Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Vince McMahon Wins Again

Punk's return has robbed the victims of capitalism even the smallest victory against rogues like McMahon.
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When CM Punk walked out of WWE after the 2014 Royal Rumble, the one won by Batista that kicked off the coronation of Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX. It was the culmination of several years of grievances piled up into a staph infection lump on his butt, one that WWE doctor Chris Amann allegedly prescribed a Z-Pak for. The split was acrimonious enough that Vince McMahon and Paul Levesque decided they'd send the notice of his termination from the company on his wedding day to April "AJ Lee" Mendez, and Punk went on his then-friend Colt Cabana's podcast to dish about all the grievances he had with the company. Punk even had careers lined up as a pop culture talking head, a comics writer, an actor, and a mixed martial artist, even if that last career didn't turn out so good for him.

By all accounts, he was done with WWE if not wrestling altogether. When Punk quit, the McMahons and Levesque had plans for him, plans that got folded into Bryan's title win. Ironically, had Punk never quit, he'd have gotten the Triple H match, and Bryan would have either found another way into the main event three-way, or he'd have been relegated to yet ANOTHER WrestleMania match against Sheamus. Still, those plans for Punk would've given him at least a nominal push, indicating that McMahon especially wanted him around.

With the end of World Championship Wrestling, the only wrestlers outside of Punk before last night that would never be in McMahon's megalomaniacal grasp would be the ones loyal to promotions in their home countries. Guys like Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada, LA Park, and other in Japan and Mexico would remain out of WWE lore. Sure, he or Levesque might get someone like Jushin Liger to wrestle a one-off here or there, but the point is Japan and Mexico can resist WWE.

With the fall of World Championship Wrestling, there's no bastion in America anymore than can resist his clarion call. Even Sting and AJ Styles, the last stalwarts of WCW, ended up working for McMahon. Now, All Elite Wrestling might end up being the alternative for people to gain fame in America without having to do it for WWE. The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega especially may end up being part of the new crop of Never Vincers. Their futures and that of AEW are unwritten though, and everything is uncertain. It will take years to ascertain whether those wrestlers can finally get long term wins over McMahon by not being part of his company's mythos.

That's why Punk was so important. He could have been the guy to get one over on McMahon and finally be the person in this era to resist. Of course, he already worked there, so he'd never be the guy who made his name independent of the WWE Machine. However, his refusal to go back would be the thing that people could cling to as hope that maybe, just maybe, this mega Trump donor and his dickhead son-in-law wouldn't always get their way. Sure, they could get billions of dollars to broadcast their shows even though the ratings keep going in the toilet. And even if those TV deals weren't there, there'd always be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia willing to throw money at them to propaganda for how great and not-genocidey their country is. But Punk being able to stick it to McMahon would have been a point of pride at least.

And then that hope got crushed when he came out on WWE Backstage to a studio audience of zero as the newest member of their analysis panel, along with Paige, Renee Young (the only one who was in on the surprise), and Booker T.

Sure, Punk may not be a WWE employee/contractor right now. All signs point to him being a FOX Sports employee appearing on the show. He's still being paid to talk about WWE programming, and my guess is since Backstage is a show that talks about WWE with all WWE personnel forwarding WWE angles, he won't be talking freely or shoot-critically about the product. He's part of the narrative. He's a cog in the machine, spouting out WWE-approved talking points on a show that lubricates the narrative. Even if he never works another match in his life for WWE, the fact that he's in the fold as part of the machine means Vince McMahon again wins. He held out, and the prodigal son came to his senses to be in the place he never should have left, at least in his mind. The billionaire who always gets his way ended up getting his most stubborn loose end to tie up in his favor. It doesn't matter what the truths of the situation are. McMahon will treat this like his "triumphs" against the Federal Government, against WCW, hell, even against the Denver Nuggets.

Capitalism never rewards the cogs. It never pays a dividend to the consumers or to the labor. The only people who get to claim its riches are those who already have money, who get to use their fortunes as boulders that roll downhill and collect even more money in the process. It's no different than when the government bailed out the banks and auto industry and didn't bail out the people whom the banks fucked over or the auto workers who have lost jobs and benefits since the height of American prosperity. It certainly didn't benefit CM Punk, no matter how much money FOX or WWE are paying him to say his precious little talking points. WWE shirked its responsibility to look after his health, and it was rewarded with making fans forget about those grievances in the short term (Bryan at Mania) and billions of dollars in revenue even discounting the Network subs in the long. Capitalism is a war machine, and the people who run it, like McMahon, get to pluck the riches from the little people it runs over. That's why the only way to hand McMahon his biggest loss is to vote left, and even then, can you trust the people you're voting for to be who they say they are? Bernie Sanders and Ilhan Omar have, but for every one of those, you have at least ten who go into defense mode for capitalism.

Things seem hopeless now more than ever, and I'd like to say that change is afoot and that there's light at the end of the tunnel. As humanity stares down the barrel of climate related annihilation, the good people of earth can't even get small victories. If Punk had never entertained the offers from FOX or WWE, it wouldn't change the bleakness of the future, but it would've at least provided a momentary solace against the horrors of daily life. That people can't even get those small victories just highlights the futility of having hope for anything to get better without taking drastic action for themselves.

As a postscript, I don't want to bash Punk for taking the money because while it seems like a breach in his moral code, morals can sometimes take a backseat to what one needs to live their lives. One could ask why Punk didn't take the AEW offer if there was one. Rumors swirled about why that never came through. Punk himself said that they apparently texted him an offer, which he deemed unprofessional. I'm not sure whether he was lowballed or not. Either way, he decided to go back to working with WWE. It sucks, and I can't say what I'd do if I were in his position because I never will be in his position. That being said, labor is labor, and it's always being given tough choices. I'm not crying a river for Punk, who made a decent name for himself and is probably more in the Brock Lesnar category of favored labor than the Everyone Else category of folks who kill themselves on the road 300 days a year, but I'm not sure I want to be one of the ones crying "Sellout" at him. I don't think his decision should be praised, but I also think the way the wrestling business has devolved in the last 20 years makes business decisions of most wrestlers mitigated against the labor atrocities committed by McMahon.