Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Breezango and the Magic of Pro Wrestling's Infinite Possibilities

The best thing going in WWE right now is straight out of the e-fed playbook, and that's a good thing
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Back in the last decade, I partook in something called e-wrestling. Basically, e-wrestling is a big role playing game for fans of the graps with a ton of moving parts. However, for as much collaboration and administration that was involved with and from outside parties, the "hobby" as those within it called it had near-infinite room for creative growth. The width and breadth of characters within was amazing, but what the people behind those characters did to advance their stories was unlike anything that WWE or any other promotion was doing at the time or even now with little exception. Stories bordered on cinematic rather than grounded in that "realism" that dudes like Jim Cornette get chubbies over. And the promos or "role-plays" that were used to build matches often entailed a lot more than having a dude stand in front of a backdrop and speak in soliloquy. I was involved in various e-wrestling promotions, or e-feds, off and on for over a decade, and I've indulged in the fantastical, "unrealistic" side more than I've tried keeping it real. It was fun to stretch the creative muscles.

Real life wrestling has taken turns for the fantastical from time to time (I mean, c'mon, the goddamn Undertaker), but rarely at the level of what dorks like me were doing in e-feds. Broken Matt Hardy and the WWE's subsequent attempts at aping his larger-than-reality takes on what wrestling could be with Bray Wyatt started really embracing the art's intersection with the infinity of the entertainment spectrum. But I dare say that no matter how transcendent the Broken Universe was in Impact Wrestling, how far it pushed boundaries to the absurd while still remaining true to some fabric of wrestling, it might not have been the best example of e-feds made corporeal. Tyler Breeze and Fandango might have that title on lockdown.

E-fed wrestling may have had more than its fair share of Broken Matt Hardy-type over-the-top, bombastic presentations of characters, but it was far more common to have regular wrestling characters build to their matches with backstage or off-arena segments that didn't resemble a classic promo, or at least had classic promo elements with a lot more involved than just a dude with a microphone. In that respect, the Fashion Files vignettes that started in advance of their title shot against the Usos have been the perfect encapsulation of "regular" characters using more to build themselves up for an in-ring payoff. They've parodied procedural police dramas and now noir detective cinema, and in the process, they have been set apart as fleshed out entities than even the best traditional character development WWE has done. Breeze and Fandango have defined character traits and personal quirks. They've established their own running gags. They're more than just the good-looking Zoolander clones that JBL uses homophobic coded language to describe during their formerly all-too-short matches putting over someone else.

In a company where too many Black wrestlers are shoved out of the curtain with nothing more than Michael Cole or Tom Phillips describing them as "athletic" or where indie/ex-Impact signings enter NXT only as "hot free agents," this kind of character development is more valuable than gold. Furthermore, it highlights the woeful job WWE's creative staff and ultimately the guy rubber-stamping them in Vince McMahon have done at creating a colorful, diverse universe. McMahon and his sycophants love to defend WWE against critics of its overall makeup by saying it's a "variety show." Yet, they've only scratched the surface in how they write and present wrestlers in that milieu.

"Variety show" doesn't mean that you have regular wrestling angles featuring dickhead protagonists and feckless villains interspersed with cruel, down-punching comedy and maybe a musical performance. It means embracing the entire spectrum of entertainment and distilling all aspects of it into wrestling angles. Pro wrestling is magic in this respect. The final destination for any feud is going to be a match in the ring, but the number of paths to get to that point is infinite. Each feud is its own motion picture, its own prestige television series, its own sketch in a comedy pastiche. No single formula exists to get a story, a wrestler, an angle over. RAW demonstrated that Monday with two different Yakety Yak Great Balls of Fire feuds built in two different, but effective, ways. Samoa Joe and Paul Heyman dialoguing back and forth could not have been any more different than The Miz recreating a classic Chuck Jones Looney Tunes short in live action, but they both had the same end result.

And that's why Breeze and Fandango arguably comprise the most valuable act on Smackdown, maybe in the entire WWE right now that Braun Strowman is out injured. They and the people writing and producing their content are taking e-fed sensibilities and putting it on real television. It's fresh, creative, and different, and it shows that thinking outside the box is the way to create buzz. Not everyone should be doing exactly what Breezango is doing, but the point isn't to be a copycat, which is sadly what a lot of promoters and producers are probably going to take. Wrestling is a business run mostly by shortsighted auteurs who think trying to make lightning strike twice. The thing is that looking at the past or from successful peers and learning from them is an essential part of any healthy business. They key isn't aping specifics, but aping big picture ideas.

The biggest big picture idea from Breezango's Fashion Files is that e-fed sensibilities shouldn't just be confined to imaginations and bandwidth anymore. Production values and creative sophistication are at an all-time high right now. Companies, especially ones with deep pockets like WWE, have no reason not to start building characters in non-traditional ways using more than just old-school techniques. I'm not saying that promo in front of the company banner or in the ring should go away. I'm just saying they should be one of an infinite arsenal of ways to build up a character, a match, an angle. Pro wrestling is magic because it's limitless. The more people realize that, the better off its future will be.