For Your Consideration…Shock and Aww (Triple H is not to Blame)

For Your Consideration…Shock and Aww

To put the onus of this failed storyline on Triple H is shortsighted and wrong. The finger, if it were to be pointed anywhere, would be at the wrestling community in general. The WWE, whether they want to admit it publicly or not, does conduct extensive research to determine what the audience wants. And the audience, for the most part, is a collection of idiots.

Triple H has hijacked the CM Punk storyline, and to a larger extent, RAW, because it is what the general public has demanded. We have been conditioned to crave the big surprises and the established Superstars for so long that solid, dependable wrestling is perceived as dull and past its prime. RAW and Smackdown had been churning out predictable plots for the past several months at a rate that would have been more than acceptable fifteen years ago. This is not the WWE of the dark days in the early 90s, where there were zero true stars and a plethora of tired, stale “wacky” characters. This is a company that had put out a pleasant show that fans just didn’t tune in to see.

Then, like Maude, came CM Punk. He was perceived as daring and edgy and the kind of guy who could “shake up” a dull product. The problem with that is that the WWE was hardly a “dull” product. We have just become accustomed to big surprises. The OMG shock value element has been lost on an audience that in the past decade has seen a limo explosion, a stage collapse, a gang-style assault, multiple crucifixions, an attempted embalming, a hanging and the many deaths of Paul Bearer. The worst part of all of these “shocking” moments is that they rarely lead to anything substantial as a follow-up, with the CM Punk angle just being the latest example.

Focus groups, when asked what they want to see, give the same answers every time. First, they want to see the stars they grew up with. If this were true, TNA would eclipse the WWE’s ratings ten to one. Ric Flair, Sting and Hulk Hogan are three of the biggest names in the wrestling world, and as such would draw the most eyeballs. The WWE’s “big names”, Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and The Rock have all returned in one form or another as a direct result of this, and rarely do they have a huge impact (with The Rock’s Wrestlemania appearance a rare exception to the rule).

The second thing the groups have clamored for is to have more McMahon drama. Yes, you read that correctly. The general audience likes some form of the family drama, though many circumstances have thankfully limited this from happening. The first reason is Shane’s departure from the company, as he is on a mission to forge his own legacy. Second is Linda’s perpetual campaigning, which is depriving fans around the world of her wooden, stilted “acting”. Third has been Stephanie’s reduced role since producing the prodigal grandchild.

The third thing the unwashed Wal-Mart shopping masses were begging to see were long-term story arcs. In a world with two main weekly shows, two ancillary shows and a PPV every month, keeping a story going without it feeling listless is a pretty massive undertaking. Every “big” story has cannibalized itself and died a painful death; Vince’s illegitimate son, Nexus, The New DX, Legacy, and the list goes on and on. Austin/McMahon is often used as the prime example, but there were many missteps with that storyline. In 2011, the WWE couldn’t get away with doing Steve Austin versus Mideon as a main event.

This need for a long-term storyline combined with an established star and McMahon family drama was giftwrapped in the form of the Triple H COO storyline. Despite what we may all believe, the WWE feels that they are giving the fans a storyline that touches upon all of the elements that they crave. We all lose our collective minds when we see a nostalgia act or a “surprise” moment, so the WWE continues to try and give us the payoffs without the buildup. Having Hunter be the focal point of a major storyline gives WWE Creative a chance to sate the “I only wanna see guys I know” crowd, the “family drama” crowd and the “BIG PICTURE” crowd because market research says that this is what we crave.

RAW ended with Triple H standing alone in the ring with the audience screaming in unison for him. They embrace Hunter because of familiarity. That’s why Cena and Punk were nowhere to be found. The WWE isn’t stupid. They know that when push comes to shove, the fans are going to support the brand they know and love. It’s the inherent problem with Cena/Rock, because the WWE Universe is going to fall madly in love with The Rock again only for him to leave and us to all realize that John Cena is the warmed over TV dinner that replaced a royal feast. If CM Punk were given the chance to have the microphone over Jerry Lawler, he would have become the “leader” of the locker-room as opposed to the rabble rouser, a role that would for sure kill any hope of him becoming a breakout star. John Cena also couldn’t be there because, well, he’s John Cena: America’s great hero, not John Cena: Politician.

The final seconds of RAW were meant to be an iconic, shocking moment. Do you remember where you were when the locker-room walked out? Honestly, probably not. It won’t really stick out as an iconic storyline moment. The WWE tends to be obsessed with these concepts. It was seen several years ago during the Era of Big Bumps. After Foley’s Hell in a Cell tumble, the company began replicating the spot as a chance to create stars. They did it with Rikishi, they did it with Steve Blackman, they did it with Jeff Hardy and they did it with The Big Show. Based on the law of diminished returns, each “shocking” bump really just looked like a watered down version of the initial one. When people are risking their health for the sake of a memorable moment and the payoff isn’t even there, then it’s time to reevaluate the plan.

Now, the flavor of the month is kayfabe-breaking moments. Punk’s initial promo was like the Shot Heard ‘Round the World and it shook the industry to the core. He then came out and did a second version of it, that was fine if not a bit repetitive. Then he and Hunter had a back and forth promo that was tense but, again, outside of the “real” realm and more in the “worked-shoot” world. Now he’s a smiling babyface who is happily teaming with John Cena.

The Miz, R-Truth and Kevin Nash have all been “fired” in the past month, complete with “Best of luck in your future endeavors” announcements on WWE.com. Johnny Ace, once just an anonymous yesman, is a full-fledged character. The WWE is so obsessed with trying to make us think that we’re finally seeing behind the curtain that they are risking killing their product.

I’m not looking to be overly dramatic, but this past week’s RAW was a prime example. The WWE had a PPV that crowned a new champion, yet to watch RAW, you’d have no idea. Alberto Del Rio was so marginalized that you would have thought he was the World Heavyweight Champion and not the WWE Champion. Yes, I made some form of that joke in my Judicial Review, but it’s scary how true it is. He was denied his big coronation ceremony because we needed several Triple H promos over the course of the night. Hell, the midcard and main event scene on RAW got thrown into a 10-man out of sheer laziness. “Well, we need all the time in the world for the shocking finale, so let’s just toss everyone in one match and hope for the best.” It’s the equivalent to the #1 Contender Battle Royal.

And then the other shoe seemed to drop. In an effort to capitalize on this newfound love of “shock and awe”, underutilized John Morrison took to Twitter in an effort to be “controversial”. He executed a work-shoot that criticized Hunter for being a hypocrite who buried talent and lambasted the WWE for unfair pay scales and a lack of health benefits. Now he did this all under the guise of being in character, but it came across as someone who isn’t getting a push and saw a chance to create buzz for himself. Except it was the wrong kind of buzz. While it is possible this was done as a directive from up above, it wound up sparking a debate about whether Morrison will be fired or not. Worse, it led to discussions about whether or not anyone would miss him if he were to be let go. When the dialogue shifts to that extreme, something has gone off the rails.

Worked shoots and “breaking kayfabe” work in extremely small doses. It, like big bumps , crazy swerves, bloody hardcore matches and gratuitous sex all can be effective when reigned in. The problem is that the WWE has the restraint of a horny teenager, and it isn’t happy until it not only kills the golden goose but defiles it afterwards.

This has been for your consideration.

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