Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Fans Are Too Easy a Target

These women were hung out to dry last night by Creative; the fans are only a symptom.
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Last night, the fans at the Barclays Center went into business for themselves like WWE fans at big events are wont to do when they get bored with what is presented to them. Normally, it happens during a match between Sheamus and Randy Orton (or with other wrestlers of similarly dismal providence), but last night, the cacophony rained down upon the match representing the Divas "Revolution." Many words have been written about how said story has been botched, including by TWB's very own Lady near the Lake, and Creative has nary a clue what to do with these women at all. But most of the invective seemed to be hurled at the crowd for its collective reaction, whether it be to chant for people who weren't there by choice (CM Punk) or by exile (Hulk Hogan) or to start The Wave.

The thing about blasting a crowd is that it's the easiest thing in the world to do. Even when the chants border on bigoted like with the various "[x] sucks [y]" chants that popped up the night after WrestleMania and at the first NXT Philadelphia house show, the root causes don't just include the fact that some, if not most, fans are borderline shitheads. Most fans in any medium of entertainment are shitheads. Hell, I'd venture to say that the population of shitheads in general trends pretty highly. For as much power as mobs and groups have, oftentimes, they follow a cue.

The people producing WWE programming have been leaving powerful trails to follow ever since Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks were brought into the fold and this angle was began in earnest. The revolution wasn't kick-started organically, but it was a corporate mandate. The Man (or in this case, The Woman) by definition can't start a revolution, because revolutions are designed to replace the establishment. If anything, Stephanie McMahon as the curator and de facto empress of the Divas division has made the entire thing a state-sponsored exercise for its most downtrodden citizens. It's not impossible for a monolith to have a change of heart, and the angle always had the potential to elevate women in ways that WWE hadn't done since Alundra Blayze walked out of dodge with the Women's Championship, but it was highly improbable.

The way the last couple of months have borne out has proven the naysayers 100% correct. Individuality of the specific performers was erased in favor of a collective mentality, despite the fact that women in NXT had been elevated because they were singularly dynamic characters who had motivations of their own outside of nebulous concepts like "power" or frivolous pursuits like being on Total Divas. Their story has been nonexistent outside of trading victories among each other, even though the most iconic matches in NXT became so iconic because they had specific issues attached to them, some of them lasting for years at a time. Basically, WWE officials, whether maliciously (hi Kevin Dunn) or through thoughtless negligence by years of ingrained institutional misogyny, had hung its "Revolution" out to dry.

So why is most of the vitriol being directed towards the fans for their reactions? I can't speak for everyone who blames them, because I'm not them. However, turning inward on the people paying to see the show is counterproductive because "the fans" are a symptom rather than a cause. Again, a lot of those people in the crowd are assholes, but I would venture to guess their reactions are just that, reactions to stimuli. If a fan is given a reason to be bored during a match, that person will not get excited. If a bigot is made to feel like he or she can safely let the garbage flow from his or her mouth, they are going to let it spray like a geyser of shit spewing out of a broken sewer main.

The blame then needs to shift to the people producing the stimuli, and pressure needs to be placed on them to produce better calls for the fans to respond to. For as much as people like to consider themselves and their peers as free thinkers, a lot of times, thought processes are molded by trends and the actions of people in power. If the people who produce the art are doing right by certain performers, then that art will attract people who like that kind of thing and it has a great chance of changing the minds of people who are already watching it. The experiment has worked in NXT, and now that it has played to a main roster-sized crowd, no question remains that that specific product can be considered a mainstream success story.

If women can succeed in NXT, they can succeed on RAW in theory. Why hasn't the current angle caught on? Well, one should think of the differences between NXT and RAW, namely in the people who produce it. Neither Vince McMahon nor Kevin Dunn have anything to do with NXT. Why should it be surprising that many of the same fans who were in attendance on Monday raining down the apathy-induced bullshit chants were in attendance on Saturday shedding tears and blowing out their voice boxes in support of Banks and Bayley? Maybe many fans are shitheads, but they seem to pick up on the difference in what they should care about and what they shouldn't. Maybe the issue here isn't "lol wrestling fans can't have anything nice."

As for what people can do, it's a tricky road to follow because any situation with a wrestling company as monolithic and gargantuan as WWE is right now can't be handled as easily as one might think. Reactions like the ones given yesterday are natural in response to being given weak booking and nonexistent storytelling, but to people who think their shit doesn't stink, that reaction may not be seen as a veto of their direction but as a rejection of the performers. The most direct way of combating that perception - continuing to react to the segments negatively but continuing to buy up merchandise - is roundabout at best. No easy answers are in play. But that doesn't mean you stop trying to get change enacted.

It also doesn't mean you blame the fans for things that are the fault of the producers. Everyone involved in framing this "Revolution," from Vince McMahon all the way down to the producers and agents laying out the matches, need to take a look at themselves and see that they're the biggest reason why women who can hold crowds in the palms of their hands in NXT are drawing the dreaded "CM Punk" chants. Those people behind the scenes aren't tangible like the fans with the shit chants are, but as with most things, what you see usually only tells part of the story.