Imp’s WWE Adventure
Are WWE outdated?
It’s been something on my mind these past few months. With the recent launch into this new era of wrestling and competition, is there something behind this sentiment that WWE’s product is out of touch? And why have I been sharing some of those same thoughts?
The company have certainly reacted to change well in some aspects: the Women’s Evolution, adapting their in ring style & presentation, their social media presence and the WWE Network. But is that just the thing? They’re reacting instead of being that industry shifting influence they once were. I’ll give them credit, this decade they’ve become damn talented at reacting and fixing aspects; but they did break said thing in the first place.
So how much credit do they actually deserve? For steering into the curve others had already carved out?
This week’s Friday Night SmackDown brought the question to the forefront of my mind. As I was watching Dolph Ziggler go under the ring and fetch cans of dog food to pour over a chained up Roman Reigns. You know, because his nickname’s ‘The Big Dog’… so it was only a matter time before that angle played out.
For me the notes in question are played loudest when you look at the actual stories being told, the way the dialogue is written, the kind of insults used and the way those segments are presented. There for immediate reaction rather than painting anything grander, why show Chekov’s Gun if you’re not going to immediately fire it?
Story wise WWE have currently got an angle drawing interracial heat for the villains, which also paints the female in the kind of ‘slut’ light we saw all the time in their product before the Women’s Revolution – what part of that is being called for by potential Young Adult fans in 2019? This year we’ve seen multiple cuck storylines, is that something really being called for by the YA fans of today?
Some hardcore social commentary arresting the black man after someone else broke their restraining order.
For the childish humour of King Corbin’s interactions with Reigns you just have to look at Twitter and you’ll get the point. I may have laughed at them if I were 5 or 6, the kind of humour that’s right up children’s street. Are FOX really wanting that? Not to sound like Alan Hansen but you’re not going to win 3 million with kids.
Tying those things in with the sheer amount of repeat nostalgia hits this past year, it makes me believe WWE aren’t really trying to keep up with ‘TV’s most desired’. So much of their style reminds me of those older shows, more procedural week to week whilst now and then hinting at the bigger story.
Television as a whole was so much different in the 90s, the gulf of difference between film and television was huge. Shows like Twin Peaks and X Files chopped whole chunks out of that tree, but the following decade shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad truly shifted the industry. Suddenly the level of quality in demand was so much higher. Obviously there was great TV quality before, but I’m not just talking about that. The audience began demanding that cinema quality of production all round.
Fast forward and look at the industry today, with streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon & Disney + offering up an incredible amount of quality for your buck. Hell, before their rise we had Game of Thrones start on HBO, a show which by its end had each episode receiving an estimated $10 million of investment. Fair to say that industry shift was already changing and those services jumped right the hell in before the others had the balls to adjust.
So how did WWE react to that shift? With a national TV landscape all around them essentially playing catch-up?
Long story short: production overkill. Whilst telling pretty much the same stories.
I’m not just talking how the set has gradually turned more and more into a fancy lights show (now with added augmented reality covering it all up). With arguably the biggest shift in the sheer amount of time being asked of the viewer.
With all the viewer competition, services today are more than anything competing for time. And being a WWE fan? That demands a hell of a lot of it. If you want to truly keep up then you’re being asked for 7 whole hours every single week, not forgetting the additional 4 every other.
What’s WrestleMania’s length again?
Then the show-to-show production management, such as the highly produced lighting, snapping back and forth of camera angles, heavily well edited video packages. Like Disney, WWE this past decade really invested in the production of their output. Make their shit look as polished as possible.
This also links to the micro-management, with the most apparent being those fun, fun, FUN scripted promos. Watch any Baron Corbin piece of dialogue and that feeling will slap you in the face, word for word memorisation with no veering. Which is great when lines aren’t particularly memorable and blasted through by performers doing their best not to forget their lines.
The production has changed, but how they present their stories? WWE seemed to find their high production style in the early 2000s and stuck with it. Aside from the set and ultra-fancy cameras, WWE 2019 is practically identical to WWE 2009.
But the world around them has changed.
Sometimes I question if WWE’s always been like this and my critique is more down to myself and the fact that I’ve just grown up or moved on. But I’ve got the Network now, so I can literally just go back and watch the thing. And you know what? Yeah, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to discover WWE’s always been chock full of weird bollocks and standardising certain production tropes.
The difference today? Society’s moved on, the WWF product fit the times and played to that crowd magnificently. Vince’s Big Boy Machine fundamentally hasn’t progressed this decade.
1997 is a great example of WWF knowing they had to change, but not wanting to drop a whole heap of production tropes they’d adopted over the years. What happened? Well over the next few years those tropes eventually died off, in place of new ones that fit the time – e.g. the car crash TV style popular at the time.
Because the answer is no, not everything in WWE is outdated. Like I said, they’ve become well practiced at reacting and adjusting. That said, for example there’s a reason you don’t see footage of female wrestlers and fans calling for a women’s revolution before 2014. It was there, but the narrative is WWE heard us and gave the women a chance… not that they did so on the 4th or 5th cry after the data was finally there to show it was more than a fad.
An actual societal shift had occurred and how WWE presented their Divas was woefully behind the times. Today? It’s almost as if they’re ahead of the curve with the women main eventing WrestleMania and feeling like true stars alongside their male counterparts. As I said, when WWE adjust, they do so with style and purpose.
‘allo, darlin’. It’s me, the future.
Now after bubbling under the surface for years, we’ve had the television launching pad for the internet generation in AEW and NXT. Products born out of that time where we’re used to that higher level of quality in all aspects, with the largest freshest aspect being the reward for the time investment from fans. You know, the actual thing everyone’s competing for nowadays?
Storylines develop over time, character arcs constantly hinted back at and moved on step by step with each episode. Come the end of their next TakeOver or PPV, there’s no reset button, all the characters react to the situations they now find themselves in. A lot, lot more like the TV shows of today than of the late 90’s/early 2000s. You’re rewarded for your time investment, rather than it be expected of you.
WWE TV is still in the past… on some aspects. They’re in a state of reacting instead of pre-emptively set to sprint ahead of the starting pistol being fired. So I’m not surprised parts of their show don’t match up, but long term I’m not blind, that adjustment will come. The question is will they be steering into an already set path or carving out their own road?
With competition it might take some genuine veering from the standardised path, yup just like the 90s. Like those other TV shows of the time, chop down a whole chunk of the tree to reach the top rather than climbing a few branches to keep up. And just like back then, don’t be surprised if that change takes place over months or years rather than one quick swing.
It’s a metaphor, not an actual tree. You know, just like Roman Reigns isn’t an actual dog.
Imp’s LOP Radio Adventure is LIVE every Thursday on both YouTube & Spreaker, this week Imp began the WWE End of Year Awards of 2019!
Imp’s most recent columns:
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – SmackDown In A ‘Hairy’ Situation
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – Survivor Series Electifies WWE + Cornette Has No One Else To Blame
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – Dog S***
Imp’s Wrestling Adventure – “Because He’s In The Elite.”
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace