Tuesday, June 19, 2018

No, Fans Aren't Ingrates for Not Reacting How Vince McMahon Wants Them To

Fans don't like the Big Dog? They aren't ingrates.
Photo Credit: WWE.com
When fans go to a wrestling show, they are invited to react. Hell, they are expected to react. The people in the live audience are an instant focus group, unprecedented in nearly any other medium of scripted entertainment nowadays. Obviously, when the creative team or the booker or whoever is in charge presents someone in a certain way, they expect the fans to react to them accordingly. Sometimes, those reactions don't match up with the presentation. The most widespread example is when a wrestler, heel or babyface, gets absolutely no reaction whatsoever, the most telling sign that the people pulling the strings have fucked up in their calculations.

The most famous example, however, was Rocky Maivia, the plucky third-generation superstar who smiled and wore bright clothing as many of his New Generation forebears did. The fans, almost nearly from jump, shit all over him like German porn starlet in a fetish film. Everyone knows how Vince McMahon reacted to that miscalculation. He pushed Maivia harder and harder until his wet-curled, side-shaved hair and teal-and-gold gear headlined five WrestleManias in a row despite the fetid reactions to him from a rebellious crowd. Wait, no, that's not how it happened. That's not how it happened at all. Maivia became The Rock, joined the Nation of Domination, gained a hard edge, and thus his build towards superstardom began from scratch and in earnest. That's how it works. That's how it's always worked.

Somewhere along the way, McMahon lost the plot or someone changed his mind or he let complacency cloud his judgment, because, um, hello, Roman Reigns from 2014 until the present day. Money in the Bank saw Reigns come out for what seemed to be his ∞th match in a row where the fans just dumped on him like they were Donald Trump and he was a protected wildlife reserve. None of it was surprising, even with Jinder Mahal as the opponent, and none of it was exactly new or groundbreaking. But that's the whole thing. McMahon has to have heard this shit ever since he brought Reigns back from his hernia injury in late 2013/early 2014. And yet here Reigns remains, a man who continues to be the square peg that McMahon continues to hammer into a round hole. Thusly, the crowd reactions have been the same. I mean, the old saying goes that the definition of madness is doing something the same way over and over and expecting a different result each time.

Which is why everytime I see a vocal contingent on Twitter or in the blogs or wherever continue to chide those fans for making rude chants or chanting for CM Punk or whatever, I roll my eyes. It's madness to expect any other reaction to come from that group of fans that exists, let's face it, in EVERY city WWE goes to in the States and Canada. If Reigns is being sent out in a classic WWE babyface role (whether or not he's a true babyface or not, but whatever, different essay) in the Shield gear to the Shield theme music, he's going to elicit those kinds of reactions. Obviously, it's not that those reactions don't have valid critiques that could be applied to them. Like it or not, the best way to get someone off the screen is by not reacting to them at all. Nothing speaks more loudly to a booker than no reaction at all. One could say these guys are dopes for going about getting Reigns all the way outta here the absolute wrong way, but then again, if they don't boo Reigns, he's still getting massive reactions from another large contingent of fans comprised of kids, y'know the target audience WWE should be aiming for.

But the strain of criticism that seems to pervade the air is that those fans are somehow ungrateful. I saw that those chants are disrespectful to the talent in the ring (might be true to be honest but still), that those fans are ingrates, and in a real Galaxy Brain of a take, that they hoped dads in the crowd knew they were setting bad examples for their kids on Fathers' Day. Putting the blame on the fans for doing their almost-mandated duty as wrestling audience members for bad character work and booking is like blaming the messenger for that plane getting shot down over the Sea of Japan, spinning in, and having no survivors. In what world do people spend their money and/or their time consuming something and owe the producer lasting gratitude for the experience? Like, if I didn't think any better, I'd say those opinions were subliminally implanted in people's heads to do the legwork for McMahon in his culture war against the peons who hate on his product.

Okay, so McMahon probably doesn't care what someone says about his booking or creative on the microscopic level when he's getting ten figures or more to produce a virtual monopoly. But that line of thinking is borne directly from a bootlicking attitude, one that absolves any wrongdoing of the person creating the thing that people hate and on the consumer for not liking the taste. It's elitist, it's selfish (wah, why are these people not liking the thing I like?), and it's incredibly incorrect in its targeting. If you notice, main roster WWE is the only place where this sort of thing seems to happen as well. Like, even NXT, which is owned by the same people in theory, is a far less toxic environment for the top guys. The faces are over as heck, and the heels either get booed ('sup, Tommaso Entertainment) or they at least draw dueling chants. Even Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch were able to overcome their total protonic reversal pretty quickly once they trained the crowd on the roles in the match. If everyone else can get their babyfaces over, then what is main roster WWE's excuse?

The truth is, McMahon has become lazy in his age. He's not hungry anymore. He has no more worlds left to conquer, and he knows it, or else he wouldn't construct RAW to have the biggest ratings getter during halftime in football season. Combine that complacency with his massive ego, and that's how you get a four year experiment of seeing if you can ram a square peg into a round hole. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out, which is why it's so disheartening to see the guns pointed at fans unhappy with this setup instead of at McMahon. Maybe it's not necessarily the desire to shove a nose up his ass, to be honest. Look at how WWE has co-opted the RAW after Mania crowd. It got ahead of the reactions and basically broadcast to the world that the crowd itself is as much an attraction with how bizarrely it reacted to narratives as the wrestlers and angles themselves. Maybe they're more like prisoners who are tired of getting flogged because of rebellion and just want to serve the rest of their sentences out in peace urging the brigands to maybe chill the fuck out. But I've been on Twitter long enough to know that too many people's nature is to flash the tailfeathers like peacocks to preen and show how much they mean business. I mean, you can't tell someone not to quote-tweet a Nazi in an attempt to dunk on them, no matter how much notoriety that Nazi gets from the numbers.

Still, it's no less frustrating to see people marked as ungrateful to a fucking billionaire megalomaniac because they're not doing exactly what he wants them to do. If the crowd isn't being racist, homophobic, or otherwise problematic, then it honestly doesn't matter what the fuck they chant. It'd be a valid reaction to a stimulus they received. Whether or not the guy in charge cares about it is another thing, but the crowd reaction is too important to a wrestling show to scuttle or have controlled by the office. I don't care if they chant CM PUNK in perpetuity; it's a message they're giving back to the booker, and if the booker doesn't take it, shame on them.