Monday, November 30, 2015

No Good Yarns in Sight: The Depressing non-Story of Roman Reigns and The Shield

Running on Empty
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Most people who deride professional wrestling point out its staged nature and say it's fake. But, we, the fans, know that this is the most brutally honest form of entertainment there is. This is principally because there is nothing "fake" about the emotions that millions of fans have derived from this staged dance for the past three-or-four decades. I didn't feel a lot of emotion when my country's cricket team (its the more elegant form of baseball) won the world cup even though that's a so called "legit' sport. I had a little dust in my eyes at the end of WrestleMania 30 even though I knew the results beforehand, and even accounting for individual idosyncracies I know that that was not an uncommon reaction to that particular event.  For some reason, Daniel Bryan's truimph, Eddie Guerrero's David vs. Goliath victory over Brock Lesnar, Mrs Foley's baby boy becoming the champion on RAW; these moments made me feel anger, despair, joy. 

And that to me is the first lesson for producing a professional wrestling product. What do you want the audience to feel? 

Another peculiar thing about wrestling is that it relies on a knowledgeable audience, but not wholly. For many fans, watching Daniel Bryan win the title was a vindication of his hard work and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds (quick, how many 5'8" wrestlers have beaten Triple H in a one on one match and then won the Championship in the main event of the same WrestleMania?). I watched a ton of Bryan's indie/ROH videos so that I could get the context of what the man was able to acheive. Being a long term fan is rewarding, and it should be that way. Wrestling in 2015 is not just about the immediate past (the three weeks before a PPV), its also about the remote past. It should be deliberately designed to appeal to the long term viewer. 

Reward the long term viewer and make a newbie so inquisitive about history that he becomes as well versed with history as the long term guy. 

Don't book angles but write biographies. 

Each wrestler is an unique individual. Write his life story. Some of it might be contrived but as long as its written well that won't matter. There will be crests and troughs. Absences. Pain. Ennui. Broken relationships. A graceful aging. Retirement. Farewells.

And now it becomes apparent why I don't really care about Paige vs. Charlotte, Roman Reigns, Sheamus et all. We are unclear about what story they are trying to tell about the characters, what stage they are at. If a real life death was going to be a talking point, that should have been introduced way back. Like, in NXT or something. Not Paige's remark but Charlotte's inspiration and hurt. As it is, no one looks good, and people are staring at each other flummoxed by what just happened. 

What is Reign's story? Short answer is nothing. Long answer, is that he would have had more of a chance if he had come up through present day NXT but back then he was just Leakee in a fledgling developmental, unknown to the audience until Survivor Series '12. As it is, once The Shield were booked as an unstoppable dynamo, it became too late in the day to revert them to being underdogs. You see how that wouldn't work? Frodo was an underdog. Neville Longbottom was an underdog. The Shield - not an underdog, not remotely. You cannot have boxes in which you throw people - heroes, villains. Such reductionism hampers story telling and obscures the grand narrative. So on the Shield break up Seth Rollins gets assigned to the villain side and Reigns and Dean Ambrose are stuck as heroes. 

I doubt that anybody answered the question - yes, maybe Reigns and Ambrose are less evil compared to Rollins but does that definitively cast them as heroic characters? Weren't these guys mercenaries not so long ago? If Reigns had to be turned into a traditional hero like say, Bayley (no better example of long term story telling and biography writing)  there had to be an event, a definite marker after which there is no going back lightly. 

To take a simple example, in the first Star Wars, Harrison Ford's character is a crook and mercenary only interested in making money for his own needs (and Chewbacca's of course). In fact his character is defined by his coarse humour and matter of fact approach - what cares he for revolutions and justice so long as he can get on unharmed and rich? To mark the twist in the tale the script requires him to do something that requires self sacrifice and without the hope of success or reward. He comes back to save Luke Skywalker hit the bullseye and destroy the Death Star contrary to his own plans. Such a positive act of valour turns him into a hero for the rest of the story. 

Now imagine if we were supposed to consider him heroic just because he gets injured while saving Princess Leia. Big whoop. He was doing it to get a profit and not out of any idealism towards a cause. (I am forgetting the whole script, but it was something like that right?)   

WWE expects us to accept Reigns as a hero just because he got cashed in on by the Money in the Bank holder, and said no to Triple H's offer for getting a bye into the finals. Maybe that could have worked for a man who was downtrodden to begin with but that expression cannot be used with any honesty for the early part of Reigns, Story of a wrestler. Hey, the cash in, as far as cash ins go, was fair and square. There was no reason to refuse Triple H's offer because you already had the number one contender spot won, fair and square. 

If he was to be a hero at all, after the Shield's break up, there required to be a turning point in the story which told us - here, this chapter ends, another begins. The Shield could have been a brilliant jumping point, an unparalleled opportunity to tell the tale of three men united by necessity, divided by treachery. Instead it again fizzled out into goodness knows what.

The WWE unfortunately, has forgotten to write biographies. They don't even attempt to anymore. While there have been moments of brilliance and the occasional stroke of inspiration, the majority of the television produced in the last, well, since ever, has been drab and just painful to sit through.