For the first time since Monday Night Football last aired, I will not be watching WWE Monday Night Raw this coming week (May 20, 2013).
Fear not, Meme Event fans; I can skip the show and still provide the site with its amiably inane photo captions after the show. I go out on Fridays and haven’t caught Smackdown since prior to WrestleMania, but I’m still capable of labeling the blue-show pictures on a weekly basis.
The only change that will take place is that I’ll have approximately 150 less tweets tweeted on Monday night. Other than that, it’ll be another Monday night featuring three hours of a lackluster product, taken in by a number of fans, a select group of which will only bitch about it afterward.
Here’s a fact: I like WWE. I do. It’s been a part of my entertainment pallet for 24 years, for two reasons: I like professional wrestling, and WWE is readily available. It’s entertained me quite often during my viewership, if only sparingly in recent years.
In those recent years, there has been so much that’s irked me as a fan who likes to think, and one who enjoys having humor fodder to mold:
-the relentless John Cena push
-the awful, forced commentary
-a neediness to be accepted in the mainstream that includes an abundance of celebrity walk-ons and cameos, to the point where they take precedent over the hard workers actually on the roster
-pesistent shilling of formulaic in-house movies
-a reversion to booking what is, essentially, a live-action cartoon with broad humor, tired jokes, and a reliance on stereotypes, while cutting down on anything daring or edgy, because of the apparent pecking order that the programs feature
-the inability of fans to get behind certain characters, because the idea of the ‘push’ is dead; once you’re at a certain spot on the card, you don’t grow as a performer, and thus fans get clued in that they’re not going to rise up the ranks. It’s either cheer a consistent loser, or cheer who the company tells you to cheer for, which the stimulus response of a number of fans is to say, “I won’t do what you tell me.” Zack Ryder may be a self-parody now, but his killed push taught us something: just because you get behind somebody in droves, we’re not going to change our booking, because we’re in control, not you.
-charity tie-ins designed to make WWE look like good guys, including getting in bed with a breast cancer charity with disproportionate dispersement of donations, a made-up anti-bullying campaign, and the use of Make a Wish, which a number of WWE superstars work with, but only Cena gets to hobnob with sick kids in front of the live audience, because it’s harder to boo him that way
-a company promoting equality and social progress, yet can’t find anything for its women to do, other than be a nymphomaniac that’s constantly insulted, receive childish secret admirer gifts, or date a 7’3″ sideshow act without any stated reason
-the heavy reliance on part time main eventers from years past to headine PPV events, because the current creative staff has done such a horrible job with the current crop of full-timers, that the PPVs look nakedly awful with one-note Orton or unlikable Sheamus or hastily-turned Del Rio or forcibly-pushed Swagger or oversaturated Cena on top all the time.
-CM Punk, who was turned face by the will of excited fans after his ‘pipe bomb’ promo 2 years ago, loses the edge that made him a unique performer by doing hacky bits designed for the Standard Generic Babyface (dating AJ, alcohol-related bits with Jericho, feuding with evil boss Laurinaitis), that the company turns him heel via convoluted means, and goes to every length to get people to boo him (attacking Rock, attacking Lawler, having Bret Hart denounce him as a phony, having Cena claim he steals Randy Savage’s moves, mocking Lawler’s heart attack, mocking Paul Bearer’s death) when if they did ANY of that with anyone who the crowd buys as a heel, they’d probably be more over than they are now.
-Moving Raw to a 3 hour time slot, and then doing even less with the wrestlers, because 3 hours gives them more time for movie trailers, comedy bits, product placement, celebrity bits, self-congratulatory video packages, PSAs, and the same matches you saw many times already, because ad revenue ALWAYS trumps a good product.
-Speaking of self-congratulatory, there’s the bumper-pieces called “Did You Know”, in which WWE informs their audience of what TV shows they beat in the ratings, what Twitter feeds they have more followers than, and will even blatantly lie in them.
That last one brings up the essence of WWE’s issues. It’s not shocking a company with honesty issues as WWE would lie, but it’s maddening when their lies nullify fan sentiment.
A few months back, WWE listed the five superstars that had the most followers on Twitter. The list went Rock, Cena, Orton, Punk, and Miz. This was interesting, because Zack Ryder had 110,000 more followers than Miz, and should have realistically been fifth on this rather pointless list.
Zack Ryder, in 2011, was a phenomenon augmented by the support of a willing group of fans, who turned Ryder into a viral sensation. His YouTube videos, his simply brilliant self-marketing, and everything he did to further his image, ended up being for nothing.
WWE doesn’t want to push him.
Once upon a time, the fans dictated who got pushed with their cheers, their signs, and their purchases.
WWE today is less a wrestling show, and more about a TV show. If WWE were Seinfeld, they decided in 2010 that Ryder was going to be Uncle Leo. Seinfeld isn’t wrestling. If Uncle Leo cultivated an intriguing persona on social media, and became a viral hit, he still wouldn’t surpass George in terms of air time. George is one of the four ‘juiced in’ main eventers, specifically chosen to be a headliner (like, say, Sheamus).
And that’s WWE: they decided Ryder was midcard fodder, and they’ve told us that we can’t change that. In fact, Ryder’s public frustration has served WWE well: a number of fans who didn’t get the payoff of a true Ryder push now view Ryder as an annoying whiner, and thus less people want him pushed (and even less expect him to be).
It’s a lazy, rigid structure that is now nothing more than a front. WWE is no longer a wrestling promotion, it’s a media empire. WWE would just as soon ignore wrestling entirely if it did good at the box office, on straight-to-video DVD, and with their non-wrestling ratings (i.e. Total Divas).
But wrestling is their biggest money-maker, and thus it’s wrestling money funding their non-wrestling endeavors. It’s no secret Vince has dreamed of being Walt Disney or Howard Hughes or *gasp* Ted Turner, because he wants to be a media giant, not a “rasslin promoter”.
By being the only wrestling game in town outside of the distant TNA, he’s able to make more money from people needing an accessable wrestling fix than ever.
Want to know why John Cena gets the biggest push? His fans are kids who beg mommy and daddy to buy the PPVs, buy his shirts, buy his hats, and buy his figures, thus giving an incredible revenue stream to divert into ‘bigger media.’
Wanna know why WWE shrugs at us when we demand Daniel Bryan or Antonio Cesaro be pushed harder? Their fans criticize WWE and steal the PPVs they feel like watching.
If you’re not funding Vince’s biggest dreams, Vince doesn’t want you.
Ahh, but we ARE funding those dreams. Look at the DVDs WWE puts out: rare Bret Hart matches, a CM Punk collection, In Your House matches from happier times for us, and so forth. We gobble them up, and subscribe to the OnDemand service, because we think we’re sticking it to The Man by thriving on nostalgia, instead of today’s product.
Vince gets our dollar either way, mind you. If we want a hit of yesterday, he’s still the man in the toll booth.
So money’s not an issue. Raw ratings, while hovering around the 3.0 mark, are enough make bigwig sponsors like KMart happy, and we even facilitate that. Our routine viewing that dates back to the Attitude Era, if not earlier, means we’ll be in front of the TV at 8 PM, ready to nitpick and roll our eyes, for the most part.
The sponsors and the network don’t care about our criticisms; they just want the numbers, and WWE wants the money from the sponsors. If they’re happy, they don’t care how WE feel.
And that’s why Vince can afford a status quo product that enrages the most discriminating: we’re still helping him anyway.
But what if we cut off one of those streams?
On Monday, June 9, 2003, nearly ten years ago, a man named Jeff Wahlman staged a protest against WWE. He called for the boycott of that night’s episode of Raw (this was organized about a month in advance, I believe), and it was an experiment to see just how many viewers would be willing to stick it to the company with the unwanted HHH push, misused midcard, and general decline in quality. Even Scott Keith publicized and participated in the protest
Whether it was because WWE got wind of the protest, or because the HHH/Nash Hell in a Cell match for Badd Blood looked anemic on its own, it was announced for that very June 9 Raw that Mick Foley would make his WWE return after a year-and-a-half away, and announce that he would referee that cage match six days later.
Despite the addition of a beloved legend, Raw took a hit that night. On June 2, Raw had a 3.9 rating. For the protest show, it dropped to a 3.5.
Coincidence, or did it work? Hard to say. But considering that Raw topped the 4.0 mark a few times that summer, it seems like a number of annoyed fans were willing to play along.
Judging by the number of people who tweet out #WWEisBoring, maybe it’s high time we give it another shot.
I won’t organize a formal protest, because that’s enough of a headache, but I can safely say that I’m taking the May 20th Raw off.
If anyone wants to join me in this ‘social experiment’, feel free to. Spread this page around, link your friends, and see if we can make a social media-dent in WWE’s rigid mindset, since Ryder couldn’t.
Raw had a 2.9 this week. Can you imagine if it dropped to a 2.2? And can you imagine if it stayed around there for a while afterward? The June 16, 2003 Raw rebounded to a 4.1, so the protest was obviously short-lived. Maybe I’ll be in this one for the long haul.
For those who’ve tweeted me saying, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch,” you’re about to get your wish.
Who’s with me?
(Send all support and/or criticism to me on Twitter)