Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Tale of Two Kevins

Owens is the victim of a petty bully right now
Photo Credit: WWE.com
RAW last night had its ups and downs, like any usual episode of the show. One of the downs that really bugged me more than anything (and honestly, the show was mostly fine that the bad stuff was easily laughed off, like the Undertaker's shitty purple mist promo) came from the crowd. Usually, I don't like parsing crowd reactions; the fans react how they're going to react, and it's more a function of what they're given rather than who they are. However, at one point during the first match of the evening, pitting Kevin Owens and Sheamus against Cesaro and Randy Orton, the crowd busted out an audible, even if it wasn't deafening, "FAT OWENS FAT" chant. It was the most embarrassed I'd been as a wrestling fan from a chant since the last time a "PUPPIES!" chant broke out during a women's match.

It's not like it's just the uptight leftists like myself who notice these things. Roman Reigns said in an interview that he felt bullied when the fans out and out rejected his push from the Royal Rumble through to WrestleMania. It was greeted with derision, that Reigns was continuing his crybaby bent complaining about the fans as a way to deflect his own deficiencies as a character then, and to a degree, those criticisms feel valid. But Reigns was onto something, even if it didn't necessarily apply to him. The fans can be bullies, and they've shown that capacity as recently as last night.

Maybe calling fans "bullies" is a slight misnomer. They're more the hangers on that leech onto the most popular bully like remoras to the underbelly of a shark. But still, when you're the target of ire, it's hard to distinguish between the two. Whether they're the instigators or the hangers on, it's telling how easily so many people in the crowd fall into a trap of participating in chants that are mean-spirited. But if the fans aren't the instigators, who is the one pushing the buttons?

It'd be easy to point the finger at Vince McMahon, and honestly, he probably deserves most of the blame. By all accounts, he runs his company like the world owes him its lunch money. It manifested itself in the WWF's nationalization, and it's manifesting itself now, either through his own direct doing or through influence of his son-in-law Triple H, with the systematic, ruthless business campaign against Ring of Honor. It's come through on screen via the Kiss My Ass Club. But clowning someone who has moved the needle and gained the respect of said son-in-law AND the guy against whom he was first programmed on the main roster in John Cena doesn't feel like a McMahon move to me. I could be terribly wrong, of course, but the influence comes from somewhere else.

Kevin Dunn, however, seems the perfect kind of vengeful by all accounts to submarine someone based on reasons other than business. A producer who rose up the ranks over 30 years with WWE, Dunn has gained a horrible reputation for overstepping his bounds into creative and personnel decisions, and those decisions have led mainly to self-preservation, reinforcing the WWE's steroid archetype for men, and the continual plunging of female wrestlers into the branding shackles of the word "Diva."

Lately, the scuttlebutt out of Stamford has him worried for his own hide from Triple H's growing influence, and he's lashing out at the current crop of NXT performers making the jump to the main roster. What do you know, among them include a crop of women whose main assets are their working ability and a chubby dude who happens to be the best all-around professional wrestler WWE has had on its fucking roster since "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Of course he's going to play politics to make those Triple H projects look idiotic.

The women's division is fraught with its own problems, ones endemic to WWE booking on the whole, but this current sabotage of Owens is cruel yet supremely brilliant. Dunn's reputation paints him as a petty, small man in a position of power, the perfect situation for a bully to pull his strings. He found a willing stooge in Randy Orton to drop the first bomb. Not to say Orton is one of Dunn's allies, but the man seems like WWE's Ron Burgundy; he will read from the teleprompter, even if it calls for him to say "Go fuck yourself, San Diego." The seed was sown, and hey, nothing a rabid WWE crowd loves more than a bully. Even with this partnership with BA Star, the MO has been to take traits that heels have and mock them mercilessly, as long as they're "safe" traits. No one will be bullied for being gay or black, but God forbid you're smart like Damien Sandow, straight edge like CM Punk, or fat.

But it's not necessarily a thing fans will do without provocation. No one mentions Bray Wyatt's weight, and he's a rubenesque fellow himself. Therefore, what he's known for are his rambling promos, creepy oeuvre, and "the Fireflies." But once you let the cat out of the bag on a heel's deficiencies, vocal fans in the audience will swirl around it like sharks to blood. Make no mistake about it, this has become a political hit on Owens from a singular person in the office. Sure, it's one Owens can, will, and has worked around the pitfalls. He's that special.

Again, I've seen hundreds of wrestlers live, and none have affected me as greatly as Owens, whether at the NXT house show in Philly or the several times I've seen him in person at Ring of Honor as Kevin Steen. To look at him and only see the word "fat" as pejorative is insane and means that observer has no idea how to watch wrestling. For one, a person's weight isn't his or her worth, and it certainly doesn't mean that person is lazy. Body weight science is developed, but it's not exact. Fat people have many reasons for carrying that weight, some of them that are beyond their control. Even so, one can be fat and in shape, and given that Owens regularly works ten-plus minute matches in WWE and has worked in upwards of three matches a night in his indie days, most notably for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, he seems to be one of those bigger guys whose weight isn't that much of a hindrance.

But the minds of those who are petty and small are incomprehensible to those on the outside looking in. Bullies in most cases deserve pity and understanding, but those who prey on the meek in the schoolyards are different in circumstance than the ones in full control of their lives in the boardroom. American business should have no room for that kind of personality with power, but the amount of companies that live and die off petty decisions rather than what's, ahem, dammit, "best for business" in all facets of industry, not just wrestling, is baffling. It seems bullies thrive in capitalistic society. I guess you just have to have the right bully in charge.

Kevin Dunn is not the right bully. Hell, he's not even good at his stated job anymore. Any given RAW will have a glaring production error. The camera work has declined at worst and failed to evolve with the times at best. How telling is it that the Beast in the East show, one that Dunn had no part in the production and one headlined in part by a fantastic Owens match against Finn Bálor, was one of the best-received shows of the year for how fresh and exciting it was? WWE is going to ride or die with Triple H in the future without Dunn riding sidesaddle. That much is for certain. But the sooner Dunn gets his sniveling, vindictive ass out of power, the better WWE will be, the better all of wrestling may end up being.