Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cody Rhodes, Roman Reigns, and The Arguments That Bring Out the Worst

Cody Rhodes making arguments about drawing power is, well, curious
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The worst kind of argument in wrestling is over drawing power. At its core, it strips a vibrant and diverse art into an economic skeleton, and those who usually make it are looking for validation of worth, as if money is the only thing that matters. People fallaciously equate profitability with worth, which is patently false. Sure, some good things make money, but bad things make money too. Take, for example, the highest-grossing film of all-time, Avatar and the cultural amnesia surrounding it. It was so lucrative that James Cameron is emboldened to make a ridiculous four sequels to it, and if you ask an average person on the street what it was about, you might get a shrug or some rote answer about blue aliens or a substance with a funny name. I’m not at all saying good things never make money – looking at the same milieu, other films like The Avengers made boatloads of money and were undoubtedly good. It’s just not the only metric worth discussing.

When drawing power discussions were limited to message boards, newsletters, and gatekeeping nimrod veterans like Al Snow or Bully Ray, it was annoying enough but contained. People weren’t trying to prop up their personal brands to all fans by claiming they were lucrative agents. That changed when Cody Rhodes in an interview claimed he was the biggest draw in all of wrestling, which not only lit a fuse with the same niche-hardcore crowds that always argued about this kinda thing, but brought it to the forefront for a more general audience of people. It’s not like it consumed all of wrestling fandom like a solely-WWE topic might have, but the escalation in argument is clear, and the escalation was for a reason. It was the next shot in the verbal war between the Bullet Club and WWE.

The most predictable development saw people coming out emphatically against Rhodes’ claims, and boy, were they ready to shout about how Roman Reigns, not Rhodes, was the most effective draw in wrestling. On the surface, sure, that’s a valid claim I guess, but it feels like it needs a huge [CITATION NEEDED] next to it, as does Rhodes’. I’m not sure Rhodes is the biggest draw in his own stable when Kenny Omega is sitting right there, but those claims need backing up too. The problem here is I have absolutely no interest in finding out who moves the most tickets sales and merch, and whether or not Reigns is a singular draw or whether he’s just the guy reaping rewards from WWE’s brand name.

What I’m more interested in, and distressed by, is why people feel the pathological need to defend WWE and the star that it is presenting above all else as The Man in wrestling. It is beyond corny, and it borders on boot-licking, even if one can put it under the guise of “winning an argument.” What end does winning said argument serve? Even if those people were inarguably right about who was the bigger draw, why would they need that win? They proved that the company that spends the most resources on and makes the most money off wrestling in the world has the most lucrative worker, i.e. the person who adds the most value to its brand that it can then underpay according to his total worth?

Punching down at targets outside the megalith is gross and not what wrestling needs right now. The problem is that the self-appointed head of the opposition made his name in said megalith and doesn’t know how to embrace his would-be comrades without alienating them. Rhodes’ closest analogue is absolutely Hillary Clinton. He’s a far better option as a singular dude leading the charge, but even discounting how utterly mediocre and upholding of the status quo he is, he doesn’t know how to communicate his resistance effectively. Every time an issue where WWE can be combated comes up, he takes the most self-centered path to it as possible, making the issue about him and not about the health of wrestling in general.

For example, his rationale for WWE being wrong to use the Starrcade name for a house show revolved around whether his feelings were hurt or not, whether he was consulted because his father created the concept. I’m not even sure it was the right battle to pick, unless he wanted to say that WWE using World Championship Wrestling/Jim Crockett Promotion intellectual property, whether it owned it or not, was tone-deaf at least after the company’s talking point that WCW was run by buffoons and riddled with mistakes, insulting ex-workers and fans. Still, he didn’t take that road and instead couched his complaints in his privilege of being born to the Rhodes/Runnells family. No one else could make the claims he did, and to double down on his own tone-deafness, he blessed Paul Levesque’s use of War Games in NXT because he had asked him personally. If you can’t see the privilege there, then I don’t know what to tell you.

The sad part is that the rest of the Bullet Club has the authority that Rhodes doesn’t have, but they continue to fight WWE at its own game rather than really going after it where it can be hurt. It's why they're the least of all evils instead of something to really support, or to really think as cool. Money and dynastic privilege aren't cool. A really cool entity wouldn't comply with a bullshit cease and desist by clinging to approval from Scott Hall or claims that it's a "loving tribute;" they'd keep on doing the Too Sweet hand signal by claiming they were all huge fans of Ronnie James Dio and the Texas Longhorns.

It's an even bigger shame because the side they're fighting actually is the definition of uncool and even evil. WWE dominates the wrestling market, and Reigns is its chosen guy. He's by definition not cool, and his quote-tweeting people with sub-full percentage point number of followers compared to him are closer to corny. That doesn't mean he's not a good or even great performer. However, it does mean that a wrestler with every resource available to him and backed by the most lucrative wrestling organization in the world doesn't need your online defense, especially when it comes to defending how much value he adds to his bosses' pockets.

Drawing power arguments bring out the worst in fans and commentators, because no one knows how to have them, or more accurately, no one knows when to have them. The correct answer is somewhere between "never" and "only when debating candidacy for some Hall of Fame." Otherwise, they're arguments that only seem to serve the rich and powerful already, especially now, when WWE's policies are designed to poison the earth making it harder grassroots to take hold. It's an arena where people are emboldened to kiss corporate ass.

Of course, that situation is what the people who prop up Rhodes, someone who was born into a family colored and tempered by big-money wrestling and who spent his entire career incubating in WWE's womb, as the resistance get. Of course, it's very similar to people who ostensibly want change in politics getting what they deserved with a corporate lawyer turned First Lady who voted consistently for war and persecution of oppressed peoples either by supporting her Presidential husband or through her own record as Senator and Secretary of State. The lesson here, I guess, is be careful of which leaders you want to support. Make sure they're not just wanting to have the status quo centered around them instead of around someone else.