Thursday, March 6, 2014

On Triple H, "Burials," and Necessary Evil

Pictured above: Bryan, Steph, and a necessary evil
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When I was younger, I believed in a lot of stupid things sight unseen, no questions asked. Granted, none of them were on the level of incredulity as "WWE had to replace the original Ultimate Warrior," but in various states of like or dislike, I allowed myself to believe things that may or may not have been true. For awhile, I swore that Triple H was this diabolical political machinist who held everyone down and made sure he was the only person on the show who mattered despite the fact that he wasn't nearly as organically popular as those who came before him.

In fairness to my younger self, some of those rumors could have rung true. I believed them so steadfastly, but I only had whispers, rumors, and gossip to go by. Without being backstage at a WWE show or in creative meetings, I had no idea what was true and what was manufactured story by people who also didn't like Triple H. I've read and heard quite a bit of apologia about WWE's in-storyline COO (I'm not sure if he shoot-holds that title or not; I also don't particularly care), and while I appreciate the gestures of wanting to couch criticism in truth, I still can't get over the tonality of some of the rhetoric. Mainly, I don' t particularly think Triple H deserves to be lauded, and attempting to be fair to the man, as a wrestling television character at least, does not mean that the person judging him needs to stay out of the negative.

The reason why I was so quick to cling to rumors that Trips was a bastard who literally and unironically thought of himself the way his on-screen persona did sometime around SummerSlam 1999, he became one of the absolute worst characters in all of pro wrestling. He was boring and plodding, and the narrative surrounding him conflated those attributes with "cerebral." Those qualities metastasized somewhere in 2002, when he came back the conquering hero that was an even more overbearing persona than the original, villainous incarnation of The Game. Basically, every week, RAW was a demonstrated effort by WWE prodding me – and a good portion of the rest of the audience, but I can only speak personally – and asking like a sugar-addled kindergartner "DO YOU LIKE HIM YET? NO? HOW 'BOUT NOW?"

When that good guy run didn't work, he shifted back to villainy and somehow, the overbearing nature of his character got worse. Lording over Rob van Dam and Kane while winning the blowoff matches in those feuds was bad enough, especially since the Kane feud provided the single most embarrassing angle this side of Mark Henry and Mae Young's pregnancy story. I don't care that Trips got in the casket and dry-humped Katie Vick. He got to keep the belt. The crime of that entire run wasn't that he married into the family or was using political powers or any other rumor that might have bubbled to the surface. His violation was taking part in awful television and doing next to nothing on his own power to elevate it. Triple H at his best as "The Game" could still always come off as dry with the best material, and the period between creating the World Heavyweight Championship and the elevation of John Cena, Batista, and Randy Orton always felt like Creative was spewing out the worst of the worst.

The absolute nadir of this run as World Champion came in the build to WrestleMania XIX, where Booker T would challenge Trips. The feud started when the Champ busted out Booker's mugshot from when he was arrested for holding up a Wendy's in his pre-wrestling days and then referred to him as "you people," which might be the most famous coded language used by white people to refer to black people as the term they really want to use in history. The entire feud seemed racially charged and one-sided, with Booker only getting some shine the week before Mania. The entire feud was set up for Booker to give Triple H's character's racist ass some comeuppance by taking the Big Gold Belt on the biggest stage of them all. So, what happened?

Triple H kicked out of Booker's finisher and pinned him clean as a whistle with the Pedigree.

Honestly, the tone of the feud might have come from Creative, and yeah, Triple H had bigger and better things waiting for him with Goldberg coming in soon. But how could I watch that feud play out with Booker, a guy that I legitimately liked even from his WCW days, being the butt of the world's worst white superiority morality play and not feel like Triple H as the head of the program wasn't the biggest fucking problem with WWE? Sure, Trips may not have "buried" Booker, but he buried my interest in watching wrestling week to week for about seven years. Excuse me if I'm not interested in hearing the oral history about how everyone was wrong for accusing him of being Mr. Burial Monster.

Once again, I do understand the need for fairness in discussion of any period in wrestling history. I know Triple H went on to put over [REDACTED], Batista, and John Cena at the next three WrestleMania events in meaningful ways. But I also think pointing out that his flaws as a character, the absolutely boring way in which he was booked, and the declining quality of his matches is also as relevant, if not more relevant to be honest, than the base win-loss record. Even now, as he comes off the heels of the best segment he's done in antagonism of Daniel Bryan, I still got the feeling watching it that he was coming off slightly as the kind of obnoxious that made me want to change the channel. Of course, I didn't turn RAW off, and I actually enjoyed watching the repartee, but I still can't think of Trips as anything more than a necessary evil at this point.