THE RAW REVIEW
“I feel like I’m watching something that hates me, and hates itself.”
This is what I texted to a friend in the middle of Monday Night Raw. This is what watching Raw’s laborious three hours can feel like for a fan, and especially for someone who’s been writing about the show for three years.
I’m frustrated by a bad Raw or, in this case, a benign, forgettable Raw with moments of blatant badness sprinkled throughout, because it makes my job incredibly difficult. It’s easier to write from a place of inspiration, not frustration. It’s easier to produce something I’m proud of and interested in and fun to read when the WWE gives me something…anything…to work with. The only thing the WWE consistently gives fans and critics is reason to complain. Complaint is not criticism. Complaint is not interesting. Complaint is what the IWC does, and it’s what the majority of younger, “pro-wrestling journalists” do on blogs and on popular, SEO-friendly content-producing websites.
I could very easily complain about any number of aspects of last night’s show, but complaint is ineffectual. Clearly. The WWE does not listen. The WWE refuses to listen. We sound like petulant children with our angry Tweets and our poorly written laundry lists of grievances. They only hear noise. Regardless of how justified we fans might be in our complaints, no matter how right we might be, we’re not getting through.
So I ask myself, and I ask you, what can we do? What can we do to make it abundantly clear to the WWE what we want and in a manner that is controlled, mature, and convincing? And what can they do to restore some good faith?
If you’ve ever criticized someone’s creative endeavor you know it’s a potentially volatile situation. You have to have a little bit of life-experience to be able to give good criticism and you need even more life experience to be able to take criticism well. The relationship between the WWE and its fanbase is not unlike the relationship between an immature student and an immature teacher. The WWE is the student, scrambling to create content, scrambling to satisfy the teacher’s seemingly impossible dictates, scrambling to satisfy himself, completely certain that what he is creating is perfect and that all criticisms are just wrong. The fans are the immature teacher, mindlessly nitpicking every little detail, bombarding the student with so many criticisms that any and all feedback fades into background noise and becomes unusable.
I remember being a student, steadfast in the belief that what I was creating was excellent despite whatever flaws, that I just needed to keep forging ahead no matter what my professors said.
I remember being the critic, fumbling through the diagnosis of a fellow-student’s work like an inexperienced doctor putzing around with someone’s guts in the middle of an operation.
So, to fix this problem, to make ourselves a little happier as fans, we have to calmly, intelligently state our piece week after week, and do so with a little less emotion. Even if the WWE continues to not listen to our valid criticisms, at least we can be less emotionally affected, less moved to rage by a bad show. We need to detach a little bit, to keep our reactions controlled and concise, not just because the WWE would be more likely to hear such convincing arguments, but because we’ll feel better about ourselves.
Currently the environment is one of hate.
The WWE seems to hate the IWC and the smarks who are hip to the business. I understand this because the WWE doesn't want their angles spoiled, and I understand why complaints are irritating to hear all the time. But I can’t respect how the WWE keeps emboldening the IWC by, very simply, producing a bad television show, and, occasionally, purposefully egging the IWC on. And I understand the IWC (which is now less The Internet Wrestling Community and more just The Modern Wrestling Fan), because they’re burnt out on the same bad television show. Their rage comes from a place of love, but it’s been twisted to the point where their emotional reactions are completely disproportionate to what they’re experiencing. If something is slightly good, it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened. If something isn’t too good or if something involves John Cena, it is the work of Satan. And then the WWE will seemingly twist the knife by having The Authority do nefarious things to earn heat.
All the while, the WWE doesn’t seem to understand that they’re not earning heat. They’re just earning complaints. The relationship between the company and the fans is so strained it’s amazing that it continues to exist. It is an unhealthy relationship, a relationship that would be doomed if it was represented as two people in real life. One side is withholding and stubborn, refusing to change in the slightest or completely misunderstanding what it is the other side actually wants, and the other side is constantly complaining about everything no matter how small the issue. Many of us have probably been in this kind of relationship in real life. It's terrible.
Speaking for myself, I want the WWE to produce a better show not only for my own personal enjoyment and because it makes my job easier, but because I want them to stop giving “haters” so much material. It is too easy to hate Raw’s three hours. The WWE is permitting an incredibly negative environment where they don’t seem happy and the fans don’t seem happy, an environment where we all just expect to be treated to something we despise, we’re treating to something we despise, and then we Tweet about how much we despised it.
And fans don't do themselves any favors by relentlessly searching for spoilers and believing in rumors. Last night the rumor circulating around Twitter was that Sting was supposed to appear at the end of the show, that a big Sting vs The Authority angle would kick off. When you believe in that rumor and expect it to happen and then Sting doesn't show up, your ability to judge the actual worth of that final segment is completely thrown out the window. You hate it and you think it's terrible because Sting didn't show up. So you're no longer able to accurately criticize what was bad about that final segment and you're blind to what was good about that final segment.
We are contributing to our own unhappiness in this way. The WWE intensifies that unhappiness by occasionally using it for heat within the fiction.
And for those who are not engaged in the internet in any way, for those who aren’t even engaged with the WWE fans in any way, the actual television show is still just not fun to watch. It’s still just bad television - whether it’s the matches that are actually advertisements for other WWE products (Total Divas), the terribly scripted and terribly performed promos, the downright grating combination of Michael Cole, JBL, and, this week, Booker T, or the fact that the narratives are completely inconsistent and hard to keep track of unless you’ve been watching every episode for a full year.
You might have noticed by now that I haven’t actually written about one match or one promo or one segment. That’s because there’s nothing that happened that’s truly worth writing about. That frustrates me as much as it might frustrate you. I want to praise the WWE. Because at the time of this writing they have the best roster they’ve had since The Attitude Era. Truly transcendent, excellent personalities are there, dormant beneath a stifling corporate surface. The roster is deep with potential, and, at times, that potential shines through. On a show with a clear focus and a sense of forward momentum and a clear desire to entertain the audience, Raw is a success. On a show like this, where there simply isn’t a clear direction or purpose beyond the opening and closing segments, people are encouraged to completely disregard what is good about the company and what the company does do incredibly well.
Instead of pouring over every poor detail of this show, I want to figure out a way for us to arrive at a place of peace within ourselves, and, in so doing, perhaps find a new way to offer the WWE usable, convincing feedback.
Everything is certainly not lost. It was, after all, just one bad show, and all it takes is a few Paul Heyman promos, some memorable matches, and perhaps one simple surprise to make the WWE seem like geniuses next week. But the inconsistency in quality, the fact that we could all be elated next week after the bleak affair that was Raw Corpus Christi represents one of the company’s most fundamental problems; schizophrenia. And even though I know a lot of work goes into creating this show, it simply didn’t feel like much effort was put into this particular Raw. It was the first Raw of the year, but it watched like a throwaway episode in one of the slower months of the year. Aside from Dean Ambrose vs Bray Wyatt, there wasn’t one legitimate match that actually had a story to tell and actually moved me toward any kind of feeling - and the feeling I got from the Dean/Bray match was more one of relief, hopeful that those two will move on to stories that actually have meaning.
So what can we do? How can we come together behind a few simple edicts that represent how we feel about the product in a way that the WWE would know what we want, and in a way that the WWE would just look foolish if they ignored us?
All of the complaints and criticisms of Monday Night Raw can be boiled down to three, incredibly simple points:
- three hours of Raw is too long
- commentary is terrible
- we want to watch more professional wrestling not "sports entertainment"
That last point is the most important point that, if addressed, could inform how the WWE fixes every other problem with their show. If the WWE focuses on the truth of their product, the fact that it is a professional wrestling product, then their company could see a renaissance, an upturn in viewership and fan-appreciation. If the company presented itself as a legitimate sports organization, if the company embraced the fiction of their medium, then almost all issues would be resolved.
NXT is the answer. The structure of NXT, the length of NXT, the tone and style of NXT is exactly what modern professional wrestling fans (and old professional wrestling fans) want to see.
NXT presents itself as a legitimate sports organization, a minor league organization where athletes are competing for championship gold. The wrestlers at NXT are not self-consciously competing to get over. They’re competing to win. They’re tapped into the fiction of their medium. Even though, in reality, they’re trying to get over, they don’t present themselves as athletic actors trying to entertain the audience in the way someone on the main roster does. They’re fighting to win, not to entertain, and that is the core truth of pro-wrestling and that is what makes people pop. That simple idea is what makes NXT enjoyable to watch and Raw a miserable experience.
Despite the misery of Raw, there are always moments of joy. For example, Stephanie and Triple H gave fun performances, and the concluding segment, though strangely bleak in a myriad of ways, was effective in creating conflict for the John Cena character. But, when watching Stephanie do a little dance is the best thing on a professional wrestling show, when watching her do something that will become a gif is one of the only memorable moments, when fans have to cling to that moment so that they might glibly, cynically snicker at themselves and at her, that’s a problem.
We want to believe in something WWE. That is the battlecry of your fanbase, from Stone Cold Steve Austin to that obnoxious Twitter follower. We just want to believe.
And in 2015, I hope you’ll restore our faith.
All photos via WWE.com
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