Monday, June 18, 2018

Money In The Bank Safeword: Recursion

Sure, it was done well, but was it the right call?
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A week before WrestleMania 34, Alexa Bliss was RAW Women's Champion and Nia Jax was mad at her. A mere 77 days later, and Bliss is the RAW Women's Champion once more, and Jax is once again mad at her. WWE has not remained in stasis since then, which is what makes this situation worse than when it started, in all honesty. At Mania, Jax scored an inspirational victory over the verbally abusive former friend and looked to set off on a new path after besting Bliss in the rematch. While her forecasted direction in the wake of her challenge of Ronda Rousey most likely left her with a narrative away from the title, at least she had moved on, right?

Then, Bliss in a somewhat shocking (but not too shocking) decision won the women's briefcase, interrupted the RAW Women's Championship Match, beat the shit out of both challenger and Champion with the briefcase, and cashed in on a vulnerable Jax to win her fifth title.

The nuts and bolts of the decision weave a complicated narrative. On one hand, it was well-executed. The whole presentation was pulled off in great fashion, to be honest. Outside of some rough sailing in the beginning, Rousey found her footing, especially during her comeback. Jax continued to show growth as a monster worker, asserting herself as a veritable irresistible force. Bliss' cash-in made sense and it left no stone unturned to make sure the scene matched the setting. All in all, it was powerful, gripping, and it set the table for a robust, unpredictable, diverse road of storytelling into SummerSlam.

On the other hand, why can't I shake this feeling of malaise over the whole thing? It's because WWE put its RAW Women's Division right back where it was before WrestleMania. Recursion is the greatest nemesis of constructive storytelling. Wrestling is storytelling, which is undoubtedly an art. Whether or not the people engaging in wrestling treat it like an art is a whole other story altogether. Critics of the classification of wrestling as art point to the years and years of promotional tactics that transparently hit notes that strike profits rather than build a narrative with stakes. While Bliss' reemergence as Champion had machinations of artistry behind it and didn't feel as bad as the WWE's peak disregard for storytelling — giving Shane McMahon control of RAW the night after he presumably lost his job with WWE by losing to Undertaker, it basically showed that Jax's win was fleeting, ephemeral. Her story didn't matter because the division had to reset, not just for Jax but for the greater glory of Rousey, which to me is like seeing the outcry against Malibu Stacy's blatant sexism and repackaging her merely with a hat.

Giving WWE the benefit of the doubt in this situation is not an option because at least the main roster narrative has been defined by recursion for as long as I can remember. Something good might come out of it, absolutely. Jax, Bliss, even Rousey all seem to be perfectly cromulent professional wrestlers at their base levels. Granted, the specter of adding Natalya to the mix haunts any future plans for this title scene, but at the same time, Ms. Neidhart at least acquitted herself well in the Money in the Bank ladder match last night. That being said, should criticism stop at good enough when combing through analysis of a story? Accepting recursion time and time again from a company is admitting that it is not engaging in an artistic endeavor, which I guess is fine if you're fine with consuming wrestling divorced from any of its artistic potential. Obviously, I'm fine with it to an extent since I keep watching this shit.

Still though, it's hard to sit through a whole show, as good as it was, and keep seeing resets. Bliss' triumph wasn't the only rewind that took place. Daniel Bryan tapped Big Cass easily after a month of hearing about how he was small was the exact same result as Backlash. Carmella won an important match against impossible odds against Asuka thanks to James Ellsworth. What's old is new again, and if I had to guess, television on Monday and Tuesday will probably rehash all the same territories. One has to ask what kind of growth characters undergo in WWE, and it's like, you have to strain to see or look at a long enough timeline where the wrestlers evolve themselves.

Whether or not it was done well, I can't help but think that while not the worst option, the way WWE orchestrated the women's Money in the Bank and RAW Women's Championship wasn't in the top five best options it could have run with going forward. Backsliding into a "safe" status quo is why WWE may never get artistic credibility that at least its cool kid fans so desperately want it to have. Then again, Vince McMahon is getting ludicrous amounts of fuck money to broadcast his B-show on Friday nights starting next year. I don't think he cares about artistic credibility, and that's something many of those, myself included, who ache for a solid critical thread upon which to latch, may have to begrudgingly accept going forward.

And hey, at least NXT is always there as a warm, comfortable blanket, right?