Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A RAW REVIEW (1/27/14)

THIS WEEK'S EPISODE: "The horror..."
Listen & Read & Relax

We small humans wrestle with life, embarking upon the daily struggle, the search for meaning and satisfaction and happiness on the tiny, watery orb known as Earth, never quite certain why.

We, the young and the innocent, the old and the weary alike, yearn to return to a simple existence where what is right and true is permitted to thrive.  Where up is up and down is down.  Where good triumphs over evil, and our heroes rise to meet every challenge.  The unreliability of our very existence inspires us to seek out and even create elaborate fictions that are meant to reassure us that, in the end, everything will work out and be just fine.  At the very least, even if the fictions we honor do not reassure us against the inevitability of pain and suffering, they must unite us in a shared experience, to remind us that we are not alone and that there is some sort of reward, or acknowledgement, at the very least, for our suffering.

As a thinking, feeling, breathing human, especially one who has experienced even a small amount of life, and especially if you have remained compassionate in the face of adversity, you have earned, every now and again, unabashed reassurance and wholehearted thanks for your efforts.

But The WWE does not think so.  Vince McMahon, and a host of other out-of-touch, spineless businessmen, the epitome of the entertainment-pushers of our increasingly cynical species, believe that you will inevitably bow-down and behave.  That you are not deserving of satisfaction.  That you are mindless children, unaware of the way the real world works.  Or so they would have you think (but more on that later).

If ever there was a time to shout "No!" now is the time.

The Royal Rumble has past.  Some time has gone by.  Hopefully, this blog can be a calming, cathartic experience, as we move on into the future.

We devout fans of the WWE found it just a little bit more difficult to carry on watching this strange athletic performance art as we witnessed the soul-crushing dissolution of The Royal Rumble, and potentially our Wrestlemania dreams.

The story has been covered many times since Sunday, even here on The Machine (welcome back, Kev!), but for those who are not familiar I will sum up the latest travesty the WWE company has unwisely inflicted upon its core fan-base.

Daniel Bryan is the top-face (top good guy) in the company, the uber-over, beloved hero of wrestling fans everywhere.  If this was the 1980s or the 1990s, Daniel Bryan would be the WWE Champion, squaring off against whoever was the top bad guy, especially going into Wrestlemania.

But today the WWE, like most modern forms of entertainment, is becoming increasingly a business and less an art.  And so someone who looks like Daniel Bryan, someone who doesn't have a poster-boy-physique, is not permitted to shine.  Fans have supported Bryan in the face of this adversity time and again for a few years now.  Bryan has consistently put his body at great risk, weekly, in the best matches for the joy of the crowd, and they love him for it.  His simple catchphrase (YES!) unites entire arenas in praise of Bryan, oftentimes even when he is not present in the ring, as a sort of protest against being forced to watch uninventive wrestling stories.

This past Sunday was The Royal Rumble, the thirty-man contest that would determine who would go on to face The Champion at Wrestlemania.  Well, not only did Bryan not win The Rumble, he didn't even appear in the match, and Batista, recently returned from a four-year hiatus, snatched the top spot away from those who have been working to get it on a consistent basis for years.

He's pointing at two objects!
Things like this have happened in the past but never in such a blatant way.  Even the choice of who would enter last in The Rumble (Rey Mysterio) seemed a very purposeful slap in the face to the WWE audience.  The fans mercilessly booed Batista (someone who is not actually a bad guy in the wrestling-reality), and defiantly chanted Bryan's name throughout the night, oftentimes disrupting the flow of certain matches.  Tweets sent out by Batista and the WWE all seemed to intentionally twist the knife planted firmly in our guts.  And the fans booed on.

For the uninitiated this might not seem too strange.  But imagine sitting in a movie theater and then, unexpectedly, the director of the movie appears in front of you and slaps you in the face.  You then stand up to defend yourself and he slaps you again, and again, and again.  And then asks you to pay him ten dollars a month to find out if there will ever be a time that he doesn't slap you.  That is what is going on, and has been going on in the WWE for many, many years now.  And unless the dissatisfied fans completely stop supporting the WWE, nothing will change.

In this financially-driven environment, merely cheering for stars like Daniel Bryan or CM Punk and others the WWE doesn't want us to cheer for, does nothing.  The path to real change is a change within us.  To show the WWE we do not like what they have done, we must do more than boo.  We must stop buying pay-per-views.  We must not buy the WWE Network.

Now if Bryan is in the main event by some miracle and the Wrestlemania card is to your own liking, by all means, buy it.  But if it is not, simply don't buy it, because if you're not happy with it then you will not be satisfied.  The WWE has demonstrated, even more now than in the past, that it is the most unreliable "product" you can buy.  You wouldn't buy a car that exploded when you turned the ignition.  That's what the WWE is. 

My fiancĂ©e accurately described the final moments of The Royal Rumble as like "watching the Titanic sink.  The band plays on", she said oh-so-eloquently as Batista and Roman Reigns continued wrestling to an onslaught of boos.

The solution to our problems with the WWE is fairly simple.  We just need to stop watching.  We need to stop believing in our fiction.  We need to stop allowing it to have this hold over our lives.  Because it has the ability to really negatively effect us.  A night like The Royal Rumble, or last year's Royal Rumble, can leave us despondent and depressed.  So we need to just stop.  Stopping might be the one thing to save it, because it's the only thing that will force the WWE brass to wake up.  At the moment they think of us as stupid children who will keep buying a faulty product no matter how broken it is.  We should prove them wrong.

Their meagre attempt to tide us over this past Monday with the promise of Daniel Bryan entering The Elimination Chamber should be seen for exactly what it is; more pay-per-view buys.

RAW began with Stephanie and Triple H entering the arena all-smiles.  Their current character-incarnations, representing The Authority, are a strange mix of prototypical heel and their real-world selves (or at least that's what we are led to believe).  They proceeded to chide the audience further for not 'getting with the program'.  Triple H even said, in a baby-voice, "did someone not get what they wanted".

I find this constant berating of the WWE fans from the business men and women who need those fans quite inconceivable.  It's been going on for so long.  Watching the WWE has been the emotional equivalent of walking into a schoolyard bullies' den and paying him to beat you up.

And I don't know how it could possibly be "best for business".  I know that The Royal Rumble convinced me not to buy the WWE Network.  I was already iffy on the notion of the WWE receiving a consistent stream of my money, but now, more than ever, I can't allow it.

Daniel Bryan interrupted Stephanie and Triple H, imploring them to listen to the fans.  It was a decent speech, but it didn't go far enough.  Bryan is a true wonder to behold in the ring.  And every time I watch him wrestle, I forget about how his actual personality on the mic doesn't do much for me.  And I support him.  But his speeches tend to boil down to "I want in that match" without the depth and nuance you might find in a better performer's speech.  These events call for more, however.  And if we don't receive more than there is little hope Bryan will ever get the title.

The rest of RAW was decent, but less interesting than this recent controversy.  If I went into detail about RAW then this blog would never end.  So let me share with you instead my theory for how all of this - the spitting in the fans' faces, the disregard for what we want - could all, brilliantly, work out.

I have not read this anywhere else or shared it with anyone.  While I'm sure others will (or already have) said or written the same thing, I promise this is coming straight from my own brain to yours.

I could easily outline ways for The WWE to course-correct, to put Bryan in the main event and even ways to get Batista out of it.  But instead, I offer up a last ditch effort, what might be my final attempt at deluding myself.  So here goes...

It's all a work.  Everything. 

The thought occurred to me when I was watching RAW last night, listening to Triple H talk in a crybaby voice.  That just seemed so horribly despicable, even within the context of his fictional character, that I thought to myself...what if...

I can't help but wonder if the past several months-worth of "bad" storytelling might not actually be building toward the best, most convincing work we've ever seen.

And what better way to ultimately stick it to the WWE fans as the brass seems to enjoy doing, than to inevitably give us what we want, but then make it known that they'd been planning this all along?  If this is the case, then there is an added layer of depth to their snarky smirks when they enter the arena.  Perhaps they're laughing, perhaps "Vince McMahon is happy" because they're getting what they want from us.  Simple heat.

Unless the WWE really is a terribly run business, where the whims of one man who wants to challenge the UFC determine the main event at Wrestlemania rather than the movement of the audience, then I must believe it's possible that everything we've seen, from SummerSlam to today, has been a work.

What better way for the WWE to earn heat than to keep Bryan out of the Rumble?  What better way to get people talking about the WWE than to cause this kind of controversy? 

Vince McMahon and the people who run this business originally have roots in the old-fashioned heel versus face setup, and the belief that one day the hero succeeds.  Right now, if this is a work, the WWE has managed to make the entire organization the bad-guy and one man the good-guy.  And the manner in which it's been done breaks down the forth wall even more than the Stone Cold/Vince feud.

It just seems so unfathomable that the WWE wouldn't cash in on those 'YES!' chants.  Perhaps they already are, but it's so obviously a bad business decision not to push Bryan that the only explanation I can think of is that they're putting one over on us.

Why was the title unified at such a forgettable pay-per-view as TLC?  Why wasn't that honor saved for The Rumble or 'Mania?  Why did Bryan join The Wyatts for a few weeks only to quickly leave?  Might that have been a test?  Might that have been a purposeful trick to get Bryan over even more right before The Rumble, the Rumble he would not participate in, thus making him even more over?  Why did the brass choose Pittsburgh for The Royal Rumble, a fanbase likely to have the reaction that it did?  Why did they bring Batista back and give him a top spot, which is the same thing they did last year with The Rock (a poorly received decision)?  They must have known they'd get the reaction they did.

And a Batista vs Lesnar match at 'Mania doesn't need to go on last.  That kind of media-crossing, monster match does not draw in more buys if it's the last match.  It just isn't needed.  It will earn what it earns regardless.  It going on last is simply detrimental to the people who watch wrestling consistently.  Those are the people who should be satisfied first and foremost, not the casual viewers who would be drawn into something like Lesnar vs Brock.  If the WWE simply wants Wrestlemania buys, then that means 'Mania is no longer our Superbowl.  It is no longer both the beginning and the end of our favorite wrestling stories of the year.  It's just an appeal to people who don't watch wrestling to pay for an event, because the WWE figures they have their core fans no matter what.  And that's why, if the truth is as bleak as that, we should stop buying it.  It's not made for us.

But Bryan is clearly the top-guy.  He just is.  He is the face of the company.  He's on television more, he wrestles more, and he has consistently been the most important story for the past year.  And yet we're convinced he's the underdog.  We believe he's being kept down.  If the WWE really wanted to stop the 'YES!' chants, if they really wanted to keep Bryan down, why is he wrestling at the end of the show in a tag match against The Shield almost every week?  Why is he allowed to speak at all?  Why wasn't he just fired?  Perhaps we believe what we believe because of a few very calculated decisions on creative's part and it's all building toward an explosive Wrestlemania victory.

If this is a work then Rey Mysterio entering The Rumble at number thirty, Bryan not entering at all, become purposeful creative decisions meant to build The Authority characters into powerful heels.  This now seems much more likely in my mind given what went down on RAW between Bryan and Triple H and Stephanie.  The only other explanations for why The Rumble played out the way it did are as follows: the WWE didn't know the fans would boo Batista or the WWE didn't care that the fans would boo Batista.  If either of those options are true then we should just forsake the WWE.  But those explanations seem so fantastically absurd, and incredibly less interesting.

If this is all a work, then we will see Bryan go on to win Wrestlemania.  And this could be the most satisfying finish in 'Mania history, given the slow, stop and start build Bryan has received and the unbridled passion of the fans.  The WWE knows that the people attending WrestleMania aren't going to support Batista vs Orton or Batista vs Lesnar.  That crowd will be resoundingly behind Daniel Bryan.  They must know this.

Perhaps I'm grasping at straws.  Perhaps we really will see yet another predictable 'Mania where Brock, Batista, and/or Orton are in the main event and Bryan will face someone in the mid-card.  If that's the case, I just won't watch it.  Because I won't care. 

But there are signs pointing toward the possibility that all of this is an elaborate hoax of sorts.  And if it is, the WWE will be hailed as creative geniuses, who used social media, and their own fanbase in a truly creative way.

Even Bryan's tweets and Mic Foley's tweets could be a part of it.  Right after The Rumble Bryan starts tweeting with "hashtagYesMovement" and then on RAW he says that there is a "Yes movement" going on?  Would the WWE even allow him go say that phrase if they were trying to actually keep him down.  Something is rotten in Denmark.

CM Punk's "departure" also makes me question what's been going on even more. 

Word is that much like Stone Cold Steve Austin did back in the early ought's, Punk has "taken his ball and gone home" following the events of The Royal Rumble and a recent argument with Vince McMahon.  There's plenty of reason to believe this is real, and if it is, I fully support the decision, but I also think it's very possible that it's all fake, or should I say "good storytelling". 

Punk leaving in this way, not appearing on RAW or Smackdown and his name being stricken from the WWE's lineup, could be a brilliant way to turn him heel once again.  It could be a sign that Punk versus Stone Cold is a reality, that their feud will be predicated on Punk's decision to "walk out on us".  And I'd much rather see that than Punk versus Triple H.

All of these events happening in this order makes me incredibly suspicious, and perhaps a little hopeful, that the WWE has put one over on us.  I have consistently been wrong in all of my hopes and dreams with regard to Wrestling, however.  But I look forward to seeing what happens regardless, because I've emotionally distanced myself from the product and simply don't care in the same way I did when I first began this blog.

These are things to consider as we head into Elimination Chamber.  We should be wary, friends.  For our time is short and precious, and we can't waste it being pushed around by businessmen.  If the WWE really is what it seems right now, and if Wrestlemania shapes up to be the kind of show a board of directors wants, then we should just walk away.

Much like my wrestling hero.
Do you think it's possible this is all an elaborate scheme?  A great wrestling story or a disgusting disregard for what is right and true? 

Follow WWE2K14 Champion Maximus on Twitter, comment below, and live long and prosper.

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