Professional wrestling is a strange business. It’s a balancing act between taking fake stories with fake characters having fake fights and convincing people that it’s all real while actually having real action and not hurting each other. That’s confusing enough to understand, let alone actually pulling it off. Then things get even more complicated when so called real life intervenes. This week, two stories came up that illustrate these problems very well. Today we’re going to look at the balance between professional wrestling and real life and how tricky it can be to keep them apart and separate at the same time.
Tuesday night, WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins appeared on “Sportscenter” with former WWE personality and current ESPN host Jonathan Coachman. Rollins gave an in character interview and Coachman announced that there will be a “This Week in WWE” segment on ESPN. This is a new thing for WWE, which has often been treated as a spectacle and not a real sport that would be covered by ESPN (such as poker, Magic: the Gathering or fantasy football, which are of course all real and totally acceptable to be covered on ESPN, right purists?).
Now these two stories offer a contrasting look at how to treat something that happens in the real world in relation to professional wrestling. We’ll start with the ESPN story.
I don’t see how this could be seen as anything other than positive for WWE. The company has always hoped for more mainstream acceptance and sports in America don’t get much more mainstream than ESPN. It’s very rare to see WWE getting to appear on a network like ESPN, but that’s been the case more and more often lately. Whether or not that’s due to WWE gaining popularity or due to ESPN needing more programming, it’s good for WWE as they’re being seen by a wider audience. Everyone wins.
With the easy one out of the way, let’s go back to the far more complicated story of Lana and Rusev’s engagement. The couple’s engagement was announced on a major entertainment gossip site and was reported in various celebrity news circles. It was clear that people had heard about this story, but this brings me to the problem: why did WWE have to mention it on “Monday Night Raw”?
Announcing Lana and Rusev’s engagement forces a change in the on screen storylines which have already been running for months now. It wastes all the time and effort put into the story and resets everything right back to where it was when the whole thing started, save for Summer now being Lana and Rusev’s enemy.
Everything has changed now and it’s not for the better. The quality of the story is immaterial. It’s very rarely a good idea to throw out a story and start from scratch off a single event, especially when it’s something that didn’t even happen on WWE TV. It comes off as lazy and gives an already weak writing team another crutch to get them by as opposed to actually putting together a story and writing their way out of the problems they’re having.
So why mention it? As I said earlier and as everyone already knows: wrestling is built on fake stories. Yes Lana and Rusev are engaged now but WWE doesn’t have to acknowledge it. They already barely acknowledge that John Cena and Nikki Bella are dating so why is this any different? Remember back in 2011 when Triple H was about to face the Undertaker at “Wrestlemania XXVII” and it was never mentioned that they had fought at Wrestlemania before?
It’s an established tradition in WWE to not mention every story that has happened either on screen or off screen, so why did this one just have to be mentioned? A WWE produced product like “Total Divas” already exists in its own reality from WWE (again, see Cena and Bella) but a story like this has to be mentioned because it’s on a gossip site? All it takes is a quick search of Bella’s name on TMZ.com and you’ll see several references to her relationship with Cena. This is never mentioned on “Monday Night Raw” but Rusev and Lana are mentioned as soon as possible.
So who did this help? Lana? Not really, as the fans had been cheering for her for months but then the whole push loses steam when she hooked up with Ziggler and is now back with Rusev for no other reason than “real life happened.” Now Lana looks like someone stupid enough to be with a man who treats women like garbage and has little potential to go anywhere. Of course none of this is likely to matter now that Rusev is a regular loser. I’m sure that just putting the two of them back together with no build or logic to the story will solve all the problems though right?
Simply put: don’t mention it. Not every story is something that happens in the real world like the ESPN story. It’s ok to not bring up every mainstream story for the sake of saying “HEY! LOOK AT US! A WEBSITE IS TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING WITH OUR PERFORMERS IN IT!” Bringing up the Rusev and Lana story hurt the stories the company was telling because it threw away everything they had been working on, as well as making it clear that wrestling is fake. Yeah Lana had been fighting with Rusev on TV, but none of that matters because they were really together all along.
At the same time, you have the ESPN story which makes WWE look like something that should be considered on the same level as mainstream sports. It’s really hard to buy into that theory when you have storylines erased and restarted because WWE feels the need to acknowledge a story that has really didn’t need to be mentioned.
The lesson is simple: WWE and wrestling in general needs to find the balance of real and fake. Wrestling fans understand that there is stuff going on that they don’t see on TV and it’s ok to not bring it up. WWE can treat some things as real but they need to realize that just because something is out there doesn’t mean that it needs to be brought up on “Monday Night Raw”.
Kayfabe is indeed dead but it doesn’t mean that you have to kick its corpse and laugh at it every chance you get. You write the shows and what these characters do because it’s your own universe. Stop bowing down to what happens on the outside for the sake of mentioning some website on your show because most fans probably didn’t know and/or care until you brought it up.
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