THE RAW REVIEW
For the first time in quite some time, I watched RAW in the way the WWE wants me to watch it.
After a weekend dedicated to recording and editing two podcasts, a prototypical 9-5 American Office Monday, and an accumulation of sleep debt that’s in default, a cartoonish, insane, comical, absurd, and completely illogical athletic extravaganza was exactly what I needed.
One follower Tweeted me in agreement that they’d “had about enough reality for today”.
I realized, as I watched and genuinely enjoyed the opening match between Rusev & Dolph Ziggler (in previous weeks I would have stopped paying attention and awaited A-story segments, women’s matches, or Kevin Owens/Cesaro matches), that providing a non-threatening escape from the grind of the workday is RAW’s primary function.
Now I can’t be sure that this is the intention of the show-runners. In fact, I’d be surprised if the show-runners were motivated, specifically, by something as simple and noble as “providing people an escape”. When creating something on a weekly basis, the nobler intentions that may have initially inspired that process occasionally give way to the necessity of just getting it done and doing that to the best of your ability. There are certainly some episodes of The Work of Wrestling podcast and The Raw Review that I was less than enthused with at the time of creation, but I had a deadline. And meeting that all-important deadline becomes the overriding goal. You work incredibly hard on it, but you might have to pull it together in the eleventh hour and hope for the best. Sometimes, that's when the magic really happens.
Regardless, the purpose the show serves for the general audience is one of pure escape. It’s a comfort. A release from a world dictated by the laws of physics and science and life’s undesirable realities.
It’s a show for the child who doesn’t concern herself with narrative structure.
It’s a show for the beleaguered worker, the nine-to-fiver whose first priority is feeding the kids and whose second priority is getting a moment's rest from feeding the kids.
It’s clearly not a show for the twenty or thirtysomething who concerns himself with little outside a small spectrum of experience - days spent obsessing over the details of their beloved fictions, days spent hurling their gut-reactions-called-opinions across the internet ether for all to see, days spent seeking lovers and friends with the same priorities. That latter group represents what that WWE regards as “internet fans”, a misleading label that ignores the fact that almost all WWE fans are now “internet fans” given the simple fact that it’s 2015. I can’t imagine the WWE would, today, snidely refer to people who watch on Television rather than attend live events as “those TV fans”.
So we’re all internet fans, but we’re not all fans who use the internet to vent our frustrations. It’s safe to wager that the majority of WWE’s viewers are not those people with their own websites and their own podcasts and their own small, but passionate ego-inflating internet following.
Those pro-wrestling fans who use the internet as a tool to offer criticism are those fans who grew up watching stories where continuity is king, psychological depth is a prerequisite to being a hero or a villain no matter how broad the character, and a rose-colored past is instantly accessible via YouTube and the WWE Network. It’s not as though depth and continuity weren’t important to Generation X. The principles of good drama span the lifetime of humanity. But we’ve never lived in an age where people regularly discuss, via a massive, interconnected and somewhat ethereal digital platform, about how important the principles of drama are. Previously, one would need to attend a seminar, read a book, study a discipline, or sit in on a drama course to learn about the value of continuity, the inner-workings of dramatic tension, the importance of themes, the necessity of conflict, the power of transformation, and how resolution leads to catharsis. Even more closed off was the world of professional wrestling with its unique vernacular and behind the curtain secrets.
Today’s viewer has all of that at their fingertips - both the way stories work and the way wrestling works.
The upside to that instant access is, potentially, a deeper understanding of narrative and art for those capable creatives who, in any other era, may never have succeeded. If not for the internet, you simply wouldn’t be reading this sentence right now. I have benefited from the existence of the internet in a way I simply wouldn’t have in any other time. It might have taken forty years before you ever read one word from me - and it would have been in a physical book that may or may not have sold well.
The downside to this is that there will be a large portion of the population who takes this information piecemeal, attaining a small amount of knowledge and wielding it as though it’s a large amount of knowledge about concepts that take time to understand. When everyone has a voice and everyone is encouraged to use their voice we inevitably get the regurgitation of information from people who would have, in the past, just kept their thoughts to themselves or subjected only their friends and family to those ridiculous, poorly-formed or bigoted perspectives.
The result of this environment is a lot of fans, some respectful and thoughtful, others not, who regard themselves as the most important, most intelligent fans, unable to comprehend why the show-runners of RAW don’t acquiesce to the greater good and start producing a more thoughtful, modern program.
I often watch RAW with a pinched expression of pain. My brain throbs, my bodies curls inward, and I feel as though I’m on a bad trip, assaulted by sights and sounds dictated by the whims of corporate overlords attempting to seduce me into a world of lies.
But my mother can tune in to any random episode of RAW and she'll be instantly satisfied by what she’s watching, and she’ll be able to articulate why she’s satisfied in a manner that makes me envious.
“It was fun. I just really got caught up in it after a long day.”
Now while I still reached my limit at 10:00pm (even three-hours of mindless fun is too much mindless-fun), I now have a deeper appreciation for her statement, and for those fans often callously regarded by us “internet fans” as “casuals”.
They’re not casuals. They’re just tired. They had a long day. They’re not worried about the internet. They’re not worried about their followers or their readers or how many podcast downloads they got that week or how many people subscribed to their YouTube channel or whether or not it makes sense for Batman and Superman to be fighting in the next Batman/Superman movie or whether or not JJ Ambrams is the right guy to direct the next Star Wars or whether or not The Marvel Cinematic Universe is ever going to split into a new continuity.
They're worried about healthcare. They're worried about the economy. They're worried about their kid's social security and debt and gas prices and overtime and their bed-ridden dad.
For them, watching a world filled with big, dumb, gorgeous people who can fly is incredibly entertaining. It purges that daily grind, wipes the mind clean, and gives them the strength to do it all again tomorrow.
I don’t blame them. In fact, I understand them.
Make no mistake, this doesn’t mean RAW doesn’t have its problems. That doesn’t mean the show is, as objectively, a good television show or even as effective as it could be for that general audience. If I’m holding it up against a standard of aesthetic and narrative goodness then it doesn’t succeed or, in the case of something like Cesaro versus Kevin Owens, it succeeds in small doses.
But, when viewed through a particular lens, the show does, at the very least, achieve its goal. It would still achieve that goal more effectively with better writing (or less writing), more focus, narratives grounded in competition, more intriguing and relatable characters, and a more palatable running time, but I had the benefit of watching this harmless episode trough the lens of pure escape this week.
I enjoyed the car-crash quality of the ongoing Rusev-Lana-Ziggler-Summer Rae-love-quadrangle entirely unconcerned with whether or not its a misuse of talent, I was moved in a more genuine, thoughtful fashion by the purity of Kevin Owens and Cesaro’s stellar match with the best, most realistic finish I’ve seen in a while, I marveled at the beauty of an arena filled only with the light of cell-phones, and I chuckled at the thought of Seth Rollins now being obsessed with finding his missing statue.
And, most importantly, I was encouraged by the decisions made with regard to The Women’s Wrestling Movement or, as WWE calls it, the Diva Revolution.
My initial instinct was to gripe about the fact that the no.1 contender’s tournament was a beat-the-clock challenge. Those aforementioned “internet fans” would inevitably see this as a backhanded compliment.
We’ll give you a tournament to determine the Divas Champion challenger…but the matches are going to be super short! Take that, smarks!
I chose to focus on the bigger, more important takeaway; the women have a story now.
These brief matches were infinitely better than any match we’ve seen from the women since the birth of the Diva Revolution on RAW because these matches had actual stakes.
The shortest match of them all, a bout between Sasha and Paige, was one of the best matches of the night - the wrestlers working with urgency and passion, attempting to score quick pins in rapid succession. That minute and thirty seconds of logic and athleticism gave the briefest of glimpses into what a combination of two great workers can achieve. And now Charlotte has her mission, her sights set firmly on a relatable, attainable goal that can inspire logical, non-catty strife in Team PCP and permit these women to become human beings.
Would I have preferred a non-beat-the-clock tournament that lasted a couple weeks and resulted in epic thirty-minute slobberknockers between Charlotte and Sasha Banks and Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch? Of course. But I would rather the emotional stage be set for those inevitable classics, for those twenty-minute masterpieces to arrive after we’ve come to know these women a little better on the main roster, and after they have established goals - and this episode of RAW gave all of them something to shoot for.
Fear not, dear reader who comes here for me to hold up a mirror to the WWE and offer constructive criticism. I’m not going to slip into the pleasant fog of the “casual viewer” and continue to just “go along” with the non-threatening fun the WWE has to offer.
I’m not blind to what needs improvement.
It’s just that for one week, I saw the value in enjoying the show after a hard day's work.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this with your friends, and have a nice day!