Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Narrative Going into WrestleMania 31

The plucky hero or an entitled villain?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The “feud” over the Intercontinental Title reminds me of the corporate world’s propensity to reward dispensable labour with fancy job titles to keep them invested until they have squeezed everything they could out of them. They don’t want their employees to escape the logic of the system. Employees can escape the system by either making enough money so that they don’t need to work or by having multiple skills allowing them to dictate the terms of engagement or become independent businessmen. The first is CM Punk; the second is Brock Lesnar.

Poor Daniel Bryan - right now he is neither. Seeing his promo on Smackdown last week, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. Ultimately, I did neither. How typical of our ironic, post-apocalyptic late capitalist age. The contenders for the Intercontinental Title remind me of how much I detest working for an employer who takes all the profit and leaves me with a job title, resume and subsistence wage which only rises with the supposedly inescapable rising expectations placed on people by a consumerist society. It reminds me that employers don’t want versatile people; they would prefer people whose skills are not really marketable outside the narrow confines of their cubicle. You just have to look at WWE’s insistence that the performances of their characters be confined to a one note gimmick.

Daniel Bryan, not to speak of Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett et all, was a subtle performer with a wide range of emotions and wrestling skills. Over the years, he has been effectively reduced to a catchphrase and a flying knee strike (almost). Bryan the performer in the ring could work a match with a variety of flavours and phases. Now he is just a plucky underdog who “hulks up” occasionally and makes a fiery comeback. Not to nitpick, but he could be so much more. Last week I realized that I don’t like Bryan; I like my memories of who he was and who he can be.

The corporations are not really concerned or interested in building or helping their employees reach their full potential. Whatever, they might say, they are not interested in a happy work life balance or all those other superficial lip service platitudes found on brochures in the lobby. They also want to ensure that the employee cannot transcend the limitations of their organization. Bryan is a great wrestler who could have been a huge superstar. But make no mistake; the WWE doesn’t want another Punk on their hands. They don’t want a superstar transcending the limitations of being on a WWE pay roll. Because if Bryan had sold enough t-shirts and become the phenomenon he could have become, then he would have left as soon as possible, just like Punk. He would have gained marketability in other markets like The Rock did or become a cultural icon like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Hence the necessity of snuffing out talented superstars who are not company men like John Cena or the latest, Roman Reigns. Speaking of Reigns…..

I suspect that Vince McMahon hates Brock Lesnar. As Lesnar reminded everybody in his latest sit-down interview on RAW this past Monday, he doesn’t care. By being who he is, he has made the labour market flexible. He has robbed WWE of its huge bargaining power. He can come in and go out as he damn pleases. He is not bound to the company. As Jake Gyllenhall tells his poor dying subordinate in the excellent and Oscar-worthy (if they actually rewarded merit) Nightcrawler, “You took away my bargaining power and you would have done it again.” Lesnar is a nightmare. Right now, he is also the babyface in this WrestleMania feud. People want to cheer him; in any case, except for kids nobody actively boos the man. The reason usually given is Lesnar’s exceptional strength and the perception of being the ultimate fighting wrestler. But I believe, subconsciously it is because of the fact that Brock Lesnar is a free man. The people see a man not bound by the rules that his “colleagues” are, by the limitations voluntarily and happily imposed by John Cena on John Cena, the character. Paul Heyman threatens that anybody trying a Montreal Screwjob will not leave the building alive, and we believe him because by gawd it’s Brock Lesnar. If Paul Heyman threatens that Brock Lesnar will leave with the title after Wrestlemania, contract or no contract, then we believe him too, because Brock Lesnar doesn’t need to bow down or kiss anyone’s ass. WWE cannot spoil his reputation or his career; he already has a lot of money, enough to ensure that he can work on his own terms or not at all.

On the other hand, we have Roman Reigns, eager to become the next company man, a position he knows his “journeymen” brothers Ambrose and Rollins (even though Rollins is a kayfabe company man) will never reach. He postures as the maligned underdog who has been told that he cannot become the number one guy in the company. He castigates the crowd for booing him and says it’s because of his lack of indie credentials. He would rather that we cheered him as he has made clear on many occasions after the Royal Rumble. I don’t know if its freudian slip on McMahonian proportions but I think the babyface stance on this would be that the fans have the right to their opinion. Roman Reigns is not a babyface, he is the classic heel who would rather that the fans cheer or boo according to his dictates. Of course the main thrust of his promos has been merely that he will win and believe that or something or the other. But I detect that the boos of the fans are incomprehensible and repugnant to him. I did what they told me, he seems to say, I worked my ass off every night, he says, what the hell? I have the pedigree, he groans, my cousin, and father and uncles were popular, I have the natural look, so why not? You would rather cheer the indie veterans over me? I detected this strain of thought in the Rock too in the backstage interview after the Royal Rumble. Both Reigns and the Rock are entitled heels.

In my last post I had said "However, this does not get us away from the problems they still face in getting Reigns ready for a WrestleMania world title match. First, they need to tell me his character motivations. Why isn't he hellbent on wrecking Rollins? Where the hell was he when Dean Ambrose was getting his ass handed to him? What are his views on Bryan never getting a rematch for the title he never lost? Will he ask Uncle Rock why he never asked for a rematch against the Beast Incarnate? Does his character realize the significance of getting a title shot at Wrestle-fucking-Mania? Does he realize that it took HBK/Austin/Hart/Foley/Angle/Guerrero many many years of being awesome at wrestling before getting a shot at the main event?" Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope.

Moving onto John Cena. Oh my. Oh my. Thankfully, while scrolling through the comments on my favourite wrestling websites I get the feeling that most of the Twitter wrestling faithful are not the rabid USA USA Fuck foreigners etc crowd. John Cena is NOT representative of America. If I was an American and attending Wrestlemania, I would consider it my patriotic duty to boo him. In the vein of “this man does not speak for me”. The actions of the character Cena have become increasingly jingoistic and villainous. Not only because he beat up a guy who was already down for the count. Not only because he regularly bullies women (Lana the unfortunate victim in this case) with misogynistic bull shit. But also because he casually assumes that he speaks for America. When I show anybody Wrestlemania here I don’t want them to turn away with the impression that wrestling is only fit for uneducated jingoistic conservative racist rednecks. So if someone’s going to Wrestlemania, boo John Cena extra hard this time, okay?

And lastly this.

Thanks to the folks at With Spandex because I would have never seen this stuff otherwise. I think recapping the story of Triple H - the egotistical Attitude era second stringer - in this fashion is great. I was really disinterested in the Triple H - Sting showdown. Now it makes sense for Triple H to pose himself as WWE's representative against the WCW relic - he simply wants to be the most important guy on the show and have the most important match against every legend possible to establish his importance. (sorry for the Paul Heyman type repetitions) He married Stephanie McMahon because he wanted to be even more important. For him prestige and being important is more important than everything in life. Not for Triple H, the simple joys of life. Triple H's misplaced sense of his own importance has cost him whatever friendships he had. It directs his every action, from D-X, to the Corporation, to Evolution, back to D-X, and then the Authority. This is why he now wants to act as kingmaker. He wants to stay important. He wants to revel in his legacy. He doesn't really care about who's champion - Lesnar, Bryan, Reigns, Cena, Rollins, or Orton. As long as he is in the match with the most important guy, its ok. Bryan at the height of his popularity. CM Punk at his. Now Sting just when he has arrived for the first time in WWE. And therefore, Sting has just given Triple H his heart's desire. Triple H doesn't care if he wins or loses. All he cares is that the next night on RAW he opens the show with a 20 minute promo about how brutal his match was and how scarred he is and what it means for his legacy ad infinitum. It is the perfect character, guys. And to think I hated him.

The best thing Sting could do to really really hurt Triple H is to not turn up for a match. I think that would be the best conclusion possible because if Sting steps into the ring then you can rest assured we get our prototypical where the big boys play Nitro main event hit one move and stall for 5 minutes WM 27 type showdown. And Triple H will revel in his own epicness.

Wrestlemania 31, here we come. Please don't WM 27 it up.