Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Shut Up About Roman Reigns, Part ∞

Pictured: Me when the cacophony over Reigns starts up
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Wrestling fandom's relationship with Roman Reigns would be hilarious if it wasn't a constant reminder at how annoying people can be with shitty talking points and a desire to have them heard and to think theirs is the most original and the most in need of being heard. The fire that started when he was awarded the 2014 Superstar of the Year Slammy Award and will not be extinguished until someone else comes along to incur the wrath of WWE fans who think they're anti-establishment but just want the establishment to crown their guy comes along was stoked today when someone of little note posted an "open letter" on Twitter chastising WWE yet again for pushing Reigns. Granted, Reigns wasn't on the program for a second straight week, making the letter's timing curious, and the person who wrote it railed against decisions not to push other wrestlers like Damien Sandow (who is semi-retired and probably damaged goods at this point, regardless of how much I dig his work) or Kevin Owens (who, uh, is one of the most pushed wrestlers in the damn company). All in all, it felt like one of those Wayne LaPierre tangents where he'd start out swearing to protect gun owners' Second Amendment rights but flutter off on deeply partisan topics just to castigate then-President Barack Obama.

Like I mentioned, the open letter is of little note, because shit like that filters through Twitter and the message boards and r/SquaredCircle every day. But those microaggressions often cause disproportionate reactions from an even louder and yes, more annoying group of Roman Reigns defenders. Again, it's one thing to pretend to be anti-establishment when secretly one is always on the team. It's one thing if you like what WWE is presenting to you as its stock product. I don't find anything necessarily wrong with liking Reigns, and honestly, as I've written a billion times before, he does things well.

I guess vociferously defending the biggest wrestling conglomerate in the world like it needs the vocal support of fans that pay money to watch it is okay too if that person is practicing a career in public relations or something. To me though, it feels slimy to seek out people just to call them out on not being happy with what a gigantic corporate entity is presenting as its product. I mean, for one, the onus should be Vince McMahon, WWE, and its roster and administration to present the best product possible. One could say "HURRRR IF U DON' T LIEK IT, DON' T WATCH IT" but that attitude is self-defeating. The unhappy fan is one who wants to spend money on wrestling, right? Even if the complaints are utterly indefensible (and believe me, saying Kevin Owens isn't pushed hard enough is pretty indefensible at this point). it's hard to tell that person not to watch or invest money into the hobby of wrestling fandom. It's a form of gatekeeping, in that if you don't like to watch wrestling the way I want to watch it, you don't belong here. It's one thing if the gatekeeper has an outside-the-box view (and no matter how many like-minded smarks on Twitter one encounters, those people pale in numbers to the greater viewing audience), but defending the rich and powerful in lockstep is gross and feels in a way fascistic.

Think about it for a second; if WWE continues to push Reigns, what the fuck does it matter if everyone likes it? All the demand for consensus does is attempt to satiate egos, and not even the ones of the stans acting like every call for Reigns to be deemphasized is a personal insult. It's like rooting for Vince McMahon, who steamrolled regional wrestling organizations, buried World Championship Wrestling and salted its earth, and continues to act monopolistically towards other promotions, to have the vindication of his unearned genius label, which is Ayn Randian rich-person-as-superhero worship to the most grotesque end. Of all the places to inject boring and oppressive objectivist thought, pro wrestling feels like the last on the list, and yet Online Discourse™ surrounding it always seems to be a pissing match between polar ideological extremes. All it is people in their underwear fake fighting in a glorified freak show. Of all the places to practice elitist gatekeeping, wrestling should be the last. It's an artform that should and in some cases does have something for everyone.

If that something is Roman Reigns, or if it isn't, then great, grand, lovely. The desire to turn him into a talking point feels like a vain attempt at replicating political discourse over a "harmless" topic, but all it does is make many people more afraid to engage in wrestling chat in a public space than the fact that wrestling has hideous social stigma attached to it does anymore. The last thing I or anyone should want to discuss distaste at how present Reigns is thanks to McMahon is to have people self-appoint as his discourse militia, policing talk to make sure everyone knows how great he is at selling or how many t-shirts he sells, or how many times he grants wishes.

People are going to have complaints about Reigns. Some of them may even be terrible ones. At the end of the day, Reigns is still going to go over. He's still going to be in the main event of several WrestleMania shows until the next workhorse McMahon finds to replace him. If that's not enough for you, the Reigns fan, then whatever. Just don't be surprised to see a pushback from people who don't need to see the guy McMahon overexposes for his own benefit defended during times when they want to discuss other wrestlers like Sami Zayn or Owens or Tyler Breeze or whomever. That goes double when you find yourself wanting to say "Well, you should be grateful that Zayn/Owens/whomever is getting screentime." It's not a good look.