE Title and holds it into the next Wrestlemania.  I don't know what PPV this three-way several month-long feud leads into, but I think this story and the matches it permits could be pretty amazing.

The inclusion of Kane almost certainly guarantees the Punk/Bryan feud will last at least one more month (if history tells us anything), so, at the very least, we have more matches between the two to look forward to.  We almost want Punk to lose so that we can have a month or two of him trying to get it back.  If he wins then the company will likely try to burry Bryan (whom they hate) and saddle Punk with a less interesting feud that permits them to continue to bury him in the card.

With these latest developments, and if one ignores 90% of the broadcast, and with the announcement of what could be the best wrestling game ever with WWE '13, good things are finally happening in the world of wrestling again due in no small part to this man:

1 comment:

  1. I just visited this article (your first review of raw) ... and after a long and hard 6 months (that doesn't feel all that long right now, does it ?!) I gotta say that you are amazing man ! keep your great work up for your true fans (and I'm one of your biggest fans ! and I'm not even australian !) and we'll support you until you decide that you had it with the craziness of wrestling and you just want to move to other less crazy things in life (which I hope you don't decide onto any time soon ... like not anything less than another 9 and a half years where you hit a 10 years anniversary ;D )