Monday, February 15, 2016

The Reality of the End of The Reality Era

The exit of the avatar of reality
Photo Credit:
WrestleMania XXVIII featured a Hell in a Cell match between Triple H and Undertaker billed as the “End of an Era.” It’s four years later and Triple H is the World Champion and rumors about Taker’s next ‘Mania opponent are ubiquitous. Hell, even the match’s special referee Shawn Michaels continues to hang around, appearing whenever WWE feels the need to reassure us with the sight of a middle-aged man who tucks his jeans into his cowboy boots. That is not how to end an era…

The “Reality Era” is unique in that it's one of the rare historical moments that has a clearly demarcated beginning and end. While there’s an argument to be made that it kicked off with the Nexus dismantling John Cena and the ring he was standing in, generally we think of CM Punk’s pipebomb as the beginning of the “hey, is that really happening?” period. In the months that followed, Punk, AJ Lee and Daniel Bryan managed to muscle their way past the company mandated heroes1 and firmly plant themselves in the middle of the WWE.

The three of them had the ability to transcend the usual plodding, rambling storylines through a mixture of creativity and authenticity. Despite the sports entertainment facade, we could tell that Punk really was a smart, cranky guy obsessed with being the best. We could see Lee’s joy as a geek who got the opportunity to live her dream. And we knew that vegan geek Daniel Bryan was really the most skilled artist in the company with a preternatural ability to connect with audiences.

And because of these abilities, we saw a corporate narratives get absolutely derailed because of audiences demanded it. In a world that’s absolutely fake, these three were able to change the conversation, establish their legitimacy, and become the measures for all other performers in the company by being utterly authentic.

But just like it had a definitive beginning, it’s now definitively over. Punk and Lee are at home watching zombie movies, rooting for the Blackhawks, and probably getting ready for a mixed-martial arts fight. And now, of course, Bryan’s gone, too. With terrible irony, the guy whose performances had the highest level of verisimilitude is gone for the most real of reasons.

While this era is over, we’re on to the next one. Hopefully one that provides opportunities for skilled performers to remake their stories in their own images. New Day evolved from a poorly-defined gospel music gimmick into absurdist, booty-obsessed fan favorites. Sasha Banks’ performance as a profoundly insecure mean-girl is deeply resonant. And there’s a whole passel of performers in NXT whose freak flags are authentically flying. There’s a reason to be optimistic.

Also, despite his very real health concerns, keep in mind that Bryan got to go out on his own terms, made a bunch of money, held every championship in the biggest wrestling in history, and is married to Brie Bella. We’re going to miss him, but we suspect he’ll be ok. And that Monday was probably not the last time we'll see him. Again – optimism. Or, to quote New Day, "When life hands you booty, make booty-ade."

Our old favorites are gone. Let’s try to make sure that we create the opportunity for our new favorites – whoever they are – to do their thing.

1 - Except for Cena, of course…