Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Bad Bayley Takes and You

Why so many awful Bayley takes lately?
Photo Credit:
So, a review that popped up on Rolling Stone's website by Kenny Herzog for Battleground that was universally panned by anyone who saw the show and had two brain cells to rub together. Honestly, part of the consensus revulsion towards the review, which I will not link here because bad writing shouldn't get clicks, was because the writer seemed to have panned the show. I will never go in on someone for having a difference of opinion, no matter how wildly divergent it is. However, while one is entitled to his or her own opinion, sometimes, said opinion can be so rooted in ignorance that it needs to be retorted.

The bad opinion in question involves Bayley, who made a one-night-only appearance on the RAW/Smackdown roster so she could help out the Kevin Steen to her El Generico, Sasha Banks against the nefarious duo of Charlotte and Dana Brooke. The writer in question clearly doesn't get Bayley because he wrote the following passage about her:
I personally don't get the Bayley thing, and think turning her heel would be a no-brainer, but I'm also not schilling merchandise to 7-year-old girls. Or am I?
I think Herzog answered his own question right there in the same sentence, but I doubt that was the reaction he was going for.

Herzog can be forgiven, because he's not the highest-profile wrestling writer to have a dumb take about Bayley, nor was his take the most offensive. Dave Meltzer took to criticizing WWE's handling of Bayley back in June. The company's insistence on leaving Bayley on NXT is perplexing, but Meltzer had himself quite the reason for why delaying her in this specific character for so long is a bad look:
Meltzer may have been commentating on society's sexist portrayal of women, but at the same time, do I want to give the man who said Darren Young coming out was a non-story, that domestic violence allegations against Tomoaki Honma were no big deal, and played Hot or Not with New Japan and WWE female fans alike the benefit of the doubt on social issues? Even if I was generous enough to give him said pass, he's looking at Bayley through the lens of a cishet male wrestling fan. No matter what the alternative right tries to claim as a way of allowing its constituency to nail itself to the proverbial cross, being cisgender, heterosexual, and penis-bearing is not inherently wrong, but those fans aren't the only ones who watch wrestling. Bayley is not for those fans, myself included, to identify with. I enjoy Bayley because she's a fucking righteous worker and a fun character. But do I identify with her? No, I really don't except for some of the social awkwardness built into her character, which is to say only nominally.

You know who does identify with Bayley? Her NXT superfan, Izzy and a bunch of other little girls who are watching wrestling for the first time because they have someone with whom they identify. No matter how much perspective, how many years following the business Meltzer has under his belt, he can never look at Bayley the same way a young girl can, unless he's really a trans woman who never came out of the closet. If that's the case, it makes his social views all the more baffling, but then again, if Caitlyn Jenner can be a Republican, then truly, anything is possible. But I digress.

Forgetting that his hypothetical situation of Bayley remaining in NXT until 39 is wildly unrealistic, how does he know that Izzy and other target fans of Bayley aren't going go as nuts for her if she was on the doorstep of her 40s if she played the character with the same emotional depth, the same pathos, and with the same direction for drama in her wrestling matches? He doesn't. No one does, because few wrestling characters have ever courted young female fans the way Bayley has, and even fewer female athletes have lasted for as long in their sport or sports entertainment field's mainstream long enough to find out. Bayley is mostly uncharted territory, and to assume for an audience of which one is clearly not a part of is to produce bad results most of the time.

Meltzer made the same mistake that so many other wrestling fans do, that their points of view are the only ones that matter. Many fans are guilty of this selfishness because in some way, it's embedded in human nature. But when it dominates the so-called expert analysis of the field, it needs to be recalibrated. Journalists and reviewers more than anyone need to be stewards for everyone, not just their own interests. When you start making claims like "Bayley has a limited shelf life before she turns into an ugly pumpkin" or "turn Bayley heel because I don't get her," you start to miss the point completely. She's not supposed to be for your overall consumption. Ideally, you'll like her for what she is, but if you start making claims that she's miscast because you don't identify with her or because she doesn't fit in a role that you see fit for someone of her demographic, then it starts to get dangerous.

People don't think that Bayley can be the next John Cena or Hulk Hogan because she's a popular babyface in NXT or because she's an elite worker. She appeals to a previously underserved niche that could explode in the coming years. Ronda Rousey and Serena Williams have proven that women in sport can be transcendent, and they break the barriers not just because the male gaze intensifies on them. They're role models and icons, and Bayley can be the same for WWE. Molding her into an archetype that has already been established for women in wrestling rather than letting her create her own would destroy that opportunity. It's one thing for WWE to do it on its own, and trust me, I believe WWE can screw Bayley up as easily as I can put away half a pizza pie on a good day. But when the talking heads start perpetuating those backwards ideas, then that's when the fan backlash starts. Someone like Cena or even Roman Reigns can survive said backlash because their demographics are served properly. But if the young female fans who like Bayley get chased away, who will be there to replace them?

The answer is no one.