You Will Keep Booing Roman Reigns And It Will Change Nothing
- INTRODUCTION -
If you still boo Roman Reigns, nothing will convince you to stop booing Roman Reigns.
It doesn't matter if the WWE books Roman Reigns in a manner that "emphasizes his strengths and hides his weaknesses", it doesn't matter if Roman Reigns adds fifty death-defying moves to his repertoire, it doesn't matter if Roman Reigns journeys back in time and works the indies for fifteen years before coming to the WWE, and it doesn't matter if Roman Reigns starts cutting promos with the eloquence and depth of a classically trained Shakespearean actor.
No matter the objective improvements in Roman Reigns' performance or the improvements in the way WWE books him, and no matter how well-reasoned an argument in Roman's favor may be, you will go on booing.
And that's fine. I've accepted this. Keep booing.
No energy should be expended by anyone (least of all Roman Reigns fans) in an effort to convince you to change your mind. You are entrenched in your perspective and you're just going to keep digging in.
I know this is frustrating to many Roman Reigns fans who are tired of pay-per-views ending in a chorus of boos. I know Roman Reigns fans are tired of feeling like they need to justify their fandom. I know Roman Reigns fans are tired of getting harassed at live-events. I know Roman Reigns fans are tired of writing think-pieces in his defense, demonstrating the various ways that the Roman-hate is undeserved and even disturbing.
Whether you're a fan of Roman's or not, I know that rational minds are easily discouraged by a lack of reason in the world around them.
But I have some good news for Roman Reigns fans: The Boos failed.
- PART 1 -
WHO REALLY HAS THE POWER?
This piece is not an argument for why anyone should stop booing Roman Reigns. This piece isn't even an argument for why Roman Reigns is a good WWE superstar deserving of praise. Instead, this piece is an observation of how The Boos have not (and will not) affect the WWE's booking of Roman Reigns in the manner that The Boos intend.
Just as nothing the WWE does can change The Boos into Cheers, nothing The Boos do can change the WWE's perspective on Roman Reigns as "top guy material". The Boos may think otherwise, but The Boos would be wrong.
To realize this, I first had to extract myself from the irritation and negativity bred by The Boos. I also had to remove myself from the predictable examinations of Roman Reigns, both the positive and the negative. Once I got outside our community's often restrictive mental space, I was able to see the truth of our situation.
Like many revelations, the premise is easily overlooked because it's so simple:
the WWE and I clearly agree that Roman Reigns is "top guy material".
In fact, the WWE and I have been in agreement about Roman Reigns for a while. That doesn't happen very often, no matter what era of WWE you're watching.
The WWE and I didn't agree on CM Punk (whom I wanted to see go on last at WrestleMania 28 & 29 in title matches against John Cena and/or Daniel Bryan). I doubt the WWE and I agree on Sami Zayn (whom I'm certain could easily occupy a "top spot" if his appeal was genuinely comprehended and if the WWE relied more heavily upon vignettes and docuseries to tell its stories). And I'd be surprised if the WWE agreed with me about Big E (whom I feel should be on anyone's shortlist for future WWE Universal or World Champion - or both - within the next year).
But when it comes to Roman Reigns, the WWE and I actually do see eye to eye. We agree on the fundamental fact of Roman's push even if we disagreed on the particulars of its initial presentation. And that's a really good place to be if you're a WWE-fan.
I don't need to worry about "Roman's spot". I don't need to worry about Roman's "talent being squandered" (as I have with so many others). I've never had to agonize over whether or not I felt Roman Reigns "deserved" anything. I was never angered by a Roman win or a Roman loss. I just watched his matches, enjoyed them or didn't, and observed how his larger stories played out. He gets to exist in that comfortable narrative space. And, in two years, Roman Reigns has headlined two WrestleManias in a row and he's been the "top champion" several times.
Given that this is the case, I don't even really need to worry about The Boos. If I'm watching at home, I can hit the mute button. If someone sends me an angry Tweet...again, there's a mute button. If I just want to watch wrestling and I don't care what anyone else thinks, then I can just watch wrestling and stop caring what anyone else thinks.
The power, very obviously, resides with Roman Reigns, The WWE, and Roman's fans. If those three entities are all in agreement about Roman Reigns being pushed, then those three entities should be satisfied...right?
Despite the reality of our power, we're all inexplicably on the defensive. We're reacting as if the scale of power tips entirely toward The Boos when, objectively, it does not. The noise of negativity has fooled everyone (including, perhaps, the WWE), that The Boos are currently the most powerful force in our Pro-Wrestling Community and that The Boos represent majority-opinion. They are so loud and so proud and so consistent in their behavior that they've cleverly convinced themselves, and us, that they're more than just noise.
The Boos have mutated into an all-right, all-knowing, all-angry beast committed to rigidity and rebellion for rebellion's sake. These Boos have the disposable income, the time, and the unwavering commitment to attend lives events and overrule any opposing stance (even if that opposing stance, embodied in the masses who casually tune in and out of WWE-programming throughout the year, represents a majority). Whatever legitimate problems may have initially inspired The Boos have been completely forgotten, co-opted by the absolute worst aspects of our Pro-Wrestling Community.
- PART 2 -
WHY BOOING HASN'T WORKED
Our community still lives in the shadow of Daniel Bryan's ascent to the main event at WrestleMania 30. That WrestleMania victory, where the stars aligned, helped shape the current dynamic between The Boos and the WWE.
The story the company told was that the fan's cheers for Bryan catapulted Bryan to that top spot. Suddenly, it seemed, the WWE was a more democratic institution where direct feedback from the audience could re-write a WWE narrative. In that "Reality Era", the fans were emboldened to believe they served as not just a mere focus group, but a kind of ghost-writer capable of usurping Vince McMahon's vision of Sports Entertainment and replacing it with indie-wrestling fan-fiction.
That was all a very well-told fantasy. It did not reflect the reality of the WWE's relationship with its fans. The input of the live audience, especially when it's negative, clearly does not have any significant power in the WWE as evidenced by their recent booking patterns with Roman Reigns.
If we all spend some time evaluating the effectiveness of The Boos it becomes clear that they have achieved basically nothing. Beyond providing auditory accompaniment and inspiring pure negativity among fans, The Boos haven't made a dent in the WWE's "top guy", "main event", or WrestleMania booking formulas.
WWE remains a casual form of pro-wrestling entertainment that orients around a collection of family-friendly, visually striking characters who possess the potential for mass appeal. While the roster includes an assortment of former "indy-workers", the WWE continues to return to its mainstream style of presentation for its most mainstream events.
The WWE also remakes these "indy-workers" to fit its mainstream model, sometimes to great success (AJ Styles), and sometimes not.
While it may appear that the The Boos have ushered in a "new era" where the Daniel Bryans of the wrestling world are regularly main-eventing major pay-per-views, every major pay-per-view of the past few years tells an entirely different story (even Bryan's WrestleMania 30 matches included Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton).
Just go on The WWE Network. See for yourself. It's obvious how little the WWE has budged on the traditional idea of booking the "biggest draw" for the best, or last, spot on the card (even if doing so comes at the expense of a title - e.g. The Rock vs John Cena at WrestleMania 28, Undertaker vs Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2015 and Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2016 to name a few).
And it's even more obvious that the WWE's traditional idea of what makes someone the "biggest draw" hasn't budged either. That aspect of the company is always worth examining, and even criticizing. But, for one's own peace of mind, it's important to acknowledge the reality of what the WWE is and how the company's mainstream-DNA continues to inform the way it books major events. To do otherwise, to believe that "your guy" must be in the main event and that "their guy" always sucks, is to set one's self up for disappointment, and lead one down the path of becoming a Boo.
- PART 3 -
TWO BIRDS, ONE STONE
During some of the least significant times of the year (like August 29th - January 29th), you will now notice that The Boos get to enjoy their favorite wrestlers in main event matches on specials like Roadblock. Such stints as champion could be considered "transitional".
This is the WWE's way of giving the "diehard wrestling fan" what they want, but giving it to them in a controlled dose that doesn't interfere with WWE's traditional WrestleMania "big draw" philosophy. Ultimately, this is not what The Boos really want. The Boos want the WWE to be an indy-wrestling show where homegrown WWE-talent, mainstream celebrities, and part-time crossover stars are not the primary focus of events like WrestleMania. The Boos want the WWE to not be the WWE, and will always view a transitional title reign for one of "their guys" as a concession. And they're not necessarily wrong to think that. It is a kind of concession.
For example, Kevin Owen's Universal Championship reign is indicative less of a fundamental shift in WWE's "top guy" philosophy, and more indicative of how the WWE reserves their most marketable talent for their most lucrative, mainstream seasons. This is not to suggest that Kevin Owens shouldn't or couldn't headline a WrestleMania if the engine of the WWE decided to get completely behind him.
This is to observe that the WWE simply isn't doing that right now.
The stage is being set for Roman Reigns to once again headline WrestleMania regardless of the negative reception he continues to receive. Or Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar will headline WrestleMania. Or Goldberg, Lesnar, and Reigns will headline WrestleMania. It's impossible to be certain what match will go on last, but it's a safe bet, based on what the WWE fundamentally is, that it's not going to be Chris Jericho vs Kevin Owens for The Universal Championship. Whether or not that's "good" is irrelevant here, and entirely subjective.
From the WWE's perspective it simply makes business-sense to satisfy The Boos during the months when no one else is watching, and then, at WrestleMania, switch gears to satisfy the rest of the world because the rest of the world is finally watching.
Whether or not you find this booking-model satisfying depends on your willingness to accept it as reality, and it also depends on how well the WWE tells its stories. Sometimes the company's idea of "biggest draw" coincides with the fan's idea of "biggest draw" and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the company manages to overcome the negative reception of The Boos and deliver a universally beloved story or event (see WrestleMania 31).
Regardless, The Boos have yet to fundamentally disrupt the core perspective of the WWE, particularly as it relates to the marketability of Roman Reigns and the fundamental purpose of WrestleMania.
The best evidence that The Boos have failed is that the WWE hasn't fired Roman Reigns (seemingly the only decision that would satisfy The Boos). The WWE hasn't turned Roman Reigns heel (a terrible business & creative decision that would be at odds with the character, alienate his fans & casual viewers, and never satisfy The Boos). The WWE hasn't shoved Roman Reigns to the bottom of the card (though many of his fans feared as much when he won The United States Championship). Roman's recent stint with a midcard title, as revealed by his current WrestleMania trajectory, was never a demotion. I doubt it was even a response to his suspension. Roman's "mid-card run" was nothing more than a means of keeping him on main-event retainer during the least significant months of the WWE's fiscal year.
This is not to suggest the WWE hasn't made changes with Roman Reigns, but those changes are the result of intelligent, constructive criticism that took years for the WWE to process.
- PART 4 -
WHY POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT WORKED
WWE adjusted Roman's character to be "The Guy" so that the gimmick was more in-keeping with his strengths as a performer.
WWE reduced the length of his scripted promos, and the actual scripting of the promos themselves improved (no better and no worse than the writing anywhere else on the show). WWE booked Roman against new opponents in new angles to create some of the best matches of 2016 (re Roman Reigns vs AJ Styles 1 & 2). WWE stopped fiddling with his eye-contacts and, in general, appears to have stopped hyper-micromanaging every aspect of his personality.
Over the past year, the WWE clearly learned from the constructive criticisms leveled at the way they previously wrote for Roman Reigns. The result is a reliable WWE Superstar who's the most self-assured he's ever been, and who compliments the mission statement of the brand during WrestleMania season.
But The Boos didn't bring about those positive changes because The Boos were not calling for improvements to Roman's character. The Boos, especially today, do not represent useful input or logical constructive criticism given the fact that they persist even after those criticisms have been addressed.
If the remaining criticism is simply the mere existence of Roman Reigns altogether, then that will never be addressed because it is not lucrative nor logical for the WWE to cut Roman Reigns from its roster. It's just not feasible.
The Boos aren't even a healthy expression of dissent anymore. At this point, The Boos are nothing more than a guttural, aimless, irrational cry of outrage. The Boos are pent up aggression designed to attack something that is not, in any way, an actual threat to the sanctity of professional wrestling. The Boos have made Roman Reigns a cypher for a generalized form of recurring discontent with the WWE product itself. The Boos are also a reaction against the diversification of our Pro-Wrestling Community. In a case of pure irony, The Boos are a reaction against change, not a reaction against stagnation. The Boos simply want to re-watch The Attitude Era or indy-wrestling over and over and over again. They don't want to see WWE groom their own new talent and then have that talent clash with the world of indy-wrestling.
Unlike constructive criticism and positive reinforcement, The Boos don't stand a chance of affecting real change because they're easily dismissed as possessing no discernible value or cogent argument.
- PART 5 -
SO WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?
It's not too difficult to see the conundrum that The Boos are in.
They are in an unenviable position. They are in for rude awakening after rude awakening. They are at war with the cold, hard fist of reality. They might as well despise the WWE logo if they're going to despise Roman Reigns. Essentially, The Boos do not like the main character of a television show they insist on watching, and that main character has become a symbol of everything they dislike about that television show.
I know what that's like. I know how frustrating it is to not have your favorite in the main event of WrestleMania, and to really believe your favorite deserves to be there.
Most of us know what that's like.
The only option you have is to alter your consciousness, stop watching altogether, switch to SD Live (or any number of WWE and non-WWE shows), or just keep booing and make everyone's life around you as miserable as possible.
No matter what you decide, Roman Reigns will keep getting championships and he will keep getting main events over the wrestlers you prefer. You most likely understand that if you've been paying attention for the past few years.
Sometimes your favorites will win Championships, most likely between "The Big Four" WWE pay-per-views, and sometimes they might even make it to that top spot. If your enjoyment hinges upon your favorites being in the best spots on the WrestleMania card, promoted as "the top guy" of WWE forever and always, then you're going to be dissatisfied. I cannot offer any real solution to your particular problem nor the problem you often pose to our Pro-Wrestling Community.
So what can I offer those fans who don't boo? Furthermore, what can I offer WWE?
What happens when we accept that The Boos are here to stay, but that they do not pose any lasting threat to the power of the WWE nor the status of Roman Reigns?
To the WWE, I encourage you to be consistent in your mission, stand firmly behind Roman Reigns, never do so at the direct expense & misfortune of other excellent, developing talents, and continue to improve your understanding of Roman's appeal. Craft more compelling stories for Roman Reigns. Put your creative back into it. The Boos originated, in part, due to poorly fleshed-out storytelling and the writers' misunderstanding of Roman's character. If you double-down on your investment in Roman while refining and perfecting the manner in which you tell his stories, you will absolve yourself of any blame for the din of negativity he elicits. So long as the stories are good, and so long as you continue playing to Roman's strengths, the negative response will remain unjustified.
To Roman Reigns fans, I recommend that you do the only thing you can do:
Fight back with positive noise.
Gather together and get louder.
Get off Twitter & Tumblr and get inside arenas.
Buy tickets to live events and cheer for Roman Reigns whenever possible. Add your positive noise to that public space which has been dominated by a form of negativity that does not, in any way, speak for the majority of wrestling fans nor the majority of people who will casually tune in to WrestleMania this April.
- CONCLUSION -
Take a breath, and step away from the negativity. Rest a little easier knowing that the WWE is ultimately catering to you, the Roman Reigns fan. Know that the WWE is not deciding "Roman needs to lose" based on The Boos you despise. The WWE will continue making decisions about Roman Reigns that it regards as beneficial to the company, independently of The Boos, as evidenced by their booking decisions the past two years. You have the power. Continue articulating why you love Roman Reigns, and keep examining all the reasons why he is booed, but remind yourselves that The Boos haven't really changed anything.
When you get upset by The Boos, remember that you are in agreement with the WWE. You will get the title wins and the main event matches and the protected finishes and the heavily promoted angles that you seek. You can comfortably tune-in to your television show, hit the mute button, and watch your hero continue being a hero.
There is no danger of your fandom being interrupted by the WWE, because it’s exactly the kind fandom the WWE wants to nurture in you, and in the potential viewers who are inclined to watch a television show starring Roman Reigns.
Remember that your cheers are the noise of progress.