Few WWE viewers were surprised when, at Battleground 2014, Lana the Ravishing Russian invoked recent current events to garner heat. And by that, I mean she literally said, “recent current events” to get boos. This kind of exploitation is nothing new for the company, and all it took to see that was to look at the manager on the other side of the ring:
Zeb Colter, a personality whose connection to the Tea Party movement is as transparent as the dress I Googled in vain for hours trying to find Lana wearing.
But Colter’s character didn’t pop up until three years after the Tea Party emerged. WWE, it seems, is only up-to-date with its villains when they’re one-dimensional foreigners.
Oh, and picketers.
So when the Occupy movement started disrupting the business world in September 2011, camping out in New York’s Zuccotti Park, and seeking an overthrow of their corporate overlords, it took only a month for WWE to work it into their storylines.
Did they A) bring in Irwin R. Schyster as a sort of socialist babyface to demand all the rich tax cheats pay their fair share?
Did they B) get The Rock to spread the Occupy message with the “People’s Microphone”?
Or did they C) make their ersatz Occupiers out to be a bunch of trouble-making whiners?
If you said “C”, then I should remind you that this is merely an article and I can’t hear you, so you should probably just think the answer and not say it out loud. But you’d also be correct.
But there are many interweaving elements of idiocy in this angle, so first, a little back story.
At Summerslam, Kevin Nash jackknifed CM Punk, costing him the WWE title. Nash claimed to have been given the order by COO Triple H himself, and he had the text message on his cell phone to prove it. The obvious answer to this “Who texted Nash?” mystery would have been John Laurinaitis, the wily suit who had been forcing himself into the management picture that summer (after Vince had been dismissed by the Board of Directors). WWE, you see, wanted to parlay the red hot “Summer of Punk” angle into a boring and tedious corporate power struggle with an equally boring and tedious executive.
However, a failed physical meant that Nash couldn’t wrestle CM Punk on pay-per-view, so the storyline was hastily dropped, with it being revealed that Nash texted himself and with Triple H replacing him vs. Punk. But there was still the matter of how to get Laurinaitis (whom practically no one watching had ever heard of, and whom absolutely no one wanted on their TV screens) involved as a heel authority figure. Cue Plan B.
Of course, the first step in this Plan B was for Triple H to beat the hottest star in WWE at the time, though in fairness to The Game, it was only after enough interference to make fans feel like morons for ever caring about the outcome in the first place.
As punishment to R-Truth and The Miz for interfering, Hunter fired them both, but the two disgruntled employees — uh, independent contractors — refused to go quietly, interfering in more matches.
Triple H, for his part, lost his cool and attacked Miz and R-Truth while they were in handcuffs in police custody, which did not sit well with that unseen plot device known as the Board of Directors. (No one knows where this Board of Directors was when Hunter beat up Daniel Bryan while he was handcuffed in phony police custody)
Also out of control was Mark Henry, who slammed Jerry Lawler through the announce table. Lawler, we were told, suffered not only (legitimate) rib injuries, but another ailment altogether, one so earth-shattering that Vince waited till the middle of the show to feed it into Michael Cole’s earpiece (and laugh at the other announcers’ reactions). That ailment? Anal bleeding. Those are two words you never want to hear together (or separately, for that matter).
In response to the clear lack of safe working conditions (Miz and R-Truth) and Raw GM Triple H’s dangerous behavior (beating up Miz and R-Truth), the entire roster banded together to do what nobody thought to do when Raw was being run by a freaking laptop: kick out the authority figure.
All the WWE superstars surrounded the ring for that night’s Raw main event: a vote of confidence or no-confidence for Triple H! With a headlining match that incredible, you’d think a Senate finance committee meeting might break out at any minute.
This wasn’t the Attitude Era any more; instead of borrowing from the FOX Network, Vince was swiping angles from C-SPAN.
Not that this sort of thing didn’t happen during the Attitude Era; The Rock actually led a successful strike against the tyrannical Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, backed by the entire WWF roster, in order to get Mick Foley rehired. Notice, of course, that the authority being protested against back then was evil, and not a babyface whose main crime was letting a pair of 220-pound mid-carders interfere occasionally.
With HHH in the ring and the rest of WWE standing on the floor, Hunter got to talk down to the entire roster literally as well as figuratively.
Leading the superstars’ locker room was Wade Barrett, who protested the chaos breaking out at every turn. Yes, the entire male roster elected as a spokesperson a man who, a year earlier, had led the Nexus in their random seven-man beatdowns. Triple H pointed this glaring irony out, making all the WWE superstars look like either imbeciles or hypocrites. (If anything, Barrett should have been protesting his fellow Smackdowners having to wrestle an extra night a week thanks to the “Raw Supershow”).
Mike Chioda spoke for the professional wrestling referees who, get this, were now being subjected to physical violence!
Beth Phoenix spoke for the Divas. What did the Glamazon, the second woman in history to enter the Royal Rumble against 29 men, have to complain about? The Divas were scared. “We’re girls,” said the four-time champion. Remember that the next time you hear the slogan, “Smart, Sexy, and Powerful.”
Finally, Jerry Lawler stepped into the ring to say his piece. Lawler didn’t blame Triple H exactly, but thought that somebody was pulling strings behind the scenes to try to oust Triple H.
(That “somebody” in storyline was almost certainly John Laurinaitis, but this plotline was never officially resolved, the same way that we would never find out whether The Authority was behind all the attacks by the Shield against Daniel Bryan and the other babyfaces. Black helicopters, conspiracy theories… You know the drill)
Still, he believed that the mayhem wouldn’t stop until Hunter stepped down. But what would The King know about stopping the bleeding?
Lawler left the ring, and trailing behind him like so many anal blood droplets was the entire WWE roster: Superstars (including the man who sidelined Lawler, Mark Henry), Divas, referees, and even announcers.
(Although some of them later recanted. Booker T’s excuse? He wasn’t really walking out on WWE, he just had to go to the bathroom)
This was a disgrace; how could the wrestlers forget that WWE’s season never ends?
Still, the whole roster agreed to put on complete episodes of Superstars and Smackdown before resuming their strike on the following Raw. It’s like if the MLB strike only applied to night games.
The next Raw, Triple H was forced to make do without the WWE roster. After summarily burying the entire roster as wusses and no-talents who hate the fans, after convincing the fans in attendance that they’d rather have Hunter as the GM than see wrestling matches, and after basically portraying himself as the ultimate and sole babyface in the company, Trips put on a show with the only three superstars who refused to strike:
John Cena, the ultimate company man…
…Sheamus, the new babyface…
…and CM Punk, a rebel who liked rebelling so much that he rebelled against the rebels.
Yes, the same man who “held the company hostage” that summer and refused to re-sign unless his outrageous demands were met now decided that protests were for pansies. Or commies. Or something else that didn’t conform to a Cold War standard of the ideal American man.
“Hippies” was the word he used, actually. Twice in the same sentence, in fact. Somehow, everyone remembers his “pipe bomb” worked shoot from the summer but forgets about the “hippie sit-in… like a bunch of hippies” remark, which was the dumbest line Vince had ever fed anyone since that “anal bleeding” business a few weeks before.
And, I remind you, the entire endgame of this nonsense was to give Johnny Ace a fake job title on TV.
Together with the three “good ones,” Triple H attempted to put on a wrestling program that was admittedly groundbreaking in its minimalism, trying to fill a whole two hours with just four men. Oh, and the cameramen and production truck people. Scabs.
Although Cena vs. Sheamus was nothing new, this time at least the presentation was novel and intriguing, so naturally WWE couldn’t have any of that!
Thirty minutes into the broadcast, Vince McMahon (who we now learned was still in charge of the company after all, just not, like, *that* in charge) abruptly interrupted the match, unceremoniously declared it a no-contest, fired Triple H, and went back to business as usual.
Now, I must confess that I’ve done this sort of thing before, getting bored with how a show was playing out, ending a match without warning, then moving on to something completely different and pretending that the preceding events never happened. Of course, I was eight years old at the time and my “promotion” was made up of Hasbro WWF figures and Ninja Turtles, which meant that I was only disappointing an audience of one.
See, nobody cares what happens in a ring made of plastic (or that has six sides), but when there are people watching it live and on TV, a booker has got to put on a better effort than this. On an actual wrestling show with flesh-and-blood competitors and scripts, you can’t just make things up as you go along, or worse, produce a scripted episode that feels like you made it up as you went along.
Not only was this resolution to the walkout jarring, it was beyond disappointing compared to what could have happened with the walkout. WWE’s Board of Directors could have dealt with the protesters in a number of ways. They could have hired someone to bump off one of the movement’s leaders, like Jerry Lawler.
Or, they could have hired Bull Buchanan to mace the whole lot of them.
Instead, they got Vince McMahon to fire Triple H (after getting an arena full of fans to boo literally the entire roster besides four men). You may recall that the same Board of Directors had Triple H fire Vince. Vince then announced Triple H’s replacement, John Laurinaitis.
Yet, the following week, Triple H was still the COO of WWE, just as Vince McMahon was still chairman of the board, his laughably melodramatic firing months earlier having been ret-conned by WWE’s crack writing team. The only difference now was that Trips wasn’t interim Raw General Manager anymore (and eventually the title of permanent Raw GM went to Brad Maddox, so judge for yourself how important a position that was).
John Laurinaitis immediately hired back that no-good Awesome Truth, whose antics were supposedly the primary impetus for the whole roster kicking out Triple H. And the entire WWE never again walked out on the company, even when Big Johnny’s regime grew much worse than Triple H’s, and despite the fact that they had just demonstrated how effective a walkout could be.
At least Johnny Ace would finally be the heel authority figure for the next eight months or so, and all it took was to bastardize current events, ruin pay-per-view main events, derail CM Punk’s red-hot anti-establishment character, turn the entire roster into whiny, cowardly heels, and book hours of headache-inducing television filled with bad corporate intrigue and matches that went absolutely nowhere.
And, if the next time some malcontent wants health coverage or a pension from the company, WWE fans are reminded of how utterly lame a walkout would be, then that’s just an added plus for the folks in Stamford.
It would be a generous estimate to say that one viewer in a hundred found this storyline entertaining.
Needless to say, we are the 99%.