Maybe I’m just too “smart” for my own good.
Mind, I’m not referring to my intelligence, per se; rather, I mean “smart,” as in the term frequently used to describe those who understand the workings of the pro wrestling business more than what is seen on television. Contrary to this are the “marks,” who basically follow the stories and don’t pay any attention to any of the backstage politics, drama, or business– sometimes (albeit more rarely) even believing that what they’ve seen on television is real.
Me? I guess I fall into the designation of “smart mark,” or “smark.” This is where you can more or less separate the two, and appreciate the stories and characters you see on TV while also reading up on more behind-the-scenes matters, much like watching a making-of feature and enjoying the movie separately. At least, that’s how it works in theory, but that’s another matter for another article.
That said, I’m kind of finding World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, to be a bit perplexing insofar as how I’m supposed to view the company as of late. Here is an example:
Here are Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, two legitimate owners/executives for the company, proudly presenting the stage for tonight’s WrestleMania XXX (30, not the other thing) event. They’re happy, and they want us to be happy as they present their biggest show of the year. They want us to share in their excitement and joy as they work to present the “Showcase of the Immortals.”
And it might be a little easier to do that, were they not also the biggest and most despised “heels” (for the uninitiated, that’s the wrestling term for “bad guys,” with “face” being the term for the heroes) in the company.
Wrestling has always been about duality: It’s an athletic entertainment exhibition, rather than a legitimate competition, and while most people understand the former, when the cameras are on, disbelief is to be suspended as it presents itself as the latter (in which it fails on many counts, but that’s an article for another time).
The duality is also represented well by the stage names the different performers/”Superstars” take on: Mark Calloway vs. Undertaker, Steve Williams vs. Steve Austin, Paul Levesque vs. Triple H, and so on. Many have said that a lot of the gimmicks which they use in front of the crowds and cameras are basically “the same person with the volume turned way up,” but there was still a disconnect insomuch as you could appreciate the performer, but still boo the character they play. Admittedly, at the same time, if a wrestler is caught doing something like (For example) drinking and driving, your feelings for the real person can affect how you feel about the character, regardless of the part they play– just like stars from television and movies.
However, WWE has removed that sort of disconnect from itself, and it does so constantly. Once upon a time, the company behind it all was known as Titan Sports, which produced the World Wrestling Federation along with other events. Then they became World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, and after losing in court to the World Wildlife Fund, simply World Wrestling Entertainment. Now, as opposed to then, it all has the feeling of one singular entity.
The problem I see, as it stands, is that WWE is trying to present a single face for itself, yet have the same sort of disconnect that two separate entities might appreciate. They’ll encourage kids to read and take stands against bullying with Be A Star, but then have one of their heroes come out and effectively bully another performer while in-character. It’s an issue I’ve seen with their “don’t try this” public service messages, which at one time would feature the heels delivering the message– not as the performer, but as the character they play. Why exactly would you urge the impressionable to listen to the villains of your piece? It makes no sense, and they’ve thankfully remedied this with more recent pieces which have the faces telling kids not to try this.
Then we have more recent events, like the launch of the WWE Network. Over the course of a program, we’ll have Stephanie McMahon talk about the memories she had as a child attending the first WrestleMania, or seeing Hulk Hogan slam Andre the Giant and witnessing all the people cheering, and how she is happy that these moments can be shared with her children (which I’m sure they could anyway, but I digress) and future generations with the WWE Network. It’s endearing and touching, heartfelt even.
Yet, later on during that same program, she’ll come out and basically mock the crowd-favorite Daniel Bryan and even disparage the crowd itself with some pretty nasty remarks. And we’re supposed to want to commit to six months of billing for her new service?
Yes, I know that one is her speaking as herself, while the other is her in her villain role. But in the context of the program, there is no distinction, no disconnect; it’s all treated as one single Stephanie McMahon. What they seem to want is for us to immerse ourselves in the world, the story they’re crafting on television, and the bizarre Jekyll-and-Hyde routine just makes the whole thing kind of weird.
It’s weirder still if the rumors that Vince McMahon basically wants people to be “WWE fans,” rather than just “John Cena fans” or “Undertaker fans” or whathaveyou; to like the brand, rather than the performers. By having the heads of the company act in despicable manner week after week, insulting the audience in one breath and asking for us to buy their programming and merchandise in another just makes me wonder how we’re supposed to feel about the company itself when “The Authority” of that company presents itself on television as being largely reprehensible between commercial breaks and their bids to attract advertisers.
You used to see WWF/WWE t-shirts, once upon a time. Not affiliated with any particular Superstar, but featuring the company itself. Looking at their online shop, that no longer seems to be the case as far as I can tell. Even if they still had them, I wonder who they’d be trying to sell them to; as it stands, I wonder if their portrayal of the company itself is why there are no more WWE shirts being sold.
Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of “authority figures” being involved in storylines, and this is part of why. More often than not, it presents the company as the villain, and when they do a good job of it? They just end up making it look like a terrible company.
That said: Despite the fuzzy reality WWE tries to confront us with, I’m still looking forward to tuning in to WrestleMania XXX tonight, and whatever they want us to think of them, I hope to enjoy it. So I guess in the end, that’s what matters most.