Tuesday, May 26, 2015

On Rusev, Lana, and WWE's Relationship Dynamics

The tables were turned here, but is it an illusion?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Whenever a couple gets together in WWE, the question isn't if they'll break up but when. Every great power couple in the company has undergone a major rift at some point, even if a reunion was in the cards. From "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth to Zack Ryder and Eve Torres, the seeds get planted for dissension almost immediately, which is why Rusev and Lana were doomed to their current state from the beginning.

However inadvisable the split might have seemed in February, when a glimmer of hope was to be had that Rusev's Hero of the Russian Federation run wasn't going to be mangled going through the John Cena Model 5.0 Wood Chipper, it became viable once Rusev's need for expansion and character development was needed. Any old lug could have done the Russian villain appropriation and flamed out after a single run, but Rusev showed so much more potential for growth that he needed to be lifted from that run and fitted into something a bit more universal. Splitting with Lana wasn't the only way to attain that, but it was a good way, especially since Ol' Wolf Eyes himself, Vince McMahon, caught wind of Lana and thought she was attractive, err, I mean talented enough for some kind of iconic push herself, even if McMahon wouldn't know how to push a woman if he was given the instruction manual. (Hint, pushing a female character works the same as a male character!)

Regardless, the split has been met with mixed reviews, but the friction between the two has produced more sparks of emotion rather than the kind of sparks that light dumpsters full of oily rags on fire. Additionally, it treads somewhat new territory, or at least territory that hasn't been tread with great fanfare since Savage's paranoia and jealousy drove Liz away from him and set the Mega Powers to explode. A lot of times, the woman in the breakup is painted as some kind of megabitch demonface who needs to be purged from the earth with a fresh shot of masculine power.

Had Rusev's part been played by someone other than himself, he might have come off as sympathetic to the vocal part of the crowd that is as thirsty as their bedroom droughts have lasted. The commentary about misogyny being played off for boos rather than crowd approval is sad, but at the same time, watching Lana act as the empowered party in their relationship was refreshing as it unfolded in real time. Of course, the fact that instead of breaking into a full rendition of a Beyoncé song (the obvious choice would be "Single Ladies," but maybe a little Destiny's Child and "Independent Women" might have been better), she fell to Dolph Ziggler playing the glass and picking the rebound like he was Tim Duncan is a bit problematic. Baby steps in real life maybe seem like leaps on the moon in the WWE Universe, but progress is progress, I suppose.

Still, while WWE has a long, long way to go in terms of portraying healthy relationship ideals on camera, the fact that Rusev and Lana were able to turn the power dynamics around even a little bit is a promising sign. Perhaps when McMahon gives up control of the company, which at this rate could be five years after he's dead, and Kevin Dunn is given a severance package of a giant boot up his ass, things can normalize and WWE can start to mimic real society. Or, more realistically, this was an oasis in a desert of terrible portrayals of romantic relationships. Wrestling isn't exactly a bastion for healthy relationship stories; even Chikara fell into that trap with the uncomfortable payoff to the Veronica Ticklefeather/Archibald Peck love saga. It sucks that the most basic of human decency vis-a-vis love between two parties seems like a giant step, and this item should definitely be placed on the punchlist of things wrestling companies need to do to stop being labeled as redneck or trash entertainment.