Monday, January 20, 2014

Instant Feedback: The Lukewarm

What is the point?
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I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. -- Revelations, 3:15-16
The biggest crime in professional wrestling is not to have a character. You can be subtle. You can be a "tweener." You can try to paint the corners and use shades of colors that might be foreign to the target audience. But you have to have a character. You have to have motivations.

For all I know, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have an endgame in sight. They could be heading towards a reckoning, where their master plans come to fruition in a Sixth Sense-level crescendo of sense and swerve. I am terrible at predicting these kinds of things, and WWE has a way of pulling things out of its posterior to the point where I can't be bothered to wonder whether they'd planned it all along.

But right now, The Authority is a cup of coffee that sat out with the insulating lid off the styrofoam for too long. It's no longer piping hot, nor has it been exposed to the elements necessary to make it suitable for iced coffee. It's room temperature. Lukewarm. Gross. Triple H has spent the last month splitting his time being angry at Randy Orton, his golden calf if you will, and playing the glad-handing CEO, bringing back all your faves like Brock Lesnar and Batista, who came out to an unprecedented reaction according to JBL. My hate boner for the former Bradshaw might be at priapism levels, but maybe he is right. I mean, shouldn't a star like Batista get a good crowd reaction? Unprecedented for him to get one on the level as what Daniel Bryan gets when he's not even in the arena while Heath Slater tangles with Justin Gabriel (and I like Batista!). But I digress.

McMahon's cool-down is even more distressing, because her "mom voice" used to be used for concern trolling passive aggression. Now, she just moseys onto the screen, reprimanding her wards for things they probably deserved to be reprimanded for. Her purpose seems to be gone. Now she's just a droning nag of a character. What happened to the McMahon who raised the mask of Kane like a trophy she personally gained through strategic hunting and skillful knifework? What happened to the McMahon who feigned interest in Big Show's married life under the ulterior motive of wanting to keep the World's Largest MAthlete under her thumb?

The Authority has gone from maniacal evil presence to this amphoteric meter of corporate "justice." Maybe that asshole boss just protecting the bottom line is a good enough villain in this increasingly class-unequal America, but WWE already had the perfect guy to assume that position. Big Johnny, gone but never forgotten. Right now, this arc for the McMahon-Helmsley power consolidation feels an awful lot like two people who want to play both sides of the fence. They appear to be fishing for cheers on one hand, posting their petulant manchild Randy Orton to the whipping stake and giving him verbal lashes, all the while flirting with the sinewy, statuesque suitors who would love a crack at his title like John Cena and Batista.

Of course, this sweeping change in the Authority's personae comes not without real life context. Apparently, Vince McMahon said somewhere that he doesn't book faces and heels anymore, that he paints with shades of gray and builds characters. I am all for that kind of storytelling, but in order to create a compelling overall story, the main characters have to have even more care taken to their construction. Good and evil no longer are there to serve as crutches for weak characterization. WWE has seemingly gotten it right in some cases. The Wyatt Family is so creepy that I want to jeer them back to the set of Deliverance where they belong, but their message resonates just enough that maybe I want them to turn WWE into their own personal bayou.

But the bosses are just people who show up and get mad at their employees, often to no satisfactory reason as to why. Sure, I get why they're mad at Orton nominally, but the crushing weight of context doesn't allow them to continue on this path without major strain to the viewer, at least this one. For the autumn, I was content sipping my Authoritarian Latte, but it's gone too cold. I'm ready to spit them out if they don't course-correct and show me something, anything, that suggests they've still got a higher purpose on this show.