Monday, December 12, 2016

Instant Feedback: The Continuing Adventures of Middle Management

Too much Foley, not enough Zayn
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RAW narratives have been nonsensical for years now. Sure, from time to time, they've had some wake behind them, like at the beginning of the Summer of Punk 2: PUNK HARDER or Daniel Bryan's YES! Movement. Right now, one main story of a friendship between two Canadian brothers dissolving like a corpse in sulfuric acid (dark!), and another is WWE's continuing and furious patting itself on the back about how it's "breaking barriers" by allowing women to be in the main event like real people. Even when pushing female talent, WWE continues to do them wrong by being absolutely patronizing.

And yet, both of those stories seem to be growing like bacteria on a gel matrix of the biggest thematic structure on the show, the trials and tribulations of the RAW brand's middle management. Make no mistake about it, the real bosses in the company are Vince McMahon and to an extent Triple H. No matter what titles Stephanie McMahon and her brother Shane have, they're clearly a step down from the CEO level, and their subordinates, Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan respectively, are a step even below them. Shane and Bryan take up too much time on Smackdown, but generally, the stories tend to make more sense and have payoffs for people OTHER than the management.

On RAW though, Foley and Stephanie seem to take up a lot more bandwidth within the narratives of their subordinates. The fact that they feel bigger than the wrestlers is a problem; they aren't the ones who are bumping or whose agency is needed to carry matches no matter what the venue. The fact that everything runs through them makes RAW feel like it's a show where they're the protagonists. For a company that desperately throws Hail Mary passes into the past, it's an increasingly tone-deaf strategy.

In 1998, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was a force of nature because he was relatable to the common fan. He represented the proletariat, and his presence galvanized the members of the audience. He was their vicarious entertainment, the avatar through which they could experience a man kicking the shit out of his haughty employer with little to no repercussion. The same went, ironically, for Foley, for D-Generation-X, for non-Corporate Rock. They were all avatars through which people could latch onto. By contrast, Vince McMahon was as involved in the show, maybe even more than his daughter and Foley are today, but one was never supposed to relate to him. He was always scheming; he was always in the wrong. And for better or worse, if he was in a segment for the most part (at least during the salad days), it was because he was directly feuding with the person in question.

Stephanie and Foley today aren't scheming. They aren't even feuding with the people with whom they're meddling. They're not called upon to be in the wrong. In fact, how many times is the audience supposed to sympathize with Foley during a given telecast because he's gotta make the hard decisions? Is it realistic with life? Maybe, maybe not, but how many people in the workforce sympathize with their bosses when those bosses wield more control over them and make more money? People say they want realism in wrestling, but really, most forms of entertainment show simplistic portrayals of good vs. evil for a reason. Stephanie's time on screen is generally worse. Although she's more apt not to show up from week to week, when she is there, she's more likely to make the show all about her. The supposed alignment of her target doesn't matter either. She'll go from sympathetic to tyrannical so fast you might snap your neck following along.

Tonight's scorecard reads as a greatest hits for both. The Sami Zayn/Braun Strowman feud once again needed to feature more spotlight between Zayn and Foley rather than an organic exchange between the actual wrestlers. This example might have been passable if the amount of authority figures wasn't so fucking saturated, and if Foley's trade bait had been, say, a ring announcer or an anonymous backstage figure. Sure, you might say that "Well, Eva Marie's gimmick is that she's bad!" but that's not the point. The real egregious interference from management centered around the New Day's "making history."

WWE's obsession with breaking kayfabe records it has set for itself is hollow and excessive without context, but needing to insert Stephanie's anger over getting doused with champagne and then Foley's need to one-up her by adding his own team to the fray was just overkill. The opening match against The Euro Hoss Express and The Club was fine for a record breaker, especially with New Day's mad dash to overcome the hottest of hot tags ever from Cesaro. But with the addition of Stephanie's and Foley's intrusions, it became less about their record-breaking night and more about "how can the general manager and commissioner micromanage RAW even more?"

It's not like the other stories are lighting Mondays on fire either. The cruiserweight division continues to be dead in the water, while the other big set piece angle centers around the supposed heels, Rusev and Lana, doing their best to repel a grotesque sexual harasser and his numbnuts of a best friend who doesn't understand why he's in the wrong. RAW represents the accumulated failure of WWE's tired booking practices. Hopefully, the writers and Vince McMahon will get some kind of repudiation from the Philly crowd actually CHEERING Zayn's possible trade to Smackdown. But I highly doubt it, because hey, Stephanie McMahon has to be in the spotlight, and if Mama Foley's Baby Boy can glom some, he's gonna do it too.