Since before SummerSlam, smark wisdom has held that the angle between the Bella twins and Stephanie McMahon was driven by the E! Network's Total Divas "reality" show, either as a way to keep the stars of that venture front and center on WWE television before its third season debuts on September 7th or as storyline fodder for the Sunday night program.
Full disclosure - I have never watched Total Divas in any form other than the YouTube clips of it that are released the day after its first run (similar to the Raw or Smackdown highlights we link to at Cageside on Tuesday or Saturday mornings). I feel like I have a basic working understanding of the show, though, and I don't see any way that what has played out on the last two Monday nights can be used on E! without not only pulling back the kayfabe curtain, but burning it to the ground.
Within the context of pro wrestling logic, the angle makes very little sense. Lance Storm, who was on fire last night live tweeting Raw, summed it up nicely:
So if Nikki is telling the truth Brie is unlikable. If she's lying there is no motivation for the turn. Spock would not like this feud— Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) September 2, 2014
Unfortunately, it would be far from the first time that a pro wrestling story or character motivation didn't adhere to basic logic. If there was much hope of a strong promo or a decent match, we'd probably look the other way and treat it as business as usual. But I come here not to bury Nikki and Brie (again), but to muse about how this will be dealt with on Total Divas, and what that says about the state of kayfabe and "the Reality Era".
Kayfabe, or wrestling's tradition of portraying staged events as "real", has been on life support at least since Vince McMahon admitted that the matches had "predetermined" outcomes during his steroid trials in the 1990s, and probably even before that. While we've moved on from thinking that each bout is a legitimate sporting competition, questions about what is real ("shoot") and what is scripted ("work") has been central to how we take in sports entertainment since Andy Kaufman, the Curtain Call at Madison Square Garden and the Montreal Screwjob.
So what does an angle like this one, where performers with characters established one way in "real" life act in completely incongruous ways on a scripted show, just days before the start of the show where their "real" personalities are the stars?
Will season three or four address this, and delve into the history behind Nikki's accusations about her sister's past behavior? Does that result in her being a face and Brie being turned heel for her horrible treatment of her twin? Or will the accusations be proved false, and John Cena dump Nikki for her disloyal and disrespectful actions?
Or will Sunday nights on E! feature the Bellas sitting around backstage, practicing their monologues and blocking out the spots they'll perform in the ring?
Perhaps they shoot for a middle ground and discuss some real-life jealousies between the sisters that inspired the Raw angle? But wouldn't that leave us in the same place as if they were laughing and encouraging each other in gorilla position before a match where they tear each other's hair out?
Which doesn't even get into the differences between Stephanie McMahon, Chief Brand Officer and crusader for pediatric cancer research, and Stephanie McMahon, the principal owner of WWE who has made it her mission to torment and destroy Connor Michalek's favorite wrestler. Or Daniel Bryan, America's sweetheart "Brian" on Total Divas vs. a man who slept with his physical therapist (unless they've abandoned that story again - I can't keep track).
I'm all for interesting interplay between wrestling stories and real-life events. Playing "work or shoot?" was one of the things that kicked my fandom into overdrive after CM Punk's pipe bomb. But I fail to see what there is to gain by booking Brie and Nikki as they have been these few weeks.
There's no reason to play "work or shoot?" - hopefully, the whole thing is a work, because otherwise everyone involved is a horrible person with zero communication or conflict resolution skills. I suppose that may be how you market a "reality" of the Real Housewives variety, but is WWE really going to beat the producers of that kind of television at their own game?
You're also setting women's wrestling back by using valuable time on Raw to promote Total Divas in that way. The quantity of female characters and feuds on WWE screens this summer was starting to get some fans to consider the Divas as more than just a bathroom break. Watching the Bellas screech nonsense at each other will send folks right back to the loo.
It's a program that's as puzzling as it is unenjoyable. The only thing it accomplishes us in reminding us that Nikki and Brie still exist and are employed as WWE sports entertainers. But that could have been accomplished with an angle that was less in contrast with their Total Divas personas.
Teasing an issue between the two on E!, then having that be the impetus for a feud in WWE, that eventually leads to a match of drives their title chase, that again becomes a talking point on Total Divas...that would make sense and constitute product synergy. This...I'm at a loss.
If someone could explain this to me, I'd be happy to listen. But as I see it now, we're being subjected to a lot of television that's unenjoyable and that's damaging to the audience's ability and willingness to suspend disbelief for WWE's core product.