THE RAW REVIEW
Last night, when it was announced that the main event of Monday Night Raw would be an eight man tag match, I turned the television off.
Almost instantly, I felt better about life.
I have written The Raw Review for every episode of the WWE’s flagship series in 2015.
The purpose of this weekly review (as well as the purpose of my weekly podcast and this entire website) has always been to prove that professional wrestling is an art.
More than that, The Work of Wrestling exists to demonstrate why regarding professional wrestling as an art is important when attempting to accurately criticize, understand, and celebrate the medium.
Pro-wrestling is a form of storytelling.
As such, it demands more than summaries, dirt, top ten lists, and rumors. Professional wrestling demands respect from those who watch it, from those who create it, and from those who write about it. It is not mere “entertainment” meant to distract you from life. Pro-wrestling is an edifying form of theater that moves believers to The Moment of Pop, inspiring audiences to chase down their dreams and to fight for morally righteous causes. You are entertained along the way, but thoughtless "entertainment" is a byproduct of art, not the sole purpose of art.
Pro-wrestling binds us, unites us, and moves us to be better people in the same way other arts do (only the artists of other mediums don’t bleed, break bones, tear ligaments, or take bumps for the sake of their audience’s emotional high).
There is a massive gap between what pro-wrestling actually is and the way it's written about in pro-wrestling journalism. It is The Work of Wrestling’s job to fill that gap and spotlight others who champion this growing movement. In offering a more modern and respectful form of analysis, it’s possible to raise people’s consciousnesses, as well as affect positive change in the world’s largest pro-wrestling retailer.
I’ve done my best to offer Vince McMahon and the WWE this form of constructive criticism because I know they won’t get it on click-bait sites, in comments sections, or via their Twitter feeds. They need a calm, contrarian point of view to examine why they’re failing to capitalize on the emotional investments of their loyal viewers, as well as a celebratory voice that explains why a successful moment was so expertly crafted. I have not always successfully upheld this mission. Occasionally, I have been given to bouts of frustration and lost my message.
But, for the most part, The Work of Wrestling has fulfilled its purpose for the WWE in 2015.
And so I have arrived at an impasse with the company since it is clear, after reviewing the show for eleven months straight, that the larger criticisms of the product will not be addressed in the near future.
A lasting, permanent shift in creative direction has not come and doesn't seem to be coming anytime soon. That which we criticize today is no different than that which we criticized yesterday.
I’ve come to a point where I question this review’s purpose and its function as it relates to Vince McMahon’s lengthy variety show. I have repeated, ad nauseam, the same collection of constructive criticisms for eleven months without reprieve (longer considering my reviews on The Good Worker and The Future Machine blogs).
I have nothing new to offer the WWE at this time. And, as a fan of their product, I have reached a new level of utter disinterest in the stories they are telling. Even a good match between good workers inspires nothing but sadness in me because I know the match will not contribute, in any way, to the ascent of either participant.
I cannot justify watching a television show that leaves me feeling disillusioned, dejected, and, on occasion, downright seething every single Monday at around 11:15pm. In 2015, I can count on a single hand the number of times Monday Night Raw left me feeling happy by the time the show faded to black.
At what point does repeatedly pointing out the WWE’s failings, no matter how constructively or artfully, become my insanity?
It doesn’t matter if I focus on one particular segment or one particular aspect of the show for an entire review so as to ensure it doesn’t read exactly like the previous week’s analysis or a laundry list of complaints.
No matter how hard I try to offer my reader the variety and depth they seek, I’m essentially pouring over the same list of ideological flaws that currently plague the main roster.
The time has come for all of us to take a much-deserved break.
And that’s exactly what I am going to do.
Without malice and without disrespect, I am calmly turning Monday Night Raw off for the next four weeks and I’m going to do something else with my life.
Fear not, dear reader and dear listener.
This does not mean The Work of Wrestling will become a dead site for the month of December or that I’ll stop podcasting.
This doesn’t even mean The Raw Review is going away.
Every Tuesday in December, The Raw Review will still be published RIGHT HERE on The Work of Wrestling home-site, but it will not be about Monday Night Raw and it will not be about the WWE’s current main roster product.
Each week The Raw Review will focus on a different promotion (like ICW or Lucha Underground), an important moment or match in pro-wrestling history, or a culturally significant pro-wrestling podcast. This does not mean that the column or different articles will forsake all WWE content. NXT is gradually picking up steam once again and one of these weeks I might feel a need to spotlight what’s going on in the WWE’s best program. There are also important matches in WWE history that I might feel a need to take another look at and explore.
But, for the most part, I want to devote December to independent wrestling, independent wrestlers, wrestling history, and, in general, the value of professional wrestling in our lives.
As previously stated, the mission of The Work of Wrestling and the purpose of The Raw Review is to prove the artistic merit of professional wrestling.
The purpose of this site is not to prove that Vince McMahon is out of touch.
This decision has left me more excited and encouraged than I’ve been in quite some time. For four weeks, we will set aside our frustrations and instead engage in a celebration. We will offer other promotions the respect they deserve and we will rediscover what it is we love about professional wrestling.
We will recharge our batteries for four straight weeks, and then, on Tuesday January 5th, 2016 the traditional Raw Review will make a triumphant return.
And it will debut with a fresh redesign.
Think of this as a necessary leave of absence for a burnt out pro-wrestler who later returns with renewed fire (and some new ring attire and a new entrance song to go along with it).
I know that I cannot completely boycott the WWE. That’s not something I even want to do, despite how frustrating and dated I find their booking. Some might consider this a form of insanity. Some consider this akin to not finding the strength to leave an abusive relationship.
I consider this a choice resultant from my emotional investment in the company’s history. I remain grateful that they've helped inspire me to pursue my passion. Every week, they give me something to explore, good or bad.
I may not watch TLC and I may not watch Raw, and I definitely won’t talk or write about these things, but I still want to see how the company evolves or devolves. I want to watch and support pro-wrestlers like Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, and Seth Rollins as they work through these difficult times. Regardless of how much I disagree with the way these talented performers are used on the main roster, I cannot consciously miss out on their maturation as performers. I’ve taken long hiatuses from the WWE before and while they were necessary, I regret missing a lot of what I missed.
This one-month break is a calculated decision to help renew my own interest in the product, no matter what state it’s in come January 5th. After this break we’ll be able to move into year two of The Work of Wrestling ready to offer the WWE the constructive criticism they will need.
In parting, I will offer, one last time in 2015, my primary criticism of the main roster product. Please consider this, WWE, and know that it's not coming from a vindictive place.
You must reinvent your fundamental perspective on the medium of professional wrestling or, as you call it, Sports Entertainment if you hope to remain pertinent to modern audiences.
“Fighting to entertain” is not a central conceit that connects with your viewers (or the millennial generation of wrestling fans). The line between your reality as a philanthropic Sports Entertainment company and the fiction that professional wrestling matches are legitimate contests that actually matter has blurred to the point where it is impossible for your viewers to suspend their disbelief and emotionally invest in the hero or the villain’s journey. The primary reason your millennial roster is not over is not due to a lack of passion or a lack of desire or a lack of talent on their part; it’s entirely due to the fact that not one character in your organization has a goal other than “entertain the fans” or “irritate the fans”.
Your wrestlers have devolved into interchangeable caricatures.
How can the personalities of Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns or Dean Ambrose or Bray Wyatt or Sasha Banks or Charlotte or Becky Lynch really connect with people when each of these performers trades a small list of tropes back and forth; the implacable hero chasing the title or the cowardly heel champion avoiding conflict at all costs?
Lack of variety and lack of sincerity results in a lack of believability and, therefore, a lack of viewers.
The heavy hand of your script and your reliance upon familiar characterizations and familiar lines of dialogue (epitomized in your unwavering insistence upon heel authority figures who, for indeterminate reasons, remain obsessed with torturing their employees) can do nothing but stifle the top stars you supposedly want to create.
Roman Reigns’ ascent has not been a failure because you’ve pushed him instead of Cesaro or Kevin Owens or any other “internet darling”. Roman Reigns’ ascent has been a failure because Roman Reigns has not been supported with an organic narrative in keeping with his real-life motivations as an athlete. The Roman Reigns experiment has come undone because the booking has shined a massive spotlight on all of Roman's weaknesses while not really comprehending his strengths. There is nothing about the Roman Reigns people see and hear today that relates back to the Roman Reigns fans loved in The Shield. When people see Roman Reigns walk down through the crowd they do not see a talker or a comedian or a father or a family member, and they especially do not see and will never see an underdog. They see a strong, silent warrior.
And yet he's booked like he's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He is not the problem. The book is the problem.
This is a small example of a larger disconnect between the perception you want to create and the reality that results from your far-too stubborn and simplistic approach to storytelling.
There is absolutely no shame in admitting that the time has finally come for change or that other people have good ideas. There is absolutely no shame in not having every idea. And if the crowd boos your ideas or cheers against your wishes, that is not a combative action; it's a useful action to be taken into consideration and then manipulated.
In fact, a sudden and permanent shift back into the realm of realistic sports goals and a basic narrative foundation that justifies every single match and orients every character around a common purpose would be met with unanimous praise and renewed interest in your product.
Instead of being regarded as the out of touch old man with a death-grip on his creation, you would be regarded as a hero who gave the people what they wanted and deserved. Instead of bleeding fans and bleeding viewers after every wonky finish, you would satisfy your most committed base who would then bring others back into the fold.
If, instead of publicly shaming certain professional wrestlers who challenge your perspective or don’t connect with you, you saw beyond your biases to the larger, money-making perspective of equitable booking, where each character fights for the right to be named champion, your fans would be less likely to gripe about your booking decisions and instead become invested in your stories. Currently, a large portion of your fanbase (the most passionate portion) tunes in to pay-per-views to see how you book something rather than how you tell a story.
Smart as people are to the work of the business, you do have the power to change that in the same way a good filmmaker creates an environment where moviegoers are able to suspend their disbelief and lose themselves in a film.
There are a litany of things, large and small, worth changing about your main roster product from the lighting in backstage segments to the three hour running time to the inattentive dribble spouted by commentary.
All of these issues about your product point back to this single flaw, however; you do not have an easily comprehended foundation for your stories - you do not have a foundation that inspires viewers to believe in your characters.
Without a central conceit, without rules governing your universe, there is only chaos.
You are asking people to watch a story that constantly interrupts itself to check in with the audience about whether or not the story is entertaining, and then you shame the audience if their answer is “No.”
That is not sustainable. It feels needlessly petty. It is distracting from everything you’ve done right in the past and it is getting in the way of everything you could do right in the present.
Ignore the barrage of nonsensical hate, condemning everything you do.
Ignore the barrage of nonsensical love, defending everything you do.
Listen to the people who have your best interest at heart.
Listen to the people who genuinely care about your creation and who want to see it thrive.
Listen and you might find a way to connect with us.
See you again in January, WWE. Have a happy holiday and a very nice day.