THE RAW REVIEW
I’ve never been more tempted to write absolutely nothing in response to an episode of Monday Night Raw. I’m hesitant to put my fingers on a keyboard because I’m not sure I can yank anything worthwhile out of my guts right now - I’m not sure I can write a review of last night’s RAW-Pittsburgh episode that doesn’t read like a laundry list of venomous complaints.
But I realize there are people who’ve come to expect THE RAW REVIEW every Tuesday. I feel, short of some absence announced well in advance, deciding to not write this weekly article would be a failure on my part, and the guilt would eat away at me.
Still, I’m at a loss. The WWE has painted me and my effort to raise professional wrestling up as an art-form into a very uncomfortable, angry little corner.
Is it worth writing that Whiz Khalifa’s horrendous segment perfectly epitomizes the WWE’s complete break from reality, the WWE’s complete disinterest in understanding and entertaining their audience?
Is it worth going over how I believe the company has severely overestimated our emotional investment in Randy Orton, and that Seth Rollins’ back was sacrificed to chair shots that help no one for a ‘Mania match with no stakes?
Is it worth mentioning that no one is excited for WrestleMania - at least not in the way they’re supposed to be excited?
Is it worth mentioning that once again the women were given scraps on RAW, but the fans did not launch into another #GiveDivasAChance revolt because, proving the WWE right, the company just needs to feed the general audience those scraps to keep them quiet?
Is it worth mentioning that even Roman Reigns seems tired with the whole process, waltzing off-screen last night after his uneventful handicap match against Seth Rollins & Randy Orton, an ancillary character who, live and in person, said nothing and did nothing about the fact that he’s facing Brock Lesnar in a couple weeks in the biggest match of his life?
Is it worth mentioning that Paul Heyman was the only good part of the show…when Paul Heyman being the only good part of the show far too often describes the show?
I think it is worth mentioning that the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns feud is about absolutely nothing at the time of this writing.
The WWE has made piddly little efforts to round out Roman’s character ever since the Royal Rumble fallout, but that’s not building a rivalry - that's playing damage control, focusing on getting one particular character over instead of building a conflict between two.
Reigns and Lesnar have interacted once…on RAW Snow-day…in a taped segment. And it was great, but it exists as an isolated incident of excellence, a bright spot fading into a vast, black, corporate ocean of anti-storytelling.
Yes, Paul Heyman’s promos have been excellent. Go on praising them, internet. The more you praise them, the more, hopefully, we’ll get them.
But what is Paul Heyman actually saying?
What’s the feud between Lesnar & Reigns about?
As of the time of this writing the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns feud is about the following two statements:
“I’m going to beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania and become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion!”
“You can’t beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.”
As great as Heyman’s promos are, especially as he incorporates UFC-rumors and blends reality and fantasy, they too are moments that exist as isolated incidents of excellence.
The WWE is doing nothing to help Heyman.
The WWE is doing nothing to make this feud…a feud.
Are we going to just watch Heyman say, “You can’t beat Brock Lesnar” and Reigns say, “Yes I can” for another few weeks? That's already the crux of almost every rivalry the past several years and it's entirely boring especially when the WWE continues to pride itself on being a form of entertainment. If the company fully embraced their proposed "Reality Era" and presented their fiction as a legitimate sport then they could let a feud just be about "Who's going to win?", especially if they presented the build realistically (training vignettes, press conferences etc). But they're not doing that. And they won't do that. And everyone thinks they already know who's going to win because everyone is hip to the business.
The quality of Heyman’s oratory stylings blinds you to the fact that the feud is entirely nonexistent and devoid of any deeper meaning - which is a testament to his ability to sell you something.
Heyman very easily could go out there and sell the main event based on the premise “You can’t beat Brock Lesnar” and absolutely nothing else, because he’s transformed the idea of “Brock can’t be beat” into a narratively significant aspect of any fight Brock has. He's also entertaining on the mic so, as you listen to him, you stop caring about what anything is about.
But Roman can’t just be motivated by, “I’m going to be beat Brock Lesnar.”
That’s not really a motivation, especially in a world that's not presented as a legitimate sport where wins and loses actually matter.
Roman doesn't seem mad at Brock for any reason. He doesn't seem to want to beat Brock for any reason. Roman doesn’t even seem to want to be the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
He’s a character that seems completely devoid of desire.
The company has emphasized Roman’s family-history and his need to keep raising the bar for his forefathers.
That’s not interesting. There’s no conflict there. It also doesn’t reflect reality.
Very few people, especially in the world of competitive sport, are genuinely humble and just want to “nudge the bar” that their family raised.
The more believable (and infinitely more interesting) reality of that situation is that people get tired of hearing about how awesome their family is. They grow up watching their brothers and sisters and cousins and fathers and mothers transform THE FAMILY into an unattainable dream. And then the youngest is expected to participate, regardless of whether or not they wanted to. People get angry, jilted, frustrated when they feel that weight of the "family-legacy". They fight against it. They pursue anything else at all costs.
And that’s who Roman Reigns (in real life) seems like he wants to be - someone who is sick and tired of everyone telling him what he needs to do, someone who’s sick and tired of being compared to his betters, someone who is sick and tired of hearing everyone's opinion on what he's supposed to do. That's a Roman Reigns who's familiar with the kind of detractors he faces in the WWE fans.
Roman should be infuriated with The Rock for showing up and stealing his Royal Rumble moment.
But the WWE regards that kind of psychology as villainous, and they need Roman to be a hero. Reality is too complex for them - they don't know how to create a character who is a hero, but also wants to distance himself from his family, someone who is a hero, but also has some hate in his heart.
That would be a character who would go into WrestleMania with a purpose, who would see in Brock Lesnar the representation of everything he’s ever hated.
Brock could represent the familial beast in Roman's eyes, a symbol of oppression and dominance, as well as a means of proving everyone wrong.
Instead…Roman “will beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania”. That's it.
The WWE has a roomful of writers who obviously have some vague understanding of psychology and narrative structure and competition and salesmanship.
But they’re immature, simple, and, very clearly, never actually thinking about their characters and their world.
Now perhaps that’s not their fault.
Perhaps they’re typing golden scripts that get sullied by tired old men.
But when I hear the words these sports entertainers recite, when I pay attention to how these “stories” unfold, it becomes clear to me that no one, behind the curtain, is thinking.
When I was writing my thesis, one day, during a critique, my mentor, writer Julia Markus, said to me, “You’re not thinking about your characters.”
I was stunned. I was confused and I was angry. I felt like I was getting nowhere. No one had ever challenged me about my writing in this way. I'd never had to toss out entire drafts and start over.
I think about my characters all the time! My novel was all I thought about - or so I thought.
At the time, I did not understand what she was telling me. Then, gradually, over the course of many weeks, my mind expanded
She was telling me that I was thinking of my story as a story - my previous ideas of “interesting character development” and “character psychology” and “story beats” and “plot” negatively informed my perspective on the world and my perspective on the fictional world I was creating.
I wrote from the perspective, “Let’s make this the coolest story I possibly can!”
I did not write from the perspective, “What would a human being do in this situation, and how does this particular human being react to this particular situation?"
One of those perspectives is much more interesting, intelligent, and powerful than the other.
My mentor crystallized this lesson for me in a conversation that has since transformed me - not just as a writer, but as a human being.
I had created a particularly nasty character in my thesis, a character born out of my real-world frustrations with every person I’d ever disliked. I thought of this character as the embodiment of everything I hated in people, everything that's wrong with society, and wrote from that perspective, hoping to make a grandiose point about how people need to be kinder to each other.
This perspective produced the following, terrible sentence, “Harry Owens was a failure of a human being.”
My mentor read that, shook her head, perplexed and frustrated with me (for she knew I was a good writer, that I could string together well-written sentences, but she also knew I had some mental-maturing to do), and she said to me, “No. No. Harry is not a failure of a human being. He’s a human being with failures.”
That changed my life.
From that point on, I realized that when I sat down to create a fictitious world (whether it was on another planet or in Hempstead Long Island), I needed to treat that world with respect, I needed to regard it as a complete entity inhabited by complete human beings and those human beings could not be cyphers for my petty jealousies, insecurities, hopes, and hatreds.
I was pushed to become better, to look at things in a more realistic, thoughtful way. I was pushed to get outside of myself and look at the world and think about the world as the world, and not some strange place that hurt me.
Suddenly, every character became fascinating to me. I saw in every fictional character I created the potential for a deep emotional and psychological history that made them who they were. My hatred left me. I treated Harry Owens with respect, even though I probably would have disliked him if I met him in real life - my personal feelings didn't matter anymore, all that mattered was the truth of Harry Owens. I discovered that Harry Owens had a wife, a child, a father, a mother. I discovered that Harry Owens knew he wasn’t a good person, but forged ahead anyway, pushing that knowledge deep down within himself, avoiding it at all costs in order to make it through the day.
I realized that the story was about more than me and my mind - I realized that the storyteller's job is to tell the truth about the world, it's to share something honest with the world, and the more accurately I told that story, the more vivid my perspective on the world would be.
And thinking about my fictional characters in this realistic fashion helped me see the actual real world in a more complete, compassionate way. The rage, the frustration subsided, and I began to obsess over those awkward interactions with opposite sex or those fights with bullies a little less. Everyone became human. Everything suddenly had an explanation...a reason.
And the world seemed much more interesting.
The WWE is so decidedly not interesting because no one is thinking about their characters.
I’m a long-time wrestling fan. I’ve been writing about the medium for three years, and I have no interest in stopping. I love it.
But I also have no interest in any WrestleMania match this year.
I’m excited for the event itself. The warm glow of Mania-Day will wash over me, a Siren’s song of pyrotechnics and snazzy entrances and high spots will lure me into the rocks of relentless pacification.
But I want the WWE to know, very simply, and clearly, that this long-time wrestling fan who still watches it in the way they want me to watch (like a bright-eyed kid desperate to believe) has absolutely no emotional investment in any WrestleMania match whatsoever.
And maybe that’s what this week’s RAW REVIEW can be…an explanation of why RAW doesn’t deserve a review from me.
Think about your world, WWE.
Think about your characters.
You’ll make more money if you do.
You’ll create an environment of excitement, not one of passive frustration, reluctant acceptance, or outright rage.
If you start thinking about what you’re doing, you’ll create something worth watching.
You’ll create something worth writing about.
Feel free to leave a comment! Please share this review with as many people as possible. I think it has a shot to help individuals, if not the WWE organization itself.
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