Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Shane McMahon Paradox

Shane-O-Mac Is Back but is that entirely good?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Shane McMahon was in many ways the largest beneficiary of rose-colored nostalgia in WWE. As the son of Vince McMahon, he was afforded certain luxuries that others, not even his sister Stephanie, could boast. At times, he was exciting. Few spots from the turn of the century are as memorable as him falling off the TitanTron or taking a Kurt Angle belly-to-belly suplex through plate glass. But for every memorable moment, he had long swaths of time between those matches being annoying. In the early days, his shtick wasn't so troublesome. He was a heel; he was supposed to get under the fans' skin.

But in his later days with WWE, he became less the exception to the rule of McMahon family bloat and more the emblem. Nothing really encapsulated this more than when he feuded with Randy Orton in advance of WrestleMania XXV and threw punches that missed so wide of the mark that they may have well hit random bystanders in the crowd. When he left the company to pursue real life business opportunities, he provided a respite from at least one McMahon on constant watch. Personally, it was a relief, and the sense I got from the consensus was that even if he was well-liked, he was instigating fatigue.

When his music hit last night and the shock of his return wore off, I started to remember the malaise again. The RAW narrative had already been stuffed to the gills with McMahon overdrive. I feared a reprise of WrestleMania 2000 at this point, but something happened. McMahon was announced by his father to face Undertaker at Hell in a Cell, and something clicked on RAW that hasn't since the infamous Pipe Bomb promo CM Punk cut way back in the antiquity of 2011. RAW felt unpredictable, and the road to the next big event, WrestleMania in this instance, felt viable.

RAW has had stretches of episodes that have been well-structured and entertaining. But unpredictability, the good kind, not the swerves for swerving's sake that the creative office has tried to pass off at times, has been lacking. RAW doesn't need to have that shock factor to be good, but something about having an uncharted road ahead of you makes the trip all the more exhilarating. Shane McMahon's return, despite any baggage that may come with it, brought that feeling, and how could it not?

McMahon, aside from the aforementioned Punk, was the last guy who could have come back and produced such a shockwave that would reach even the coldest, deadest wrestling hearts. He was supposedly cashed out of WWE, both on camera and behind the scenes, and he wanted to branch out in his own area of businesses, which he did. The carny shit was thought to be left to his sister Stephanie and brother-in-law Triple H. He even had the wrestling media worked to a point, even more than Punk, because I'm pretty sure half the people at least writing wrestling news sites right now expect him to come back sooner or later. I'm not sure McMahon was on anyone's radar.

But with that shock come sobering realizations. The first is that McMahon was able to get that kind of pop not just because he's been away for so long, but because WWE television, at least on RAW and Smackdown, is structured as such that only members of the McMahon family and a select few tenured wrestlers (Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, John Cena) are stars who matter. His comeback contrasts the crowd reactions of nearly everyone else, and it paints a dismal picture of the job WWE writers and bookers have done creating viable, over talent on the active roster. Second, how long before McMahon reminds everyone of his more annoying traits? When he throws his first punch, how many inches off the mark will it "land?" The honeymoon may last longer for some fans than others, but the truth of the matter is that it will end.

And that's where WWE is right now, where the biggest return it could have garnered produces infinite wells of both hope and antipathy. The rote, boilerplate "wrestling writer on the Internet" thing to say would be that at least some excitement is back on RAW, but at what cost will that excitement bring the narrative? I would love to be gung ho about all this, but I've put my trust in McMahon-o-Vision too many times and gotten burnt enough that the best I can come up with is staying extremely woke, even if it's decidedly down the middle of the line.