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RAW’s “Dusty” segment: Misguided or disgusting?

There are several different things you can take away from Cody’s least favorite RAW segment last night. Tasteless shouldn’t be one of them.

We all saw Cody Rhodes’ tweet last night, which was a relatively calm, and careful way to tell WWE he didn’t appreciate what he saw with the destruction of Bayley’s Christmas present to his brother. He revealed a more restrained version of what Ric Flair said in his response to the Charlotte-Paige segment from 13 months ago. It hurt him to see it, and while he stopped short of calling it tasteless, he intimated that it bothered his heart to watch it unfold on screen. It’s hard to blame Cody for his response, but as I said when Reid Fliehr was mentioned in order to put heat on Paige during the Survivor Series go-home angle, it’s only truly egregious to me when it’s not entertaining. I’m not personally involved, so I can only look at things through a consumerist prism.

When someone insults me or jokes about me in some way, the only time it has any lasting effect is when the comment sucks. That’s when I think you’re an asshole. You can call me whatever you want, just make sure it’s funny, or make sure I deserved it at the very least. Paige doing what she was asked was problematic because it was poorly executed and the payoff was minimal at best. In the same way, when The Rock slut shamed Lana, it just wasn’t entertaining, and thus I didn’t like it. I’ve come to expect almost anything in professional wrestling, which behaves in a different fictional world than the factual one we inhabit.

Did Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows ripping the head off a teddy bear dressed like Dusty Rhodes enhance a program that matters? The answer to that question is no, because even if it’s more than a one week angle, the only reason we’re seeing Club vs. Golden Truth is because RAW is a three hour show. WWE can only replay the opening segment so many times before it becomes a turn off.

Was it lacking in taste? No, because there was nothing malicious behind it. Plus, at no point did anyone mock the death of Dusty. It was simply a wrestling angle to set up a time-filling match later in the evening. Because the end result was meaningless, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Why go there when there are zero stakes, virtually zero interest, and no expressed history between the parties? At least make sure it counts if you’re going to risk offending someone, particularly family members of the deceased. That said, it seems impossible to believe Dustin had any real issues with the segment, because he likely could have voiced them. I’m not sure he would be fearful to speak up on behalf of his surname.

But, in 2016, we’re seeing a major difficulty in heels getting over via dastardly deeds. Did five more people boo The Club last night after the segment in the back? Maybe. Did 25? I doubt it, quite frankly. Kevin Owens gets cheered no matter what, and Roman Reigns gets booed like he shot your dog, my dog, and everyone’s dog in the face on national television. The fans cheer for who they like, often almost rebelliously irrespective of what those characters actually do. It’s a fault in the writing that the promotion gets so few of its employees over these days, but it’s also a change in the hardcore fan paradigm.

If Anderson and Gallows weren’t going to receive any lasting fan vitriol for being jerks and tearing up the present, why even bother? At best you’re approaching the uncrossable line, and in some people’s eyes you leapt over it for an infinitesimal return. It was ineffective, thus it was a failed attempt to shock or anger a Chicago crowd that certainly doesn’t care what Vince McMahon wants from his audience. The heels could have done any number of other things and it would have had the same effect, regardless of the finish of the match itself. It’s a complete “Who cares” situation in a throwaway spot on the show.

Then, there’s the polka dots, which WWE continues to use, despite Dusty’s desire for that part of his career to disappear forever. But, here I defend Vince McMahon, because although the original decision to use polka dots in 1989 and 1990 was petty and unnecessary, today that tacky design is the easiest visual way to pay tribute to Dusty Rhodes. Think about what stood out about Dusty from an aesthetic standpoint. He wasn’t known for arm tassels or flowing robes or feather boas. Most of the time, Rhodes came to the ring in a fairly simple satin jacket, sometimes personalized, and he wore the same style of cowboy wrestling boots that we saw from guys like Barry Windham and Magnum TA. He did not have a signature “look.”

The segment last night, for example, showed Bayley hand the bear to Goldust and not have to explain its significance, instead it allowed her to immediately move to expressing how important this man was to her development and the state of her career. What else could she have done to that bear to make us understand who it was, without a long introduction. She could have put denim on him or something else regionally famous to replicate the Hard Times promo or a win over Ric Flair, but short of just writing “DR” on the front of the bear’s shirt, it all would have required more exposition. Instead, the polka dots make us think of nothing but Dusty Rhodes.

Whether or not it’s his favorite time can’t be the key consideration here. It’s the one way to display “DUSTY RHODES” in giant letters on our foreheads without just writing his name or drawing his face on a piece of merchandise. It’s an unfortunate necessity that the polka dots exist, because although he hated them, they’re ultimately symbolic of that character and the larger-than-life persona he crafted over multiple decades. In fact, they’re the lone visual symbol of this guy. It’s a reminder of WWE’s mistake, but it’s also a reminder of how fantastic this man was, that he got THAT over. There’s no trademark, no easily identifiable Dusty Rhodes insignia, so the polka dots are an inescapable blemish, today employed in order to easily invoke Virgil Runnels in the minds and hearts of generations of wrestling fans.

So, when you see the polka dots, try not to roll your eyes, because without them, there would be far less understated homages to Dusty Rhodes. It’s a testament to him that without all the flash, he came out in black trunks, a satin jacket (sometimes a robe), had no body to speak of, and was one of the most popular superstars of all time in professional wrestling. The polka dots were emblematic of WWE, not of Big Dust. Not in the least.

Anderson and Gallows did as they were scripted to do, and they bear no blame for anything. The end game wasn’t equal to the action, so it was a lose-lose. WWE’s only culpability is in the unnecessary and pointless nature of the decision to destroy the bear, and perhaps in the spiteful choice to originally place a behemoth like Dusty Rhodes in cheap polka dots. Today, however, that design must remain in place, so that Vince McMahon can always look to it when it’s time to mention the son of a plumber on television again. I’d rather have some posthumous Dusty in my life than none at all, even if it points to a time some might rather forget.

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