Tuesday, May 8, 2018

On the Road Again and Again and Again and Again

The Greatest Royal Rumble only added to WWE superstar stress and strain
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania was 30 days ago today, in New Orleans, LA. From there, WWE went on a tour that, excluding North American house shows, went to southern New England, South Africa, St. Louis, Louisville, Saudi Arabia, Montreal, Long Island, and then Baltimore tonight for Smackdown. After tonight, the company will ship out across the Atlantic for its semiannual tour of Europe. I don't know about you, but that's a grueling schedule if I ever saw one. Like, that's a schedule that I would strategically schedule a month off after just to give my roster a well-deserved break. Well, scratch that, I'd probably have scheduled international tours around buffers and not taken Saudi blood money to put on a gaudy, barely canonical show weeks after WrestleMania.

But the gap between my philosophy in human resources management and Vince McMahon's is wider than three Pacific Oceans. Not only does McMahon keep the grind on his roster 365 days a year, but it has now become a selling point. Michael Cole at several points the last two nights proudly advertised how WWE has "no offseason," and that these wrestlers, I'm sorry, "sports entertainers" are happy to be on the road ad infinitum to perform for you. Of course, that sentiment is somewhat noble, but it's also couched in the wholly incorrect capitalist chestnut "The Customer Is Always Right." At some point, the employer should feel some moral obligation to provide rest for their labor, even if that labor is inaccurately categorized as under independent contract.

This four-continents-in-six-weeks swing is yet another in extreme examples of demand that WWE places on its roster, but not to get things twisted over here, even if WWE ran only its old territorial loop for as many dates as it does in total today, one, that would be an excessive amount of dates at Madison Square Garden, and it would still be indiscriminately taxing workers' bodies, especially in a line of work that chews up and spits out health like a baseball player consumes chaw. Every job has its own unique set of stresses and strains, but in a medium such as wrestling where the performers have to live out of suitcases to fall on hard surfaces with increasing degrees of escalation compared to 20, 30 years ago, the physical tolls are among the worst.

The fruits of this increase in demand on wrestler bodies bloom in the form of increased injuries and diminished reactions for in-ring beats. Wearing that status as a badge of honor might seem counterproductive to a healthy industry until you realize that industrialists don't really care about labor and the physical tolls on their bodies. Even if all the data suggests that better-rested workers produce a better quality product, the answer from management is always getting as much productivity for as little cost as possible. It's classic virtue signaling. To the masses, the eternal schedule suggests "dedication" from the wrestler, because the management/capital class has brainwashed the average American to believe that a good worker happily sacrifices self for greater good, in this case "greater good" meaning "more corporate profits."

But to others in the capital class, it's a total smoke signal showing that McMahon is good at capitalism. He's successfully broken his roster from wanting anything for themselves but glory in the ring or reactions from crowds. He's showing the rest of industry, not just wrestling, but all of his capitalist peers, that he knows how to play the game. That game causes more injuries, more premature deaths, shorter careers, and a demonstrably worse product, but it also results in more money in his pocket. WWE revenues are higher than they've ever been, and these international excursions, at least the one to Jeddah, are proving to be cash cows. Who cares if Dean Ambrose and Jason Jordan missed WrestleMania or if big Network events just start to unravel into loose, sloppy affairs? Vince McMahon can buy himself another yacht, dammit!

Backlash was a terrible show not just because of creative decisions or booking. It wasn't necessarily bad because the workers were structurally bad, outside of maybe Big Cass forgetting how to resist a submission hold, but even then, how much of that snafu was on him being inexperienced and not on him being inexperienced but also tired as shit after working nearly non-stop and flying all over the world? Being tired affects the best and the worst. I'm not saying if he was well-rested, he'd have all of a sudden been Stan Hansen, but that kind of shit has an effect.

Pro wrestling likes to compare itself to sports and serialized television, but every sport has an offseason, and no TV show goes 52 weeks a year. McMahon never developing object permanence means he probably doesn't believe the fans he holds in contempt as he angles for their money have it either. People will still come back to RAW if it takes a month off. People will still watch and be fans of WWE even if they can't attend a live show. Meanwhile, it would drastically improve the quality of life for the performer if they got to enjoy the houses they bought or the other pleasures in their lives for more than like three hours at a time. If McMahon is never going to pay them true market value, the least he could do is give them some fucking time off from the grind.