Wrestling fans give WWE executives and booker & creative people in wrestling promotions all over the globe a lot of crap. There's no doubt that our incessant "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" (Tuesday Morning Booking?) is at best based on partial information and at worst, as Vince McMahon characterized this year's Royal Rumble backlash, just spoiled kids not getting the present they want. And, in the aggregate, we're probably at our worst more often than we're at our best.
All of which is to say that wrestlers and other behind-the-scenes types have an impossible task on their plate...trying to please wrestling fans.
But, as one of those fans, I will fight until I gas out (approximately 75 seconds) the "us versus them" mentality that has followed the wrestling business from its carnival roots into its 21st century present of corporate ownership and worldwide streaming shows.
The latest example of this comes from a great interview of Paul "Triple H" Levesque by Tim Ferriss for his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. Their almost hour-long chat is a different look at what makes the Executive Vice-President and on-screen talent tick, from his roots in Killer Kowalski's Massachusetts wrestling "school" to how he approaches raising he and Stephanie McMahon's three daughters.
Early on, however, Ferriss asks Hunter about common misconceptions that outsiders have of WWE. Here's what how he responded:
They just see what they see on TV. They see, um, the misconception for me is that I'm very much what you see on television, or I'm this character or - they see the simplistic things of what we do. You know it's funny, even if you're this huge fan of the WWE, they get so upset over things like, uh, well, "Why would this guy beat that guy? Just, gah." You know, it's one of the terms right now, "he buried him".
You know, it's um, it's a show. And what they don't get about our show is that we are like this never-ending...you can compare it to whatever you want, comic books, soap opera, TV drama, movie...but it never ends, so there's always another chapter.
And they get so upset in the moment of not knowing, or maybe not liking the end of the chapter that they're on...but there's another chapter. It starts tomorrow, it actually started right now when this one ended, you know and they don't get that, and they can't wait for that and they don't understand all the complexities that go on behind the scenes, so that's probably the biggest misconception is that we're just, the WWE is just a bunch of guys, at its simplest form, that just go to the ring in their underwear and pretend to fight with each other, you know. Um, but when you really break it down, it's a massive, global business.
First off, kudos to Haitch for burying the overused "buried". This debate has raged in comment sections for years, but in a nutshell, it's too often used by fans to mean "guy/gal I like lost". While there are examples of wrestlers getting "buried", it is next to impossible to determine in the moment if that's what occurred as the result of even a squash, so its use should be reserved for a look back on angles & storylines and not for rapid reactions.
So, while many in the audience do react too quickly to what they disliked about a match, episode or pay-per-view (PPV), as when someone claims that a performer was "buried", that doesn't mean that we all do, or that everyone who has that response in the moment will feel that way with a few minutes to reflect on the larger story. And it doesn't mean that "they" don't "get" that what's being presented is a long-form, serialized fiction.
Before the quote above, Ferriss asked Levesque how he answers when strangers ask him what he does for a living. He said that when he was a full-time wrestler, he responded that he was "an entertainer". The reason he picked that word isn't because Vince McMahon hates the word wrestling, and actually makes a lot of sense:
Our...the WWE is a weird thing, it's like, if you're not into it, no explanation can make you like it, and if you are into it, there's no explanation necessary.
Too often, WWE lumps fans who they otherwise ackowledge as needing no explanation of the business in with those who pre-judge and dismiss it. Just because we get excited and mis-use an insider term every once in a while doesn't mean we don't "get it".
And that's what leads fans to use a term like "buried". We care too much! Most of the audience that becomes incensed by a booking decision will be tuning in tomorrow, so we know that there are more chapters to the story. We just disagree with a storytelling choice or subjectively didn't enjoy the product, which is going to happen, and the onus is on the viewer who wishes something else had happened to keep things in perspective. Or, the chapter was lazily or poorly told.
WWE (and some fans) use the fact that the story never ends as an excuse to tell bad or unsatisfying chapters of that story. Saying "that sucked and I expect better for my investment of time and money in your product" doesn't mean that I don't understand that wasn't the end of the tale.
Saying that fans don't grasp something as basic as the ongoing nature of your product betrays a pretty low opinion of those watching. And when one of the biggest problems in your business model is that advertisers have a low opinion of your audience, it might be useful to not reinforce that view with your comments in interviews and investor meetings.
The company loves to compare their product to movies, and to point out that "real" sports wish they could control the narrative the way WWE can. Triple H does it himself on the Ferriss podcast, talking about Rocky and how fans re-watch a great boxing feud like Ali/Frazier through slickly-produced compilation videos. But if in the middle of Rocky, Sylvester Stallone's character called Adrian a hoe, critics and audience would be correct to point it out as a misstep. And fewer fans would rewatch "The Thrilla in Manilla" if Joe Frazier had lost several matches in the run-up to his final showdown with Muhammad Ali (that's why their first and third fights are more famous - the blemishes both men had on their records became part of the greater lore, but the 1972-73 losses diminished the hype for their second match).
The bottom line is that, yes, fans do too often expect WWE to do the impossible, and please everyone in their disparate fan base. But WWE too often looks on those fans as being the cause of their problems, rather than looking at the deficiencies in their product that got the audience upset in the first place.
Triple H mentions in the interview the company catchphrase about how WWE is in the business of putting smiles on people's faces.
He and his fellow executives should also remember that those of us watching their product really want to smile.