Bray Wyatt's family has been slowly reintroduced to the WWE Universe over the last few weeks. After multiple failed attempts to win the tag titles and then being served on to the altar of John Cena "never giving up" one more time in the run-up to Night of Champions, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan disappeared for a time.
Following a few weeks of vignettes, Rowan walked onto a backstage segment last week and appeared at ringside this week, while Harper has been linked to Intercontinental champ Dolph Ziggler and set up to return directly to the Survivor Series main event with his actions last night on Raw.
Of the two, Luke was always the guy that hardcore fans (many of whom are familiar with his work in Chikara, Pro Wresting Guerrilla and other independents as Brodie Lee) want to see more of, and he probably has the higher upside - or is at least much more ready for a spotlight than the Norwegian reality show star Rowan. His spin-off from Bray may not be his ticket to the main event, but it looks like a standard heel big man push, and something with which Harper can do a lot.
What we've seen from the redbeard over the last two weeks has been considerably more...problematic.
On November 3rd, he interrupted an interview Renee Young was doing with the Bellas to fondle her hair, call her "pretty" and obviously make the Canadian's character uncomfortable.
Last night, he walked out during a match between Tyson Kidd and Adam Rose (a bout that already was trying to support two other b-stories in the dissolutions of the Kidd/Neidhart marriage and the Rose/Bunny...relationship) to stomp around the announce desk, say "she's not here" and skulk off through the timekeeper area out of the arena.
I'm sure that I will somehow be accused of "white knight-ism" or whatever for even raising the issue here, and that's fine. If you think I'm writing this in hope of getting a re-tweet from Young, I guess it's still real to you, damnit.
The gender issues here are just the tip of the controversy iceberg. Based on everything we've seen WWE produce in its history, this is headed toward a comedy stalking angle, that may or may not also try to get some laughs out of the fact that Rowan is mentally ill / developmentally disabled.
From a publicly traded company in the 21st century.
It would be one thing if Erick were being portrayed as a serious sociopath, and either Renee had some agency to defend herself, or a wrestler of any gender who could battle him as her proxy. But that's not been established, and at least the option of allowing Young to stand up for herself almost certainly won't be. As fans, we can continue to hope - and should continue to demand - the occasional nuanced, psychologically sophisticated story from WWE. Something there's no history of them doing isn't a reason to give an angle like this the benefit of the doubt, though.
Stalking is a real issue that is extremely difficult to tackle it a patriarchal and politically correct world. The CBS show Stalker has been lambasted by critics even as it gets strong ratings. TNA tried a similar angle with their Samuel Shaw character being obsessed with Christy Hemme, and at least tried to incorporate some adult themes into the narrative along with horror movie tropes.
But Impact has never portrayed itself as family-friendly entertainment. And neither that promotion or CBS is playing the issue for laughs.
Likewise, this isn't the 80s, where George The Animal Steele's obsession with Miss Elizabeth could be the impetus for a babyface turn. WWE is to be lauded for its work with children and the disabled via Be a S.T.A.R. and Make a Wish. Some of those they work with will identify with elements of Rowan's character. How will they feel when he's being laughed at by arenas full of fans?
If you think that argument is a stretch, you should read this story about the joy an autistic kid felt at seeing Dave Bautista's portrayal of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. The desire to identify with fictional characters is strong, and especially when you rarely see anyone who acts the way you do on a screen, the connections made can be even stronger, whether the creators intended them or not.
Why risk alienating these fans - fans who love and need your product - for a mid-card angle?
And why encourage your audience to yuk it up at an angle that can offend so many people? WWE is constantly hamstrung by the stereotype of their customers as uneducated people with limited buying power. Does anyone selling advertising on USA Network want a potential partner seeing footage of Raw crowds giggling at the slow guy trying to smell the blonde woman's hair while she looks disturbed?
There's room for all kinds of stories in the wacky world of pro wrestling. Probably even a stalker angle. But PG Era WWE isn't the company to do it, nor should they be.
Hopefully, they quickly turn this around quick and show Renee Young teaching Erick Rowan how to make friends without inappropriately following or touching them, and he learns that he's a special guy because he's different. That's not even a story I particularly want to watch on Monday night, but at least I won't cringe while it's happening - and it would be something that WWE could use in their philanthropic work while fans point to it to say that we're not all knuckle-dragging klansmen.
With what we've been presented over the past two Raws, the potential for a truly offensive and dangerous story far outweighs whatever snickers it might be getting or the value of the characters being used in it.
Time to pull the plug on this Erick Rowan reboot. Maybe he can experience a brand new day?