On RAW (12/29/2014)

This final RAW of 2014 was fascinating, despite being pretty low key until the hostage situation at the end. There were no celebrations of Hulk Hogan or a holiday or a charity, just well-composed rising action and character development. The episode functioned as something of an airing of grievances, as is seasonally appropriate and a welcome change from the Christmas shenanigans of the previous week and the tired cliches of overall holiday season. It was also a response to and appropriation of CM Punk’s revelations. Perhaps this was a pressure valve for other wrestlers who resonated to some degree with Punk’s message.

Big Show’s pathological justifications for his self-preserving heel turn as he sat in on commentary, for example, were touching to me. He is crafting a unique breed of working class everyman these days, a regular (if enormous) guy forced to make ugly choices in order to survive, and I’m not sure we all appreciate how important a character this is. Much as we boo him right now, he is all of us at one time or another.

Daniel Bryan let us in on the life decision he has made, and the emotional roller coaster his career has been for him. Luke Harper spoke up in detail for the first time, that I’ve seen, anyway: “You all celebrate the ones you love, and cast people like me aside like trash.” And Seth Rollins let it all hang out, said what he thinks about everything, though he in fact does that every week anyway. But I think Ryback and Cesaro stole the show with their airings — in a sense, they both spoke truth to power.

Cesaro spoke to the power of the Authority, both in the storyline and in the company. He said the same sorts of things many on Twitter have said: that he doesn’t go in for the pageantry, pyrotechnics, and fancy elaborate entrances, he just steps in the ring and delivers. That he was ripe for a push in 2014 and yet management seemed unwilling to put any faith in him because he’s too much of a classic. And then, as though the Authority was already in power, he went on to job to Bad News Barrett.

Ryback on the other hand, spoke his truth to the power of the audience, many of whom have always resonated with CM Punk’s depiction of him as a dumb, clumsy brute. He used Rusev as a heel sounding board, but really his message was directed at CM Punk himself, don’t you think? His tale of depression, perseverance, and positivity was sobering for those of us who took CM Punk’s message to heart. I do hope it was sobering for all the people who came right at Ryback with a “What?” chant. Their assholery did not deter Ryback from boldly sharing his story. This was a rebuttal from a human being who has had some serious rough patches. There are certainly things to criticize, but there’s much to admire about his dogged determination.

All of this humanizing of our wrestler-characters almost made me think they all read my post On the Big Show’s Poignant Heel Turn (Through the Filter Of the CM Punk Podcast), which Big Show himself in all of his real world benevolence retweeted to bring us a whole slew of hits, several times more than this blog had in its entire history the day before. (I’m still getting a slow stream of Twitter-referred hits for that post. Thanks again, Big Show!)

This episode of RAW allowed for the necessary pulling back of the kayfabe curtain and a response to CM Punk’s complaints and accusations. But it irks me that this RAW was so well put together compared to the weeks we spent floundering without the Authority. And the thing is, this show was good before John Cena was forced to bring back the Authority. It wasn’t the Authority that made it good. And yet, the Authority as diablo ex machina will probably be the message we are berated with constantly as we move forward: the Authority saved us from each other and ourselves, because wrestling totally sucked without them. I would feel better if there had been true menace in these weeks without the Authority, actual chaos without a GM, a real threat of something, anything, from the Anonymous GM, or the constant promise of freedom and progress undermined at every turn by the lack of a functioning government. But life without the Authority wasn’t the lawless WCW mayhem Triple H warned of and Seth Rollins kept trying to sell us, it was simply flat, aimless storytelling.

There was opportunity for great upheaval here, radical changes, true shock and awe, but all of it was squandered, I suspect intentionally. Implicit here is disdain for those of us who dare to complain about the product — we are to be punished with weak programming for our insolence and preference for Dean Ambrose hoodies and “KO” t-shirts over more John Cena merch in this month’s new color. Kayfabe Triple H is the most prominent face of this disdain, but considering the marvelous things he has done with NXT I think the actual bitterness lies elsewhere: behind the scenes with the carny-corporate baby boomers who have their heads in the sand over the fact that their era is now part of the past and professional wrestling is moving on without them. I never got a chance to watch Steve Austin’s interview with Vince McMahon but from what I’ve heard, it sheds good light on this sad boomer denial. Let us all take a moment, Gen X’ers and Millenials, to set the intention to check ourselves in twenty years when it comes time to pass the torch of what’s good and what sucks on to our children.

Is the larger message we are to take from the return of the Authority that jack-booted fascism is a necessary evil? Or will we discover that in fact it is the powerful young Millenials like Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Rusev, Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and the grand roster of NXT who will change the world, not the straggler X’ers like John Cena, who even as benevolent babyfaces fighting the good fight simply benefited too much from the WWE’s carny-corporate ruling structure to now make significant changes?

One other thought — Seth Rollins straight up threatening to murder the venerable Edge at the end was problematic to me from a suspension of disbelief point of view. Do we really swallow the idea that a contract with the WWE literally allows wrestlers to commit murder? But it also reminded me of the first wrestling match I ever saw, in which nine year old me was very concerned that Fabulous Moolah had actually choked my favorite singer Cyndi Lauper unconscious. In the internet era, when kayfabe is all but dead, maybe it’s actually good and cathartic for the children when wrestling’s threat of violence takes on a glimmer of reality. In the end, Rollins and Edge pushed the boundaries of kayfabe in the old school sense, and ultimately my inner child appreciated it.

Beyond RAW, I’d like to say that 2014 was a great year for me and for Notes on the Spectacle of Excess. This blog is a key part of my breakthrough after a brutal ten year stretch of writer’s block, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate having found an audience to share it with. I wish you all an auspicious and productive New Year, and the best of luck with all of your projects! Next year is supposed to kick ass for all of us. I promise, I’m psychic. 🙂

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