Monday, July 28, 2014

Instant Feedback: Equal Opportunity Garbage People

She came off sympathetic most of the show, but still not a person to root for. That's a problem.
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For the first time in who knows how long, a storyline centered around women on the show got a chance to close it out. Sure, the halcyon days of Lita vs. Trish Stratus, or more accurately, Lita vs. Stephanie McMahon were long past. As RAW is wont to do, the show ended on a talking segment. But the crowd was into it, like SUPER into what McMahon and Brie Bella were laying down. Story progression was made, the two parties agreed to a match, and Bella took a decent bump off the apron. If anyone could use a segment as a proof that a story centered around two women could draw big heat, it would be this particular overrun.

Unfortunately, the final frame was notable for an ongoing problem in WWE, one that was highlighted earlier in the show with Jack Swagger and Alexander Rusev. In many cases, the company struggles to tell stories where an identifiable protagonist exists, or if one is present, that person is oftentimes morally bankrupt. Bella and Swagger, the folks WWE currently is presenting as the nominal babyfaces, fit those roles to a tee. Bella willingly and stupidly quit her job for a husband who'd be put on the shelf indefinitely anyway a week later, doubling down on her mistake by assaulting her former boss. Swagger is an avowed xenophobe at best, playing to the base emotions of a crowd all too eager to wave the Stars 'n Stripes in jingoistic vigor regardless of what he stood for.

It's not as if the antagonists in their respective stories are any more redeemable. One might be tempted to take up for McMahon until that person realizes she in essence reaped what she sowed as the selfishly evil avatar of American corporate personhood run amok. And Rusev represents an insidious evil in and of himself, the cartoonish supervillain known as Vladimir Putin. If nationalistic pride were not at stake, would anyone look at a potential second Cold War between the United States and Russia as a clash between good and evil?

This kind of clash between flawed entities might fly on cable television, where emotional involvement doesn't necessarily demand you invest a rooting interest in one singular party. Shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire painted with a full palette of colors rather than black, white, and gray. While a viable wrestling company that is able to present artistic stories where the arc is the thing rather than a personal struggle between two parties is a dream of mine, I do have to admit that a certain magic is produced when a crowd is worked up into a lather supporting one warrior or agent in opposition to another. Wrestling works through conflict, and maybe nuanced storytelling where you can root for no one and still enjoy the show is not meant for the aggressive arts.

But it's also not like these crowd baiting techniques don't work. Swagger is as over as ever, and Bella, though the the magic of Stephanie McMahon's ability to garner heat for anyone she opposes, now has the unequivocal support of the crowd. However, what do those wrestlers being so popular say about the soul of WWE? Are the fans the heels as Rich Thomas so frequently claims? Can wrestling, or at least WWE/mainstream wrestling be accepted as an artform when such recursive, reductive tendencies are not only utilized but embraced as the heroic norm?

But then again, maybe the message is that in WWE, some kind of equality is possible. I could do without the gendered insults, even if they're being thrown back and forth between women. Seriously, cool it on the b-word. But still, if the men can engage in garbage people vs. garbage people feuds, then maybe women doing the same in a better spot on the card is a sign that things may improve in the company before long. Or maybe the fact that the women's feud happens to involve one of the two future bosses of the company has more to do with things. I don't know, but right now, I'm too tired to think about whether that matters or not.