WWE gets a lot of flack for its fixation on Twitter and "trending worldwide." By the thirtieth time Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler or Booker T have mentioned one or the other on any given broadcast, our collective gag reflex has been triggered.
But, taken on its own, Twitter my be the perfect tool to work us marks in the 21st century.
Likewise, Punk ushered in the so-called "Reality Era" last year with his now famous worked shoot promo to end the June 27 episode of Monday Night Raw. Initially lauded by everyone, some segments of the Internet Wrestling Community (also known as the IWC, or smarks, this writer and anyone reading this) soured on Punk and the stories that he was a part of even as the mainstream WWE Universe embraced him, all before this new era could really find its feet.
This week has brought us what may be a defining moment for pro wrestling's biggest company, the 140-character social networking site and the face of the Reality Era -- the biggest feud since Cyndi Lauper vs. Roddy Piper:
Punk's calling out of R&B superstar Chris Brown via tweet, and Brown's willingness to respond.
This started, as far as this novice Twitter-er can tell, with a non-sequitor from Punk as he was thinking out loud to his followers about potential WrestleMania opponents (this was in the early hours of Feb. 20, post-Elimination Chamber but before Raw when the Chris Jericho feud became official): "I would like @chrisbrown fight somebody that can defend themselves. Me curb stomping that turd would be a #wrestlemania moment."
In what is really the most amazing part about this story, Brown -- apparently surfing Twitter looking for mentions of his name -- responded: "@CMpunk needs more followers. He’s such a leader! Not to mention the roids hes on has made it utterly impossible for him pleasure a women." (The tweet has since been deleted.)
Which brought us to what is either a testosterone-fueled public service announcement for victims of domestic abuse or Punk's best promo since 6/27/11:
(The original Twitvid Punk tweeted -- seen here -- has over 560,000 views at this point, by the way.)
Brown shot back with more grammatically and factually flawed vitriol: "@cmpunk the video u just posted was cute! It’s so funny how defensive u are, And the fact that I really don’t know who you are and could give a [expletive] is the funny part! I really hope this 15 minutes of fame is paying you for the long run becuz music last forever! Wrestlers come and go according to ratings! I miss the real wrestlers! ( Hacksaw Jim duggan, Brett the hitman heart, coco beware, rowdy roddy piper) #Notnopunks. THE ROCK #Notnopunks."
The WWE champ simply tweeted back, "#aintnowomanbeater."
Michael Cole informed us last night during the live Smackdown that #Notnopunks was trending worldwide. Public opinion today on wrestling, pop culture and gossip sites seems to be with the Straight Edge superstar. But, what just went on here? Is this, despite what he claims, a self-promotional ploy by Punk? Did Punk and the WWE just work Chris Brown? The general public? The WWE Universe? And, is this the last we've seen of wrestlers feuding with non-wrestlers via social media?
Vince McMahon and company are certainly thrilled with this, whether they were behind it or even approved it ahead of time. The Rock and John Cena's more-than-year long feud has taken place primarily on Twitter, so clearly the team in Stamford sees some potential in it as a storytelling medium. Will this be something that they try to replicate or even bludgeon us with a la "trending worldwide" and trailers for WWE Films?
Replicating this would be difficult-to-impossible. I tend to believe Punk that he did not set out to get on TMZ when he dropped Brown's name in his series of late night tweets, any more than he wanted to inspire a Buck Zumhofe comeback by namedropping him on commentary on Raw. But there could definitely be some calculation in picking Brown, as he had already demonstrated a willingness to engage critics via Twitter when he shot some smart-ass tweets at country star Miranda Lambert after the Grammys the week before. And it's hard to imagine any public figure that would make a more perfect heel than the short-fused, unapologetic woman beater.
Unless Cena feuds with Bernie Madoff after 'Mania, I can't see another situation where a wrestler could so clearly occupy the higher ground.
Pro wrestlers are never going to shy away from free publicity, and this is no exception. Punk's dance partner for WrestleMania 28, Jericho, has already chimed in via Twitter in an attempt to latch their feud onto this publicity train. Notorious hackee Kurt Angle did too, in his continuing quest to stay around the WWE spotlight. The twitvid linked above is, as mentioned, an awesome wrestling promo and a strong statement against men who abuse women. It's hard to imagine this won't net Punk some new fans and strengthen his credibility among existing fans who are too old or cool to cheer for Cena. The worst criticism I've seen is that Punk has stuck his nose in business that isn't his, but no one who's seen the post-assault pictures of Rihanna is going to argue too much for Brown's privacy rights.
The logic behind taking a stand on this issue is pretty flimsy, though. Why not go after Steve Austin for his past spousal abuse? While he's never laid hands on them, Punk's track record of relationships with women and verbal abuse of women with whom those relationships have ended is less than exemplary. And all of this broke just as the main event story from WWE's last pay-per-view was blown off by having the hero of that story vilify and humiliate the female lead on national TV.
My guess is that Punk, Vince and most of the boys in the back love both the publicity that has come from this and the questioning of shoot vs. work that it brings up for some of us. Pro wrestling in the 21st century is less concerned with convincing us that what goes on in the ring is real, and more concerned with making us question how much of what goes on outside of the ring is.
The Reality Era, its main star and the WWE's favorite non-television medium all seem perfectly suited to blurring the lines between what's real and what's not. And if it keeps people talking about WWE, that's just fine with all involved.
Except maybe Chris Brown.