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The ongoing WWE bubble and the loss of reality

Monday night, in the lead-up to and aftermath of the Daniel Bryan appearance, WWE missed yet another opportunity to portray its company's fictional persona as anything that might actually exist in a civilized society.


Years ago, when David Shoemaker coined the phrase "reality era" and years later when Triple H co-opted the concept on WWE television, it felt as if much of that time frame and that construct were falling by the wayside. As the calendar has continued to turn, so much of what takes place not just on WWE television, but on virtually every professional wrestling broadcast that features deep storytelling outside the ring, defies all logic. This past Monday night, WWE had a golden opportunity to inject a sense of actual weight to its proceedings, but missed that chance.

Daniel Bryan's announcement in Cincinnati wasn't advertised at all until 19 minutes before the show hit the airwaves on USA Network. Clearly, WWE knew their own plan in at least the amount of time it would take to get the man to the building on that night. RAW shouldn't have opened with Triple H stepping out of a limo. WWE should have put up a splash screen showcasing Bryan's appearance later on in the night, and THEN went to Triple H after the Michael Cole voice-over to explain the situation as somewhat of a mystery. But, this piece isn't about a marketing ploy or promoting a huge moment. It's about how that moment should be handled within the realm of the company's fiction itself.

If nothing had changed on Monday respective to the preliminary activity, once it was clearly stated that Daniel Bryan was indeed addressing the entire WWE Universe later that evening about his health and his future, the company had a blank slate. In the past, I've written about the WWE bubble, where superstars are 100% concerned with their storyline and nothing else that's going on with anyone in the company. Rarely, exceptions are made, but almost never, and usually those aberrations are handled in a very over-the-top, almost comical fashion.

Here, with one creative choice, WWE could have allowed its entire roster to unite around one event, and in the process elevated everyone that appeared on camera that night. This isn't about breaking character or placing favorite with villain, it's simply about the gravity and the ramifications of that moment. In the lead-up to Bryan's arrival to usher in the 10 PM hour, all it would take is a few cameras placed in the "locker room." Give us Dolph Ziggler, Neville, and maybe Dean Ambrose. They're holding a conversation that isn't meticulously scripted word for word and reflects what actual people would do in the real world. These guys are presumably, because they're all on the same side for the most part, friends or pleasant acquaintances of Daniel Bryan. Dolph talks of how DB hasn't really been returning his texts all night and Neville asks if anybody's gotten a chance to talk to Brie and Ambrose just kind of has his head down, listening in and selling the seriousness of the scenario.

Put whatever words you'd prefer into that scene, but the idea is incredibly simple: Take some babyfaces and let them talk to one another about their friend and colleague. Have a few talk health, have a few mention his status within WWE, his family, his future, all primarily built around the theme that "this just sucks."

Then, have Sheamus do an interview with Renee Young in the back and have him make two points, again the words could be whatever fit best. The heeling Sheamus removes a portion of his nastiness and does say that he's worried about his fellow competitor. They might not get along and Sheamus might think DB is a goat-faced geek or a giant pain in the arse, but in the end, they're all working for WWE. Nobody, not even the worst heel, should wish for someone's career to end unless they're directly involved in a rivalry with that person and it's risen to the level of a blood feud. As soon as point one is accomplished, Sheamus moves to say, "HOWEVER," and then he becomes even more of a jerk. "If Daniel Bryan's going to talk about his future, I hope he has something to say about that Intercontinental Championship on his shoulder, because I'd certainly like a piece of that action. I hope he's okay, but that title has to be defended in this company. If he can't do it, we have to move on." End of interview.

Perhaps WWE doesn't want to give away the IC news in advance. Have Sheamus use the exact same points a segment or two after Daniel Bryan speaks, referring to the vacant Championship. It's as black and white as this: babies come across before and after the announcement like they care more about their friend but will also fight for the gold and heels come across like they do care about DB and the dangers of their profession, but they care far more about the opportunity presented through his absence.

Instead, on Monday night, other than one flippant comment from Xavier Woods during the New Day entrance, not one word was spoken about Daniel Bryan by anyone outside of the announce team. It's impossible to believe that the character John Cena portrays would not have been interested in the proceedings and would not have been pulling for his co-worker. It's ridiculous to assume Brie Bella (who did speak after the show) could have even wrestled or appeared on the show in anything but a segment where she was tearing up with her head resting on her sister's shoulder, if not her husband's. Maybe she's staying strong and positive with her family, which does make sense, but she's not concerned with Tamina Snuka on that one night. On the flip-side, it's ludicrous to think opportunistic heels wouldn't have immediately begun circling like vultures around the Intercontinental Championship, even with a basic sense of humanity to it all. They care a bit, but they're Gollum and the gold is the Precious. They can't help it; they're selfish, corrupted, bad guys.

The result creates depth in so many characters through one real event; not exploitative, but as an illustration of how our society generally works.

In this world, family members and friends get hurt and terrible things happen. An Amtrak train derails and people you've never met tragically pass away. Think back to any global event that's taken place that's affected you in your life. I do not mean to compare something catastrophic to pro wrestling. I'm using it for context. These aren't your friends, but it's quite possible you discussed the accident this week in some circle of your life, be it at the office, in the factory, at church, at school, or at the bar. You feel something, maybe not directly to a victim, but indirectly as a human being. With that fact in mind, how easy would it be for WWE to allow members of its roster to react to a horrible reality in their own world where everybody DOES know the subject of the story? Friends, enemies, those new to the promotion, up to and including the boss himself. Triple H walks up to a group of guys and says, "I'm not exactly sure what Daniel's going to say, but I have some idea, and you'd better be watching, because this affects you guys and everybody in the WWE Universe. See you guys later."

But, what if Daniel Bryan is only out for a few months? This would feel like a eulogy. No, it would feel like people reacting to what they know right now, today. Things change in the world and our feelings and emotions evolve right along with those alterations. It didn't sound good on Monday. That's the headline. The reactions can't be wrong in hindsight when the information is incomplete. The reactions can only reflect what's in front of the reactors. Jennifer's sobs about her mother's impending biopsy aren't wrong when the tests come back benign. That saline was real and far more integrally, those tears were appropriate.

Small talk doesn't generally exist in wrestling, but the truth is LARGE TALK must exist in wrestling. It doesn't. It hasn't in quite some time. It's often a shame and it continues to be an enormous hole in the storytelling and the overall arc of WWE's canon.

And, it would be so easy and beneficial to fix.

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