WALKING A VERY THIN LINE
After watching professional wrestling for over 25 years, I’ve never really felt more out of place than I do right now. Ever since the day following WWE’s ‘Capitol Punishment’ pay-per-view and the beginning of what could simply be called ‘The Mainstream Summer of Punk’ (Ring of Honor fans can have the original Summer of Punk), I have had an internal conflict with how I have been enjoying professional wrestling. This conflict is not just from the viewer’s perspective, but also from the viewpoint of the inquisitive, information-starved Internet wrestling fan as well.
This internal conflict I have been struggling with seems to center on a particular line in the form of a border. It is the border between the two perspectives I previously mentioned: the blissfully ignorant and the abundantly informed.
I have never read a ‘Wrestling Observer’ newsletter. I have never read reviews of television shows or pay-per-view events with the intent of knowing if a match or segment was ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I have never read about how many stars a particular match received or myself graded anything in professional wrestling to the point to where anything and everything I say can be compared, contrasted, and questioned.
I have always chosen to be very selective when it comes to my information-gathering within the entertainment I enjoy so much. I prefer hard news backed by reliable sources: Television ratings provided by Neilsen (though as flawed as they may be), pay-per-view buyrates distributed by WWE’s quarterly financial reports, accounts of injuries sustained by performers through their own Twitter submissions, etc. This is information I don’t necessarily need to know to enjoy professional wrestling but it in no way deteriorates the enjoyment i receive. It’s just information, nothing more nothing less.
However, I have never been an advocate of this kind of information making its way into the entertainment that is fed to me. Why should I hear directly from the performers on the television show that someone was released? Why should I care what the wrestlers think about a ‘network’ or what needs to be done to elevate television ratings or pay-per-view buyrates?
It is this kind of ‘shoot territory’ that I have never been a fan of. I love watching a television show involving characters, plot development, and conflicts that are encompassed in a sports-like environment where competition for a title of ‘champion’ is overshadowed by the emotions of jealousy, disgust, and envy. I don’t need to know about what is going on outside of this world that I enjoy watching.
What is even more perplexing is how much of this realistic information should be allowed into the fantasy sports-like environment to perpetuate the stories that I become so engrossed in. The build for the confrontation between CM Punk and John Cena was based around the eventual expiration of Punk’s contract with World Wrestling Entertainment and the fear of him leaving said company with the WWE Title if he were to defeat Cena. The emotions of fear, dread, and eventual loss of a piece of WWE’s history feuled a conflict between two characters whose fanbases contrasted, not just in demographical categories, but in their own views of professional wrestling.
This fear would become a reality after WWE’s ‘Money in the Bank’ pay-per-view. CM Punk would defeat John Cena, the clock struck midnight, and like a thief he would run into the Chicago night with the WWE Title. Fast forward to ‘Summerslam’, where a returning Punk squares off against Cena again. However, instead of the feelings of dread and chaos hanging in the air there is a sense of historical implication, the unification of two WWE Titles. We go from agony and stress in July to celebration and coronation in August.
It feels like a severe, fact-to-fiction whiplash; to go from the real-life drama of a performer’s contract expiring, taking a company’s prized-possession with him to the competition between two characters in order to be crowned a champion within the sports-like environment that had been ignored the month previous.
Just when we were given some time to heal from the paradigm shift, we have been thrust back into ‘reality’ with a conflict brewing between CM Punk and who seems to be the embodiment of everything he has despised about the professional wrestling industry, Kevin Nash. The term ‘held down’ is immediately thrown out for the masses to consume, poke with a stick, or just stare at wondering what the heck it means. Punk’s fury over Nash being one of the many within a business who has kept people like himself from becoming successful might be justified to those who enjoy reading the articles that I avoid on the internet, but it still feels like paradigm-shift whiplash.
While this shift in storytelling is certainly nothing new in the world of professional wrestling, it is most certainly new to the current audience World Wrestling Entertainment has been courting for the past five years. While I’m sure you most certainly know who Kevin Nash is and what kind of merit CM Punk’s claims of obstruction may hold, fans who have been cheering for John Cena and Randy Orton for the past 5 years have no idea what is going on. The only way this new generation of professional wrestling fans can understand the backstory is by venturing onto the Internet, looking for the confirming evidence towards CM Punk’s fury, and eventually finding the articles and stories that I voluntarily avoid for the sake of keeping professional wrestling within the confines of its sports-like environment.
Twice in the past three months WWE has taken us away from its fictional realm of champions and conflict and brought us into the realistic business of contracts and corruption. These are leaps that I don’t believe the new generation of fans are ready to take, nor are they leaps that I am willing to take even though I have survived plenty of them. It is a very thin line to walk. WWE’s creative writing team needs to think about how often their feet should drift outside of their fictional environment, for fear of looking too much like World Championship Wrestling.