Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Instant Feedback: The Opiate of the Masses

How long can good wrestling keep the bad storytelling at bay?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. -- Karl Marx

I am a wrestling fan, a hardcore one at that. One could say it is my religion, and the rites are what happen in the ring. When the wrestling is good, the ills of the trappings that surround it can seem dulled. Tonight, RAW presented at least three solid, borderline fantastic matches, giving illusion that everything was hunky-dory within the WWE Universe. Big E Langston and Antonio Cesaro hossing around the ring, Christian and Sheamus showing why they're still among the WWE's elite, and Kane working over Daniel Bryan's shoulder all would fill out a show sometime in the summer with no offense. However, that last match in the sequence was a harbinger of the sickness plaguing the company, a rot that has seized hold of the roots of WWE, one that goes by the name of the "delayed payoff."

When Bryan defeated John Cena at SummerSlam, only to be felled by a nefarious plot by Triple H and Randy Orton to consolidate power and keep the "B+" players away from the prizes the fans wanted them to claim, I resigned myself to a long haul. Bryan getting his WrestleMania moment was a pot of gold at the end of a long rainbow that would have been worth it. Of course, a victory over the big bad boss, especially one with the in-ring bona fides of Triple H would qualify as a WrestleMania moment. No doubt exists that a Bryan/Trips story would carry weight and make some sense, but would it make the most sense? Sure, that match may make some sense, but it would also represent awful storytelling on WWE's behalf.

When Shawn Michaels superkicked Bryan at Hell in a Cell, leading to Orton retaining the Championship, one of two paths were open to the company for WrestleMania. Either Bryan was to regain his holy grail and take the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, or he was to face his teacher and his mentor in battle. Elimination Chamber only mollified the prior endgame, especially since Michaels doesn't seem any closer to an in-ring return than he was after losing his career to Undertaker. When Kane screwed Bryan out of the title, the response should have been to put Bryan in the title match.

I don't like being the guy who puts arbitrary deadlines on stories and when they need to finish up. My guess is that if Bryan doesn't win the title at Mania, he will probably win it at Extreme Rules, but when has anyone promoed about getting to have that all-important Extreme Rules moment? When Bryan made his WWE debut on the first episode of NXT, he dreamed of being in the main event of WrestleMania in front of adoring fans chanting his name.

Technically, Bryan still COULD be in the last match. The only argument for a match more important would be Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar. WWE clearly is interested in promoting stories on their own merits rather than needing the most important story always to be orbiting tangible brass rings. However, two problems exist with applying that mindset to Bryan in this scenario. One, the story doesn't fit. Two, the belts are still the most over thing in terms of story by far, and I don't think that can be discounted when it comes to deciding what story should be the main event of the biggest card of the year.

Obviously, I'm part of the problem because I keep tuning in every week. However, like a weary member of the proletariat looking for spiritual soothing of God's grace after a hard week of work, I come running to the font of free grappling that WWE provides me every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (and sometimes Sunday). With the roster it has now, the company can pretty much put any combination of matches on television in a given week and draw rave marks.

Luckily for WWE, my threshold for their storyline bullshit is about as close to being fulfilled as my Gmail inbox is to being over capacity. Hint, I don't send or receive a whole lot of e-mail. But the wrestling on the show means a lot more when a good story is attached to it, almost like how religion is only constructive to society when it is couched in context and understanding. Right now, the disconnect between quality of wrestling and storytelling might create a legion of fans whose ideas of what a good show is might become warped and insular.