The Mother Brain Files: The Company in the Plastic Bubble
By Mother Brain
In the last four years, I would have my occasional moments where I would make a vow to stop watching WWE programing whenever the product got stale. The first time I can recall was in 2007 when John Cena was holding the WWE Championship for nearly a full year. But then he got hurt and I remained tuned to see if anyone else would take his spot. In 2008, there was everything from Cena winning the Royal Rumble, Hornswoggle allegedly being Mr. McMahonâ€™s son, and Mike Adamle failing as an announcer and as a Raw GM. But then my favorite current superstar, CM Punk, won the World Heavyweight Championship and Cena got hurt again. In 2010, Cena was being treated as the company star along with stupid guest hosts for Raw who either entertained or bombed miserably. But then Nexus was formed and made Raw interesting to watch week after week all summer long.
I can keep going on and on. Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, â€œjust when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.â€ Once again, I raise the question of whether or not the WWE is still in touch with their real fanbase. Iâ€™d be too biased if I were to say that John Cena is the problem. Not completely. He may be just as much the companyâ€™s happy poster boy as Outback Jack was with their delicious ice cream bars. The truth, however, is that Cena has not crossed over into the mainstream as a household name like Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, or even the late Macho Man Randy Savage. The problem has less to do with the man and more to do with the company machine controlling him. Now what are these problems?
The first and obvious point is the lack of actual characters with gimmicks. Back in the day (circa 1985-1995), the WWE was filled with the likes of not only Hogan and Savage but also Jake â€œThe Snakeâ€ Roberts, Big Boss Man, Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Perfect, Sgt. Slaughter, Ravishing Rick Rude, Undertaker, etc. They were larger-than-life personalities who looked like they came straight out of the comic book pages. The fans believed in them as did the superstars themselves. Today, those kinds of characters are a dying breed. Guys like Alberto DelRio, The Miz, Sin Cara, Rey Mysterio, and CM Punk have a ball to run with. But why do the new stars have to be introduced with bland names like Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, David Otunga, Michael McGillicutty, Mark Henry, etc. Thereâ€™s nothing unique about them. They donâ€™t have managers like Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Hart to be their mouthpieces when they canâ€™t cut promos (more on that later) and they do nothing that gets me excited when they come out to wrestle. Oops, I meant to say â€œentertainâ€.
To add to the first point, take a look a Zack Ryder. I wouldnâ€™t say heâ€™s championship material but he has a defined gimmick and a growing fanbase thanks to his YouTube webisodes. Even with the success of Jersey Shore on MTV, WWE should easily have cashed in on the craze by giving Ryder some major storylines on television no matter how silly they are. Unfortunately, thereâ€™s a company bias against him, only being portrayed as jobber material for WWE Superstars. What happened to the company that used to make decisions based on fan reaction in the late 90s? I guess itâ€™s the stockholders who call the shots now. Not the real fans.
The second point is the lack of inconsistency and pretending that the past does not exist. Does it make any sense to have Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole feuding for several months only for Cole to go back to the announce table like nothing happened? The man talked smack about another manâ€™s late mother! I sure as hell wouldnâ€™t stand three seconds to be sitting next to that guy without beating the holy hell out of him. But these guys have to do it two hours every Monday night. Also, we had Triple H going after the Undertakerâ€™s streak at this yearâ€™s Wrestlemania. The company completely ignored their previous encounter at Wrestlemania 17. Why not use that to fuel the storyline more? Oh I forget. WWE caters to the Little Jimmies and Jennies of the world who werenâ€™t even around in 2001.
Third point is the WWEâ€™s hypocrisy when it comes to handling the media. They recently started an anti-bullying campaign, riding on the coattails of various movements in the media to stop school bullying in America. Yet, this is the same company that mocked Mickie Jamesâ€™ weight in a storyline, had Nexus target John Cena on a weekly basis, Hornswoggle getting attacked by Sheamus, etc. The main reason why a lot of feuds in recent memory have not worked is because the talent has to hate each other in the ring and then turn around to be all buddies when they have to step out publicly to promote the company. Some may want to blame HBK and the Kliq for that.
The last point has to do with WWE creative. Itâ€™s my understanding that most of the â€œwritersâ€ for WWE programing have little to no wrestling knowledge. So they go out and write SNL-style sketches, corny running gags (Anonymous Raw GM, the Obama skits leading to Capital Punishment, etc.), and dictate what each superstarâ€™s character says and does. Itâ€™s like old school variety show writers writing for teenage characters on Welcome Back, Kotter. Oh wait. That actually happened! But seriously, the most memorable promos of recent memory are the ones that were not scripted: Roddy Piperâ€™s passionate promo on Chris Jericho about his true feelings towards the Wrestler movie with Mickey Rourke; Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels confronting each other 13 years after the Montreal Screwjob; Daniel Bryan attacking the WWE machine after getting eliminated from NXT; anything The Rock has done since his return earlier this year. Now there are those like The Miz who can take shit on paper and turn it into gold on the mic. Others put no passion into it. Blame the developmental system or blame the performer or blame Vince McMahon. It doesnâ€™t matter. At the end of the day, the performer has to push himself or herself to be over with the fans rather than the company dictating who they are. Austin, Rock, Bret, Savage, HBK, and Piper are just a few of those guys who made themselves into superstars, not Vince McMahon.
If the WWE truly believes that they are in a boom period just because their real chosen one John Cena sells merchandise and the PG rating gave them a host of advertisers who were not around during the Attitude era, theyâ€™re sadly mistaken. Their Over the Limit PPV drew the worst numbers since the disastrous ECW December to Dismember. Ratings for Raw and Smackdown are down across the board. Superstars and NXT were both canceled earlier in the year and can be only seen on WWE.com. The list goes on and on. The question is when will they see into the outside world and realize that there is no boom period going on and that fans want something new and fresh? Or will it be dictated by the stockholders?