The SmarK Retro Repost – Netcop V. The InVasion


Netcop v. The InVasion

Well, given the generally sucky nature of what looked to be the biggest angle in pro wrestling history, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring here and tell the WWF exactly what they’ve been doing wrong and how to hopefully take steps in the right direction to fix it. No need to thank me now, wait until the product stops being boring again.

Okay, the major problem that everyone points to 9 times out of 10 is that the Alliance loses all the time and is perceived as a joke. So, sez I, dump the Alliance. Who cares about a bunch of losers called “The Alliance” anyway? Why does every WWF stable have to be “the faction” or “the regime” or “the alliance”? Of COURSE it’s an alliance, we can see that. It’s pretty much self-evident by the ALLIANCE of WCW and ECW people out there every week. What they need is a distinct identity, preferably one that people can at least perceive as cool and/or wear t-shirts designed around.

Now, really, when you need a group of cool heels, there’s really only one choice here. New World Order.

See, the whole appeal of the nWo was originally the anarchic nature of the beast, and then eventually the fascist aspect that lured the cynical 14 year olds in. Do you have any idea how many doofy-looking kids you’d see walking down the street on a given day wearing an nWo shirt of some sort? TONS. Why? Because it was a cool thing to do. It’s black and white, it looks menacing, it’s just the kind of thing to piss off parents and other authority figures. It’s the kind of thing they could wear and have their parents be vaguely worried about the origins, without actually having grounds to stop them wearing it. That’s a successful t-shirt, my friends, because if you can find a way to facilitate young boys annoying their teachers, you can start lighting your cigars with $100 bills.

Now, I’ve made this comparison before in a previous column, but those of you joining us a few years too late I’ll recap. Basically, the nWo played upon the most important principles of the facist regimes in order to hook the kids and keep them there. In no particular order

– Bleak, contrasting colors. Black and white. Grey. The occasional red. Ever seen Star Wars? Of course you have. You know why the Death Star is so cool and the Imperial forces look evil? Because everything is jet black (like Darth Vader’s suit) or gleeming white (and the Stormtroopers’ armor) and they’re always throwing that contrast on the screen to say “HEY, WE’RE EVIL!”. It all looks cold and mechanical, and that’s what disillusioned teens EAT UP. Sure, Luke Skywalker walks out of the movie as the big hero, but who wants to be Luke Skywalker? Everyone wants to be Darth Vader, baby.

– Propaganda. Here’s where Eric Bischoff’s creative team was not only years ahead of his time, but years ahead of Vince McMahon as well. While the WWF was doing goofy vignettes featuring the Stalker and TL Hopper, the nWo was out there doing these bizarre, black-and-white, scratchy, out-of-sequence videos that said nothing more than how great they were, and looked like something out of Triumph of the Will. Whereas you could tune out the latest Todd Pettingill interview segment, this stuff hit you right in the sack and said “Hey! This is something new and different and you need to pay attention!” It was a visual and auditory assualt on the senses, with the picture jumping around, the audio repeating out of nowhere, and it was just generally completely different from anything else at the time. The WWF even lifted a few of those techniques for D-Generation X, and even in diluted form it STILL made them millions. And at the same time, it didn’t matter if Hall or Nash or Giant had anything more constructive to say than “Buy the shirt!”, because it LOOKED important, and so people believed it was important.

– Hand gestures and catchphrases. Notice how fans are buying into Steve Austin’s “What?” bit? Heel catchphrases sell, and the simpler the better because people are basically stupid and they get lost easily. Notice the two original nWo catchphrases: “Too sweet!” and “4 Life.” Two syllables, nothing over 5 letters to remember, instant money. Both can be reasonably spelled by even the dumbest teenager and put onto a sign. The Nazis also used this important principal, as even today everyone knows that the Nazi verbal salute is “Seig Heil.” See? Quick, easy, effective. Handsigns are also important: The nWo lifted the “clique sign” so that Nash and Hall could have their sort of secret handshake, and the fans picked it up quickly. Look at the Nazis again, and their famous salute. Look at any fraternity, with the secret handshakes and beer-chugging anthems. Give the kids something to chant, something to do with their hands, and you’ve hooked them again.

This is all basic psychological stuff that any good advertising executive could probably tell you in a heartbeat. Obviously, however, none of the WWF’s creative team have psych degrees, and maybe they SHOULD. That’s just the foundation, however. Once you’ve dumped the Alliance name and replaced it with something suitably simplified and cool-sounding (hey, they own the nWo name, go with that), then there’s more steps needed.

First and foremost, the product is fundamentally boring because the business has been exposed so much that we KNOW it’s all a show and we’re no longer willing to suspend disbelief. Now, the WWF seems to think that faking a serious injury is the way to get people to buy in again, but it hasn’t worked. There’s really a much simpler way, however: Stop following the format. People instinctively know when they’re watching carefully-formulated crap, and they will tune out if you don’t do something to hook them fast. So instead of having everything fit perfectly into little bite-sized segments, why not have the bad guys hijack the show once in a while, beat up the cameramen, and refuse to go to commercial? Watch them go into the sound truck and play Steve Austin’s theme at random intervals. Vandalize the Titantron, attack WWF wrestlers doing interviews for no particular reason, WHATEVER. Just find a situation where you normally wouldn’t expect anything to happen and then make something happen. Make the people at home go “Holy shit, I shouldn’t go for nachos during this Raven match because something big might occur!” You know the real genius of the nWo in the early days? They used to do their stuff during jobber matches so that everyone’s ratings went up. I don’t mean Vince Russo’s crash-TV nonsense booking, I just mean major storyline developments at times other than the duly-appointed “ratings grabber” slots that we’ve all come to know so well.

Next, their needs to be an air of mystery about the group. Who exactly are members, and do we really know for sure? Is there some mysterious new member on the outside waiting to come in? Wrestling fans are, as mentioned, basically stupid, and will react predictably to ANY hint of a mystery. Look at the Undertaker stalker angle, as people had everyone from Vince McMahon to Scott Steiner lined up in their minds as the mystery man. And in this case, they really CAN pay off with a big name if they want to. Say that there’s some mystery man running the show for the group behind the scenes, let people guess for a few weeks while you show backlit silhouettes and masked benefactors, and then around January you can bring in Flair, Hall, Nash, Steiner, Goldberg, Hogan, whatever. It’s one of the only cases where they can actually guarantee a worthwhile payoff to the mystery man angle as long as they’re willing to spend the cash.

Next, they have to win. A lot. And as much as it probably pains Vince to do so, some of the top babyfaces are gonna have to make sacrifices in order to get the newer stars over. And here again, the WWF is already loaded up perfectly to do so, with guys like Undertaker & Kane who are running out of drawing power but still have enough of a name and a presence to convincingly make a star out of someone while there’s still time. Now, obviously the WWF side has to win a few times to keep the fans from losing interest, but overall the more that the bad guys win, the more that the anticipation for the big blowoff will build. If the bad guy side keeps winning and dominating so much that they, in effect, take over RAW, then you’ll have solved the entire problem of splitting up the two crews in 2002 without even having to shove it down the fans’ throats. Just do it gradually enough that people associate one show or the other with the evil side out of habit. Now, there’s no actual proof that this will WORK, mind you, but they’re the ones who want split crews, not me.

Next, dump the McMahons. I know it’ll never happen, but if they’re on the bad side then they overshadow the other heels, and if they’re on the good side then no one will ever job. Rich white kids have no place in this little melodrama, because that’s about as uncool as you can be. For Shane to be cool, he can’t be a McMahon, he has to lose his fortune and just be “one of the guys” who’s fighting for the same reason as the rest of them. Underdogs raging against the machine sell, rich white boys from Greenwich do not.

Speaking of their reasons for fighting, what the hell are they? Up until now we’ve had a ragtag bunch of losers with some vague Austin-worship who really have no reason to even be out there on WWF TV. What is Chuck Palumbo’s raison d’etre? Why does Hugh Morrus care if the Alliance “wins” or not? Again, this is where Shane losing his fortune works as a storyline: Shane is poor and he’s trying to overthrow his father and take control of the WWF. Or Paul Heyman is bitter at being demoted to announcer and losing ECW, so he’s gonna wipe out the WWF like the WWF wiped him out. This would work even better if Eric Bischoff was in to talk for the bad guys. It doesn’t matter, what matters is that there’s a tangible reason for their existance and some goal that people can see and understand. They almost had it the first week of the ECW/WCW alliance, with Paul cutting his bitter promo and the guys acting focused, but it was gone weeks later. They need to get it back.

Finally, they need storylines that people can relate to. Have YOU ever lost your girlfriend to brainwashing by a guy who dresses like a superhero and been consoled by a drunken 500 pound freak? Have you ever been powerbombed through a table by a pair of mismatched half-brothers who are jealous of your movie career and/or Olympic success? Have you ever been screwed out of your rightful place in the company by a rich white guy who’s just banging the boss’s daughter or is related to the owner? Oh ho, that last one may have struck a few nerves. So why is Stephanie writing storylines that involve the first two? I dunno, maybe that’s why the ratings are dropping the way they are.

Now, to put this all in perspective, the WWF has had more than 6 months to book this angle, and I thought of all this stuff in less than an hour. So this isn’t rocket science. Jim Ross promised that the WCW buyout wouldn’t go like the UWF buyout of 1987, and we’re all still waiting for that promise to be fulfilled.

I just hope this helps.