The Brand Extension #11: Is WWE in Full-On Troll Mode?

The Brand Extension #11: Is WWE in Full-On Troll Mode?

From WWE: Edge, Charlotte Flair, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton

By former Lords of Pain WWE 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive”.
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Not a day goes by in Social Media Land where WWE isn’t being heavily critiqued for something or other. From Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s influencers, to YouTubers who have garnered enough clout for their opinion to hold weight. Creative, media and business etiquette, pushes or lack thereof. Now, even the organic quality of extras in a crowd. All is fair game when it comes to clamping Titan Towers down underneath the microscope. 

There is a growing online movement reacting to the over-analysis, though. Bias and hypocrisy are words that have entered the arena more and more. Especially since All Elite Wrestling came to be. This is only natural if one is a WWE loyal. Even further, it’s only fair that certain stances are brought to task. When, for example, misinformation is spread by the likes of Bryan Alvarez as it pertains to what is even on WWE screens for all to see, never mind behind the curtains and cannot be proven. Or the “yeah, buts” and “no, buts” the same perpetrator tweets when, God forbid, NXT draws more viewers in the Wednesday night ratings sandbox scuffle. 

This group’s numbers may be small in the grand scheme of things. WWE’s bank balance will tell you that, as can all their other measures of success. Irrespective of how many times we are told Vince McMahon is failing. The issue is: this group is loud. So much so, that some in WWE have to be taking notice, surely? 

Every month or so, a meme resurfaces of the extended McMahon family’s promise to fans in December of 2018 that they are listening to us. The accompanying post is either a question of whether WWE has indeed delivered, or is an outright rejection of the premise. 

First off, they did listen. There are too many examples in that year of WWE proving it wasn’t just an empty good will gesture. The problem is that the WWE Universe is simply too varied in opinion, expectation, or even demand, to please everyone. Before you groan and roll your eyes, breathe easy. This article isn’t an attack on fans’ interchangeable mindset, for I fall into that bracket also. We all do, really. Rather, it is to explore the possibility that WWE are still listening to us, just not in the way some of us want. 

I say that to say this. I don’t know about you, but it feels like, especially in recent times, WWE has ramped up on the tropes that most often see it in the internet wrestling community’s cross-hairs. 

The first example that immediately springs to mind is the “Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” tagline given to the pending Edge vs Randy Orton encounter. Now, I waxed poetic about Edge not too long ago. He has many matches under his belt I personally rate very highly. But to promote this modern era sequel between he and Orton with such loaded expectations? With that hype delivered in such absolutes, it’s almost guaranteed that it will not be the case. Surely someone is pulling a rib, here? Well, maybe that is the point. 

Performance art is a widely subjective medium. It is pretty brazen for an entity to dictate terms of enjoyment in that regard. Yet, a certain Dave Meltzer, among others, does this on a weekly basis. He may fall back on the fact that it’s just his opinion. However, he has been known to revert to his own star ratings system when defending a wrestler’s honour. As if that makes it fact. And whether or not you agree with his takes, Meltzer’s voice has enough reach to make some sort of difference. The on and off again relationship between Melzter and WWE over the decades is a well documented one. Perhaps this example of WWE looking to make their own narrative, and control it, is just the latest tit for tat between these two bodies. 

Another narrative exists that is a regular bone of contention for many. Especially fans of other female wrestlers whose success it hampers. It has been perpetuated since even within this particular wrestler’s first twelve months on the main roster. In the last few, however, it has grown arms and legs to the point that it almost feels like a deliberate attempt to poke the bear. Charlotte Flair has had an interesting 2020, to say the least. A Royal Rumble win at the expense of quiet favourite, Shayna Baszler. A merciless destruction over a period of weeks for another well thought of Bianca Belair. That constant pressure applied on the neck of all that is good in NXT’s Women’s Division is something that would normally come to a head at Wrestlemania. Alas, it was not the case. Flair’s reign of power showed no signs of slowing down as she squashed Rhea Ripley’s hopes of gaining her first “Wrestlemania Moment”.

I will give my next point a caveat, in that women’s availability during this Coronavirus pandemic is up in the air. Having said that, since Wrestlemania, weekly TV has become Charlotte Flair Hour on all three shows. She already has the NXT Women’s Championship round her waist. Now, though, not only is she sewing (more) dissension between Bayley and Sasha Banks on Smackdown, but she is also throwing her hat in the ring with regards to the Raw Women’s Championship (at the time of writing). Is all this really necessary? If there are enough women available to flesh out weekly programming, then why is she being presented front and centre in such an overbearing manner?

The part where this gripe has little merit for me is Charlotte’s undoubted star power. Yes, she doesn’t move the needle as far as the oh so sacred Nielsen ratings are concerned. Yet, her crossover record up is up there with the highest in the company currently. Television, radio, or magazine interviews. Charity contributions and red carpet appearances. You name it, and Charlotte Flair has most probably worn the t-shirt. She carries herself with such professionalism and poise, she’s an easy choice to have as a representative. “If you’re gonna do it, do it with Flair” isn’t just a puntastic catchphrase. It’s a mindset Flair has nurtured that sees her as an overall marquee act in the company. 

Inevitably, then, one can understand why Charlotte is such a prominent face on WWE television. She may cast a long shadow over many of her peers. The IWC may raise their pitchforks high as a result. Unfortunately for us, however, with such appeal in mediums out with the squared circle, Charlotte is here to stay. Possibly even in spite of the vitriol she receives for her place in WWE’s hierarchy and lore. 

One who seems to have weathered a once fatal storm, brewed up by the IWC itself, is none other than Seth Rollins. Last Fall, Rollins’ popularity with the die hards had reached an all time low after a wildly divisive Hell in a Cell match with The Fiend. To add insult to injury, it was around that time when Rollins took to social media defending WWE’s honour in an admittedly and unnecessarily smug manner. After losing the Universal Championship to Bray Wyatt in Saudi Arabia, that incarnation of Rollins at the time had run its course. All the way into the ground.

How ironic was it, then, when this current version of The Architect began to slowly take shape? One that has formed into the Monday Night Messiah; a wrestler preaching from on high of how he is the saviour we’ve all been looking for. He’s become more megalomaniacal and sanctimonious than Authority Seth ever was. He now embodies the priggish persona he portrayed himself as on Twitter all those months ago. I say ironic, because I’ll be damned if Seth and those around him haven’t been among the more compelling programs on Raw for the same amount of time. 

Just like Charlotte Flair, Rollins has made his motto a reality. In rebuilding, redesigning, and reclaiming himself (again), he has taken all disdain the IWC served up for him and returned it back down the court with absolute assuredness. If this isn’t an example of “working” the fans, then I don’t know what is.

It’s possible that these examples are actually partly responsible for the tangible successes WWE has achieved since wrestling and social media became so enmeshed with one another. We may rub our eyes in disbelief over Street Profits and Viking Raiders shooting hoops or throwing axes. We may, too, post videos showing us cancelling our Network subscription after comedy act Otis Dozovic’s Money In The Bank victory earlier this month. Regardless of all of this, WWE will continue to do the very things that piss off the company’s loudest detractors the most. 

Will it be on purpose? The recent decision making surrounding Edge, Orton, Flair, and Rollins at least hint at an affirmative on that one. Maybe, though, it is simply that those critics’ biggest gripes don’t fall in line with current conventional interest. That those underutilised fan favourites just don’t “draw” like the select few who dominate WWE’s screens do. Or that the hokey match taglines and slapstick segments do more financially for WWE than the bitterest among us want to admit. It might feel like WWE are at a creative low point right now. Alternatively, it might just feel worse than normal due to the voiceless now having a voice. 

Either way, the practice of working the fans has been at the heart of wrestling for decades. And it’s not going away anytime soon. So with that, all hail King Corbin, ya bunch of nasties. Because it’s Boss Time, and will remain so for just nine ninety-nine (first month free)!

Let me know your thoughts on the above column in the comments below, or @RickyandClive on Twitter.

Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.

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