Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Twin Magic and WWE's Writing of Women

"Twin magic" might be bullshit as a trope, but don't blame the Bellas for not doing their best with it
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Brie Bella did everything correctly last night when she executed "twin magic" to help sister Nikki retain the Divas Championship against Paige. She hid her face and her, ahem, chest areas so as to look as similar to her sister as possible. She did the quick roll-up and met up with her sister in enough time that it would appear to the ref that Nikki was there the whole time. Yes, several things were "wrong" with the action, but none of them were Brie's fault. She played her role perfectly. Yet, when the time came to criticize what went wrong with the finish of the match, the brunt landed on the Bella Twins mostly. The blame is off-base.

First up, yes, Brie's gear was different than Nikki's, but whose fault is that? The workers are not in charge of their own gear. That job is up to the seamstresses/seamsters backstage. If levels of skin color were the issue, then what was stopping the agent who laid the match out to make sure Brie went for a spray tan session? Hair color was off? What, were the wig people not there? New Day JUST did it at Payback? Well, why didn't the agents and producers communicate with each other? Why wasn't the call made from over their heads NOT to run the same goddamn finish within two weeks of its last implication? The only things that were completely in Brie Bella's control were hiding under the ring, rolling in to make the pin, and doing it all in a way that would create a legitimate, disbelief-suspending execution on it. From where I was watching, she did everything she was supposed to do. The planning, booking, and quality control failed her and failed the story.

Wrestlers, for better or worse, are only in so much control of the execution of their angles, and even back in those halcyon days when WRITERS didn't exist, no wrestler ever went into business for him/herself without some kind of consequence, however large. Even if a wrestler turns straw into gold, bad story framing or repetitive booking can sink them. Odds are, if a similar situation existed on the men's side (maybe not "twin magic," since that shit has mostly always been panned), and it was someone on the New Day or Cesaro or whomever being failed by the booking, then you'd best believe that the consensus reaction would be "Hey! WWE Creative sucks!" rather than "Cesaro/New Day/whomever sucks!"

Yet, the Bella Twins, even after making leaps and bounds in both character development and especially in-ring ability, are still the targets of scorn, whether or not they're being written well. Nikki's improvements are touted at times, but Brie has gone from a timid statue, shirking in the face of Stephanie McMahon's big and bold imposition to having at least a modicum of presence. She's not as good a worker as her sister, but be real about all this. Aside from Emma and Alicia Fox, who is as good a worker on the main roster as Nikki? One might be able to make an argument for Paige too, but that's a sore and debatable topic right now.

Some of it is sexism, obviously. Wrestling doesn't attract a completely progressive crowd, but even folks who don't outwardly hate women and are fair tend to give the Bellas a bad rap because they represent everything wrong with the old guard of the Divas paradigm. But they've broken out of that mold and made strides to improve. It's the booking and writing that does them dirty, just like it does Naomi and Paige and Emma and Fox and *insert main roster woman, past or present here*. The presentation is horrendous and pervasive.

It goes beyond the lack of traditional alignment and the alleged booking memo that said "No heels or faces, just catty and crazy [b-words]." Having a dearth of traditional, good vs. evil alignment wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for any portion of WWE, but in order to pull off such an environment, the writing and booking has to be even better than in a traditional sense to get the kinds of crowd reactions that the office seems to desire. If that scenario doesn't play out often with the men, then it never plays out with the women.

The match length problem has been mitigated, surely, as main roster women are now allowed to raise their average time from 30 seconds into the multiple minute mark. But the character definition is lacking for one. Story directions are more scatterbrained than with the men, and the emblematic example remains Brie's heel turn at the end of her "indentured service" to Nikki late last year. But maybe the most problematic part is the narrative voiced from the commentary desk.

While Jerry Lawler's exile to Smackdown has improved the quality of RAW's booth, it still is lacking comparatively speaking. Michael Cole, JBL, and Booker T oftentimes veer off topic even more than in the average men's match, and Booker especially has replaced Lawler's thirsty-pervert references with more vitriolic "all women hate each other" generalizations that play like it was out of a script written by a stodgy old man who treats women like objects rather than a woman or another man who understands that a woman, like any other person on the planet, is a deeply complex individual and cannot be lumped into a conforming mass.

But then when the pay-per-views roll around, Lawler is back in the third chair, and he starts reminding everyone what the real purpose of women is on the main roster. No worse example came the most recently at Elimination Chamber when Nikki took a pretty gnarly bump into the side of the announce desk, and Lawler lamented not for her physical condition, but that she didn't tumble over the desk into his lap. It goes beyond admiration of the female form and borders into gross objectification.

Meanwhile, despite their lot in the company still being stuck in the mire, these women continue to bust their asses, none more noticeably than the Bella Twins. One can blame WWE Creative and Vince McMahon for breaking out the shitty "twin magic" mechanism again, and one can blast the QC process, but Brie went out there and executed on it like a boss. The problem isn't her or her sister, but it's the atmosphere, and if anyone thinks that the infusion of Sasha Banks or the other NXT Four Horsewomen into the narrative is going to magically fix things, that person is sadly mistaken.

Women are better off in NXT from a creative/narrative standpoint until Kevin Dunn and Vince McMahon both fuck off from the company. Until they're out of the way and a true, equal vision for women is implemented on WWE programming, then viewers will continue to see women be saddled with shit quality control, nonsensical booking, and trite writing. The wrestlers though, Bella Twins especially, deserve all the praise they can get for taking this slop and making it somewhat palatable.