John Cena’s “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” Gets Premiere Date – Trailer

The upcoming revival of “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” hosted by John Cena now has an official premiere date. Nickelodeon will premiere the trivia series on June 10. According to Deadline, the game show will relaunch with over a week of new episodes through June 19 before moving into its regular 7 p.m. Monday… Read More John Cena’s “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” Gets Premiere Date – Trailer

FOTO/WWE: Ronda Rousey e John Cena sono appars…

FOTO/WWE: Ronda Rousey e John Cena sono apparsi ad un grande evento #RondaRousey, #JohnCena, #WWE

La nuova Fox Entertainment ha tenuto un evento lunedì pomeriggio al Beacon Theatre di New York City e John Cena, Ronda Rousey, Triple H e Stephanie McMahon erano tutti lì per rappresentare la WWE in questa grande occasione: (more…)

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It’s the Spectacle and the Stars, Stupid

Reigns is a star, but who else is? That’s a problem.
Photo Credit: WWE.com

About two weeks ago, friend of the blog Sean Reuter posted something at Cageside Seats about how Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones showed how WWE is lacking in terms of audience satisfaction. It’s a good piece that touches on why at least the MCU has been able to engender such a positive response, both monetarily and critically while chiding WWE for the same things that everyone’s been chiding them for over the last, I don’t know, 50-plus years of its existence. If WWE runs a storyline, an amount of people above replacement will come out to critique its narrative direction, and rightly so. While the company can do beginnings well, the only times it has achieved satisfactory resolutions on a grand scale have been by accident, most recently with Becky Lynch’s coronation at WrestleMania 35, which only happened after she went supernova and crashed the all-blonde party that had been written in stone since Brock Lesnar sent a confused and tired crowd home even more dissatisfied than they’d have been if Roman Reigns had beaten him.

However, it’s not as if WWE has never been a media company with high customer satisfaction. Entertainment outfits, pro wrestling or otherwise, don’t last as long as the juggernaut in American “sports entertainment” does if everyone hates it enough not to watch. Fans hating what they watch and continuing to come back out of sadism or what have you is just as effective as someone hungrily eating up everything the company puts out when it comes to bottom line. WWE reached supernova in popularity twice before the 21st Century began. Their success in this century, namely in the last decade or so, has not been as peaked as in the past, but it has been enough to start integrating wrestling into the culture in ways that it is no longer sheer mockery for fans. In case you were wondering if the writing was better in those boom periods, well, let me tell you that no, it clearly wasn’t.

I mean, the most notable angle during the first boom period saw the hero meddle in a relationship and demonize the man whose woman he stole at best and at worst was two idiots treating a living, breathing human being as meat. The second boom period regularly had nonsensical swerves for swerve’s sake, people breaking the fourth wall for no reason other than to titillate the smart assholes for a moment, and reveling in sex as degeneracy, disguising sex negativity in the flimsy cloak of positivity. More recent, any time WWE has pushed someone who didn’t have indie bona fides in the top spot, fans revolted because those characters were “being pushed down their throats,” and honestly, if you looked at the way the company wrote those guys, whether John Cena, Randy Orton, or Roman Reigns, those rebellious fans may have had a point.

Wrestling has almost never been driven by great writing or storytelling, at least not in WWE. Other territories might have been able to do on writing and angle-building alone, but that would involve arguments on whether the stars sold the angles or if the angles made the stars. Memphis and Jerry Lawler is probably the best example of this chicken/egg argument, and I’m not well-versed enough in that territory to give you a definitive answer. But with WWE, the driving force has always been the wrestlers and their outsized personalities. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and to an extent Andre the Giant were larger than life, and it didn’t matter if the stories they were scripted to tell fell apart under the lightest scrutiny. Steve Austin, The Rock, and to an extent Vince McMahon and Mick Foley were caricatures of real life characters and they told stories that provided vicarious fulfillment for a working class growing ever so disenchanted with the idea of noble management knowing what was best. Cena and Reigns are action figures come to life who are insanely marketable and personable. Does it matter if Hogan really was a malignant shit who was really a brat on steroids crying until he got his way? The answer is “not as long as he dropped the leg and posed after the match, brother.”

It all goes back to K. Sawyer Paul’s theory of wrestling fans back from when he still did the International Object podcast. He split the groups into three. Wrestling fans are the first group, and they’re people who stick with the sport/art no matter what. The second group is comprised of fans of wrestlers or individuals, those who see a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or a Roman Reigns, and are immediately drawn to them. The third group is made up of fans of movements, or those who come on board because it’s the “cool thing” and everyone else is doing it. The way I see it, the third group comes from the second one, at least for WWE. Wrestling fans don’t create movements, to be honest, or at least they haven’t had the power to until maybe very recently if at all. It’s the people who see everyone flocking around those cults of personality and attract those who wanna be part of the cool kids’ club.

Good writing doesn’t really attract that kind of audience, at least not at first, in any form of media, let alone wrestling. Yeah, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos were prestige television with great plotting and storytelling, but they were both on little-watched networks for television series when they started. No one really thought of HBO or A&E as places to go for television, and it took time for those shows to change the reputation. Now it could be argued that both networks are so far removed from their origins BECAUSE of those shows and the years they were on the air. That’s why treating “fixing the writing” as a short-term solution for WWE is misguided. If shows from scratch took so much time to garner a larger following because of their writing (I admit both shows were popular relatively when they started, but they weren’t network TV popular until towards the end), how long is it going to take for WWE, a company that is known for bad stories from an insane, drug-addled carny who hates the business he inherited, to rehab their image for narrative integrity?

Hell, it’s not like the MCU itself is a bastion of great writing. Outside of a few entries like Thor: Ragnarok and possibly Iron Man, every single MCU movie followed a formula that restricted director freedom and was made to maximize fan interest by capitalizing on pulp on the big screen. It just so happens that Kevin Feige’s formula is a lot more fan-friendly than Vince McMahon’s. As for Game of Thrones, this final season has really exposed David Benioff and DB Weiss as fraudulent writers, or at least guys who lost their fastball and have contracted a major case of senioritis with these last episodes. Yet people will still watch or binge to catch up for the finale Sunday, some out of habit, but some because the show delivers visually, whether it be nudity, violence, or cgi dragons. Sometimes, the spectacle is enough.

Much has been made of WWE’s struggles, and honestly, it is a direct result of them punting on the spectacle. It has forgotten how to create stars, or even more sinister, Vince McMahon has successfully created a WWE where the name on the marquee matters more than the wrestlers, and where the real stars are his fucking family. I mean, the evidence is in all the marquee WrestleMania matches that have to rely on part-timers and returning stars from the past. It’s hilarious that this year’s Mania was considered an anomaly because all three competitors spent the last year as full-timers on the main roster, and yet one of them, Ronda Rousey, went on her babymaking hiatus as soon as she took that weird pinfall, an opportunity afforded to her only because she came in with massive amounts of mainstream credibility and crossover appeal, which in essence makes her no better than the Lesnars and the Triple Hs in the long-run.

You can argue that WWE has characters that are over, but are they the kinds of wrestlers who attract the Fans of Wrestlers/Individuals that marked the other boom periods? Daniel Bryan gets people to boo him vociferously, but how many people when asked about him now will either go “who?” or cite WrestleMania XXX as their most recent base of knowledge? If you ask someone to identify five members of the current WWE roster and tell them Rousey, Cena, Triple H, and Lesnar aren’t eligible, would they struggle after naming Reigns and possibly Lynch? To me, this is the core problem of WWE. Something cool happens, and it attracts people to tune in, and then they see that person get booked into 50/50 oblivion like they weren’t special, and then you go back to doing something with your life other than trying to invest in something that makes a point to let you know that no one in the company is allowed to stand out.

I’m not sure this changes when Vince McMahon dies, to be honest. NXT right now is probably the best wrestling the megacorporation puts out right now, and even that gets tainted by Paul “Triple H” Levesque’s massive ego. He opens big Takeover events from time to time (although he’s kinda cooled on it lately), and you can’t really do anything good without skipping out on a selfie with him afterwards. Given how self-centered his narrative in WWE has been ever since his initial push to the top in late ’99, you can’t plausibly deny that he’s doing it to get attention for himself, not to give attention to all the indie darlings he’s hand-picking out for your enjoyment.

So much hand-wringing, a bunch that I admittedly have myself written, has been made over the quality of writing, but the best executed story won’t mean shit if the people don’t care about the people in said story, or if the matches surrounding it get driven into the ground with parity booking. Can you make a Steve Austin-level star just by booking the right people to win all the time? Probably not, but you can at least get someone to Cena/Reigns level. Having just one wrestler win all the time or feel important isn’t enough, and when you choose people the way the Democratic party chooses presidential candidates, then it just stunts growth everywhere else. This is the fundamental change to WWE, at least creatively, that people should be focusing on. Of course, it’s not as important as keeping the pressure on the company not to have Stormfront users on the roster, to provide his roster with simple benefits as “health insurance” and “not being abused by being designated an independent contractor,” not to donate to a literal fascist, and not to do business with a genocidal nation, but you can focus on a lot of things as a time unless you’re someone like, say, Chris Cillizza, in which case you should be given something shiny to look at and keep you busy for the day.