Creative Control: Goodbye Divas, Hello Women (WWE, Natalya, Tamina, Emma, Paige, Trish Stratus, Molly Holly, Kharma)

I cannot quite put my finger on it, but there was something about the Stephanie McMahon commercial for the WWE Network on last Monday’s Raw that just bugged me.  I am not sure if it is the way she made it about her (by talking about her “friend” Andre the Giant, her dad, her children, and her husband); her blatant use of her children to make Vince McMahon seem like a sympathetic individual; or yet another subtle as a sledgehammer effort to instill that Triple H is one of the greatest performer’s the business has ever seen.  My wife pointed out that she sees they were trying to go with a “we all have a connection to our love of the history of professional wrestling.”  However, it just came off to me as shameless self-promotion of her and her husband while at the same time trying to make a grab at our money with our heartstrings.  Maybe I am just being too cynical, so I would love to hear other people’s take.

Second Thoughts:
Last week, I outlined how I wanted to see Raw in Chicago unfold.  My main fanboy desire was to see CM Punk show up, tag with Daniel Bryan and see the two fan favorites become involved in the Wrestlemania main event.  Needless to say, it is a good thing I was not a betting man and put any money down on my ideas coming to reality.

As for my layout for the show, waltkovacs gave me the compliment that my layout did feel like an episode of Raw, which was my goal.  Duh seemed to enjoy the “show,” which is like many of the epic episodes of Raw, a couple of strong segments surrounded by a lot of filler.  Apparently my writing was a little unclear as someone in the comments section suggested that the WWE Title Match for Wrestlemania be a four corners match of Orton vs. Batista vs. Bryan vs. Punk.  That is what I intended, but apparently it got lost.

Comment of the week though goes to MeccaRabbi who came up with a brilliant idea to have Punk show up, but turn on Bryan and go corporate sell-out heel.  This leads to Punk vs. Bryan at Wrestlemania.  As he pointed out, it would have been a fantastic sociology experiment to see how the Chicago crowd would have reacted.  Would this have been the event that pushed the fans over the edge to finally boo Punk?  I have to think it would.  It was fantastic outside the box thinking.

What were my thoughts about the actual Raw that occurred?  I thought they handled the opening of the show beautifully.  If there was anyone who could manipulate the crowd at the top of the show and help gain control, it was Paul Heyman.  His sitting in the middle of the ring, his acknowledgement of Punk, and his seamless turning on the crowd and segueing into Brock Lesnar was a master’s class in “cutting a promo.”  It was great to see the Usos win the tag titles, but I would have liked to have seen them hold off on it until Wrestlemania, but it still pumped up the crowd.  I enjoyed the crowd during the Bryan/Triple H promo where they were absolutely silent while Bryan talked and made every effort to drown out The Authority.  However, it was again a case where Triple H looked in control, dominant, and kept cutting Bryan off at the knees, and not just in a storyline standpoint.  I knew a schmoz ending/Dusty Finish was coming for the end of Batista vs. Bryan.  I am sure it sounded good to those in charge to end with Triple H stand victorious over Bryan yet again (as a way to rile the crowd), but the cynic in me is starting to wonder if Bryan will come out victorious over Triple H.  Scott Keith wrote something a few months ago about the top 10 times Triple H did not do what was best for business, having some convoluted justifications about why he needed to win for future storylines.  I’d like to think we aren’t going to see that at Wrestlemania with his match against Bryan, but I am having a little doubt.  Overall, a good show minus Punk, but they could have done better.

They Are Wrestlers Too
As I sat here trying to come up with a topic to write about this week, I thought back to this past Smackdown.  My wife joined me in the living room as the Natalya &Eva Marie vs. AJ & Tamina match was on and actually became sucked in.  She is at best, a very casual fan who started watching when we started living together.  She will watch with me, but usually will be doing some writing or checking the internet, only paying marginal attention.  She has her favorites who she will stop to watch.  She also makes some unique observations that catch me completely off guard.  I remember shortly after we moved in together, she saw Nunzio/Little Guido and marveled at the “poster tube” stuffed into his tights.  Being an average heterosexual man, I had never once looked.  Thanks to her though now, whenever I catch an old FBI match, my eyes gravitates to his trunks.

Tangent aside, my wife is not a fan of the Divas.  90% of the time if they are on when she is in the living room, I flip over to something else as she cannot stand the embodiment of every bad female stereotype most of them represent.  She cannot stand the degrading dance offs, musical chairs, or the (now defunct) bra and panty matches.  When they have storylines, they are usually over vapid, non-engaging matters.  Her biggest complaint is that most of them look like they could not actually hurt anyone.  The brief period that Kharma was in the WWE, my wife was glued to the programming.  I was already planning on getting her a shirt.  So last Friday, when she actually stopped to watch and pay attention to Natalya and Tamina, she was entertained.  She appreciated Natalya’s skills and Tamina’s size.  As she put it, the two of them looked like a pair of women that could actually hurt people.

I then looked for and showed her some of Emma and Summer Rae’s NXT work along with Paige that I have heard people rave about.  She appreciated that while the three of them were attractive, they could actually wrestle.  My wife finds Emma’s gimmick amusing.  She sees it as someone who is a klutz and space cadet everywhere except inside the ring, not as a stereotypical bimbo.

It got me thinking about what the WWE needs to do to tap into the market that is my wife: women who like watching ass kicking.  Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone of us at one point or another has imagined ourselves as professional wrestlers (a couple, like Mr. Steve Gepp actually has tried their hand at it).  We have thought of ourselves as technical masters, massive monsters, or some genetic freak hybrid of the two.  Anyway you look at it, we as men have always had at least someone who we could look to as our avatar and ideal for taking control.  For women, that has not been the case.  Even when the WWE had talent like Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria, and Mickie James, it was more a happy accident that they could perform in the ring.  It was clear that first and foremost they were T&A that fulfilled Vince McMahon’s narrow image of what women should look and act like.

Therefore, I think it is time for the WWE to overhaul the Diva’s division.  With the increasing popularity and legitimate appeal of female fighting (Rhonda Rousey in UFC), it is time to step away from just treating the women in the roster as an afterthought or eye candy.  It is also time to stop playing off the bad stereotypes that the only way they can appeal to women is through vapid “reality” relationship television like Total Divas.  I am sure there are more women out there like my wife who would watch more regularly if there were talented performers of all kinds on the roster.  Below are 4 suggestions that are needed to start taking women’s wrestling in the WWE to new heights.

Step 1: No more “Divas”
What is wrong with calling them “Superstars” like they do with the men?  It’s one thing to distinguish between the genders, it is another to treat them like second-class citizens.  The fact that a number of people refer to the WWE title the women compete for is nicknamed “The Tramp Stamp Title” says it all.  Therefore, before they can go anywhere with improving the division they at least need to refer to it with terms that make it seem as legitimate as the men.  Therefore, it should be the WWE Women’s Title.  The female members of the roster are just Superstars.  I know the company line is they are using the dictionary term for diva, referring to a highly talented female performer.  However, in our modern society more often than not, “diva” is a derogatory term to refer to a self-centered woman.  Look at the show, Total Divas.  It plays off the negative connotation of the word and the commercials show all of the women at their worst arguing, name calling, and talking about themselves and what they need.  Therefore, to put them on equal footing, they should just be known as superstars, like the men.

Step 2: Storylines like anyone else
I do not know how creative duties are divided up amongst the various writers.  If there is not at least one person who is devoted to just focusing on the women, there should be.  There probably should be two.  These people are responsible for coming up with storylines and feuds for the women that can be about someone looking to prove they are the best to getting revenge over an opponent costing them a title shot.  You know, the same reasons the guys have matches.  I know there have been some dumb male feuds (Edge/Booker T’s “Shampoo” conflict and Jericho/Kane’s “Coffee Clash”), but the women most times are going against one another for no reason or for stuff that is dreamt up by a man who has no idea what goes through a woman’s mind except for what they read in Cosmo.

The example my wife always go back to as the worst example of storylines was Molly Holly’s virginity.  For weeks, Chris Nowinski was focused on “deflowering” Molly Holly.  The fact that she was “pure and virtuous” made her a heel.  A heel that wore unattractive underwear and was the primary way she was ridiculed by her opponents (such as face Trish Stratus).  It is the classic example where a woman was defined purely by her sexuality.  There has never been a case of a male wrestler being defined purely by whether or not he has put out.  By treating the women as people and letting them go at it for anything and everything, just like the guys, will make their feuds and matches more engaging.  Giving time for storylines to develop just like the men’s will stop making the women seem as an afterthought, which they should not be.

Step 3: Hire women of all types
Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, Batista, Goldust, Big Show, Mark Henry.  Each man has a distinct look, a different body shape, and (theoretically) a different kind of move set that looks to capitalize on the strengths of that body.  With the women, about 95% of them all have the same general body type with little variation.  Nearly all of them are ultra skinny and tall with long legs, and small noses.  Very few of them look like they could actually hurt someone.  Fewer still show the talent.  One of the few women’s feuds in the past 5-10 years that is respected is Awesome Kong/Kharma versus Gail Kim from TNA.  The feud was a classic David versus Goliath story where Kim used her arsenal of moves and tactics to combat the size and power of Kong.  It is a feud that is played out countless times with men.  With women, it is a rare exception.  Anytime there is a larger female wrestler, she is stereotyped as “the fat chick” (anyone remember Bertha Faye?).  Or if she is tall and muscularly built, she is treated as being “less feminine” or “man-like.”  The WWE needs to throw out the Barbie model and go with a variety of women, just like with their men.  First and foremost, they should be able to wrestle.  If I want vapid and pretty, I watch a beauty pageant; if I want to just watch two women rolling around, I’ll watch porn.  When I turn on to wrestling, I want to watch talented athletes perform.  And no, different hair color and varying breast size is not enough.

(I do realize that over the last several years the men’s division has seen the proliferation of “the bro”/mimbo in their ranks.  And that has gone over as well as it has with the women.  The most successful in the last few years have been those that have not fit that stereotype: Bryan, Punk, Cesaro, and Big E.)

For anyone (Vince McMahon) who says no one wants to pay to see “some fat chick” in the ring, I direct everyone to remember the premiere of Kharma.  It is not clear if they were intending her to come in as a face or heel.  The audience though, firmly embraced her as a face.  I remember when she delivered her reverse powerbomb to Alicia Fox on her second or third appearance.  The audience not only exploded in cheers, they started a very loud “One More Time” chant.  Despite what management might think, the fans will support the those who show they can go in the ring, regardless of their looks.

Step 4: Renee Young as Smackdown commentator
I talked about this in my very first column.  Renee Young has shown she has the personality, the timing, and the skills to hold her own with the roster.  What little of her commentary I have caught on the bits of NXT I have seen is some of the best.  It is time for WWE to let her break through the glass ceiling and have a fulltime female play-by-play announcer for one of their main shows.  While I would ideally pair her with William Regal, I think it would be interesting to have her do a couple months with Jerry Lawler.  Why?  To see how well Lawler reacts with to a woman with a brain confronting him about his sole focus on women’s matches being the looks of the women.  Or following it up with her mocking Lawler by during the next men’s match making equally lascivious comments about one of the male wrestlers.  Having a women on commentary to put the women over as competitors would go a long way, probably more than just having the men attempt it.  Having a woman on commentary in general would go a long way, especially one as talented as Ms. Young appears.

The WWE is doing some things right as the most recent women hired have shown their talent in NXT.  Emma, Paige, Summer Rae, and Bailey all give me hope that the company is pursuing talent over style.  However, they are still very similar in their looks.  There is only Tamina to fill the monster role on their roster.  I wonder who are the female equivalents of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan out there; not stereotypically beautiful but able to kick ass with the best of them.  I think if WWE was serious, they could develop a women’s roster that is just as engaging as their men’s.  Unfortunately, it requires a shift in the misogamist culture of the company that will not stand a chance of ending until Vince McMahon’s death.

Until next time, I relinquish creative control.

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