THE RAW REVIEW
Previously, on THE RAW REVIEW, I specifically emphasized how Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns at WrestleMania can’t be founded purely on the following two statements: “I can beat Brock!” & “You can’t beat Brock!”
I wrote at great length about how that’s not a story.
I wrote about how that’s not a good basis for any kind of rivalry, that it doesn’t reflect human psychology (save perhaps an eight-year-old’s), and that allowing the idea of “can/can’t” to be the only component of a main event WrestleMania match guarantees the audience will remain aloof, disinterested, and emotionally uninvested in the match - thus guaranteeing fewer buys.
Now I don’t care about the WWE’s money, but I know they do, and that’s why from time to time, in an attempt to convince them they need to change, I’ll emphasize how their ratings are not where they want them to be, that their Network is not where they want it to be (still), and that they’re leaving their precious coins on the table at every turn by not investing in emotionally captivating narratives that respect the intelligence of their viewers (even the children).
Now I know it’s incredibly solipsistic to believe someone important on the WWE creative staff reads my review, snickers at my constructive criticism, and then thinks, “Let’s do the exact opposite just to make Tim Kail angry!”, but it certainly feels that way sometimes. I know it’s not true…at least I genuinely hope it’s not true, because that’s a really dumb way to do business.
But I can’t help but marvel at how the WWE is doing they’re damnedest to go against everything that feels logical, intelligent, and entertaining.
They even went ahead and made a tee-shirt out of their non-story - a very definitive proclamation that Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns is, proudly, about absolutely nothing more than the playground argument “I can do this thing that you say I cannot do!”.
When I see this tee-shirt, I do not see “I can, I will”, I see an ironic “Hey Tim Kail, how you doin?”
I see the writing staff and Vince McMahon saying, “You say I can’t make Brock vs Roman about nothing more than I can and you can’t? Well guess what…I can and I will.”
I exchanged texts with my friend Al Monelli throughout the show, and the appearance of this tee-shirt became a topic of conversation. I’m going to share this text with you right here on The Work of Wrestling. We were initially discussing the awesome Brock Lesnar vignette, and how we should see such vignettes about Roman and Brock throughout the night, how Roman should respond, how their "story" should actually dictate the entire course of the show.
I'm blue, Al is gray.
Al’s comment is one the WWE creative team and Vince McMahon should read. Al’s comment reveals the depth of consideration a writer should have for their character, the logical, confident understanding of who Roman Reigns is and what Roman Reigns should represent.
I hope the WWE would actually comprehend what Al is saying in this text…but at this point I’m not sure they would. I don't think the WWE actually understands what writing is.
Last week I managed to pull a rabbit out of my hat to create one of my favorite RAW REVIEWS that I’ve ever written. I focused on my own experience as a writer, learning about the difference between good writing and bad writing.
I can’t do that again this week. I can’t keep writing about how the WWE keeps ignoring reality. And I can’t ignore reality and just go on writing about how good Paul Heyman’s promos are or how good the Brock Lesnar vignette was or how amazing Seth Rollins is or how fun the six-man tag match was or how I couldn’t help but pop for Sting’s appearance at the end of the show or how much I enjoyed Nikki Bella vs AJ Lee. All of those moments are isolated incidents of excellence on a broadcast that is mostly lifeless, directionless, and devoid of joy.
So I’m in a bit of a bind this WrestleMania season, and the only way I can try to make this RAW REVIEW interesting and unique is to take you on this emotional journey with me, where the WWE positively refuses to create a television show worthy of good analysis.
Perhaps I’m blind. Perhaps my malaise is resultant from my own narrow point of view. Perhaps RAW isn't directionless entertainment-mush and it’s just a kind of dumb-fun television show that achieves exactly what it sets out to.
But when I watch NXT or when I see one of those brief, isolated incidents of excellence on RAW, I can’t help but feel that the WWE makes money despite themselves - to quote a particular straight edge genius.
They appear to be perfectly willing to relax on the fact that people will go to WrestleMania and buy WrestleMania purely because it’s WrestleMania and not because the card is good.
The environment they’ve created is so contentious and so bafflingly childish that I marvel at their ongoing existence. Because the WWE’s creative team and higher-ups lack a sense of urgency, so too does the product they create. Because Vince McMahon seems to hate people who love professional wrestling and would love his product if it wasn’t predominantly infantile gibberish, Monday Night Raw seems to hate everyone who watches it.
McMahon’s seeming hatred and schizophrenia was perfectly represented in a brief Bellas pre-match talking head segment.
Nikki & Brie cut a promo on AJ & Paige and then snarkily said something like, “Give Divas a chance? Give me a break!”
After this jab, not so subtly undermining #GiveDivasAChance, the Divas then went out and had a good match and were given the time to do so. So which is it, McMahon? If you're going to be bigoted and antagonistic, at least commit to it. If you're going to do the right thing...do the right thing!
Based on their social media interactions, it’s clear The Bellas actually support the concept of #GiveDivasAChance. How could they not?!
And yet here we have the angry, sniveling, petty words of the WWE’s creative team and Vince McMahon reacting to a movement that flies in the face of their antiquated world-view, slipping their antagonistic message onto national television, using The Bellas as a vessel for their hatred in a near-pathological manner.
Why take jabs at the people who want to love you?
Why be petty with the people who pay your bills?
To get heat? I know that's not the real reason, because then it would be broadcast in a more significant way than a forgettable pre-match talking head bit.
I once acted in a short film alongside an actress who claimed to be "Method". She used that as an excuse to treat me like an ass. I played a doofy character, and when I messed up a line during my performance, she would punch me in the arm and call me an "Asshole!" because "that's what her character would do."
That definitely didn't impede my process at all!
Vince McMahon and his troupe of villainous wooly-mamoths use "Drawing heat" in the same way that actress used "Method" as a reason to take out their genuine aggressions on an unsuspecting audience.
It is, very simply, an atrocious business practice. It’s revealing of Vince McMahon’s mind. It’s revealing of his solipsism, his lack of awareness, and his absolute unwillingness to mature.
The bad booking and the terrible storylines and the archaic, sexist, prejudiced points of view that define the WWE’s flagship show exist as the dying gasp of an old man who doesn’t understand the present world, doesn’t like the present world, and wants to do everything he can to keep his angry clutches on a company destined for transformation.
I have no doubt that Vince McMahon is a fascinating human being. I have no doubt that I’d enjoy hearing his perspective on all of this.
But his product, and this lackadaisical build into ‘Mania is more revealing than the company seems to realize.
And we who love the art of professional wrestling need to keep standing up and shouting, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”
The WWE believes they control us. And they’re right. They are absolutely, 100% right.
And they’re also absolutely wrong, because while the WWE can strong-arm their reliable, core audience as much as they like, they have alienated the viewers that made their company a pop-culture phenomenon in the 90s and early aughts. They lost their fans to UFC. They did that.
While the WWE might control their loyal viewership, they do not control the world.
And slowly, but surely, the world will define World Wrestling Entertainment. Not Vince McMahon.
Soon, the world will shape the way people think about professional wrestling, and if the WWE wants to survive in that world, they’ll have to start listening.
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