Tuesday, December 19, 2017

On the Women's Royal Rumble and Framing

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Photo Credit: WWE.com
The Royal Rumble is approaching, and for the last few months, rumors have been flying about a second Rumble match for the women. Last night, those rumors became incarnate, as the women's Rumble match was announced to close RAW. WWE set the table for it with reintroducing Paige and debuting five women from NXT, and having the entire RAW women's roster out to brawl around the ring was the perfect canvas to bring it all home. However, in typical WWE fashion, rather than using said brawl to set up the match for storyline reasons, it had Stephanie McMahon come out, eyes affixed on her, so she could talk about how WWE was such a force for good by only recently giving women what they should have had all along.

Of course, it's nothing new that WWE does this kind of corporate self-back-patting, especially when it comes to women. While the company has cultivated a strong roster of female wrestlers, the person at the forefront has always been McMahon. This entire venture hasn't been to enrich the wrestlers, as if WWE has ever been a venture to enrich anyone but the McMahon family and company shareholders. It has been to show that the family that helped enable soft fascism to attain the office of the Presidency is woke. So while it's not surprising that the announcement of a women's Rumble match went down the way it did, it's still disappointing.

It is also inherently damaging to the idea of kayfabe and suspension of disbelief, but WWE has already more than dabbled in that market to begin with. The big kerfluffle in Wrestling Twitter Discourse has people choosing sides between the Young Bucks and MMA Bros Phil Baroni and Daniel Cormier over this spot from Final Battle:

The biggest critique from those guys and of course Vince Russo (because who knows more about quality in-ring action than Vinny Ru) is that it's a "gymnastics routine," not wrestling. I get why people don't like it or the Ricochet/Will Ospreay match from last year or whatever. Honestly, I thought it was fine until the second and third double dropkick because that felt like overkill. But to call it anything that would imply it exposes the business is bullshit because they're clearly trying to do moves to each other and just countering them in acrobatic means. It's defensible. It's not for everyone, but it's defensible.

What is so defensible about presenting Dolph Ziggler's character as someone who is good at "performing" and mad that people are getting "opportunities" over him (read, winning matches) because of their entrances? What's defensible about John Cena and Roman Reigns using insider terms like Bobby Flay uses chili oils in cooking competitions? What's defensible about Stephanie McMahon interrupting a story-driven brawl just so she could do a bullshit pep talk doubled as a press release on her own airwaves to cut out the middleman? If you want the culprit on who plays fast and loose with the fourth wall for its own bullshit gains, it ain't the Young Bucks or the other high-flying-type wrestlers they go up against.

All of this could have been avoided had WWE done one of two things. If it wanted to go the bullshit corporate rah rah route, then don't book the final match to be a brawl that only stops when Stephanie McMahon's golden visage strides down to the ring, causing everyone to forget their own personal issues and gaze, mouths agape, and the greatness of the ubermensch in their presence. Just set it up as McMahon having a big announcement and then have her do that speech. It's been done like that before, and I'm sure they'll do it again. The other way it could have pulled it off would have been to go with the brawl and either have McMahon or preferably Kurt Angle make the announcement that because everyone is so rowdy and unruly on both brands that the only solution would be to have a women's Royal Rumble match to let them get their aggressions out. Either way, the framing is shifted and the results would have then come off infinitely better than what was presented last night.

But WWE has had a problem with framing for as long as I've been a wrestling fan, maybe longer. Even in the salad days, multiple points in a random telecast of WWE programming would give cause to shake one's head. Even if the current rush towards gender equity wasn't some far-too-little, far-too-late makeup bullshit, it would be a lot better served if it were folded into the narrative naturally, or if not, at least framed in a way that didn't interfere with said narrative. Last night's rollout of the women's Rumble match was just another example of WWE fumbling another opportunity out of a sense of self-gratification.