Bray Wyatt and his Family were not on Raw last night.
One year after the Eater of Worlds single-handedly carried a program with the Undertaker into WrestleMania, neither he nor his followers have any announced role on the card for this year's edition.
They were in the same city where Raw was held, though. We know this because this morning, Bray, Braun Strowman & Erick Rowan rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
#TheWyattFamily open the New York Stock Exchange!Posted by WWE on Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Yep, the guy who delivers promos about how the masses need to wake up and whose new merchandise is emblazoned with the slogan "Down with the Machine" just took part in the ceremonial start of the day for an entity consisting of people in suits devoted to moving around trillions of dollars of personal wealth. In full kayfabe gear. Right down to the sheep masks carried by Strowman and Rowan.
I have so many issues with this I don't even know where to start. And while I'm sure some/all of my arguments will be dismissed as being "butthurt" or some other incisive parliamentary stratagem, I'm gonna make them anyway - because I feel like there are ways of looking at both my major concerns which shine a light on problems with our favorite mass producer of sports entertainment.
First up, the Wyatt Family obviously have fans, a recognizable look and therefore promotional value, or that would have been Miz up there with a mallet this morning. So why were they not on the final show before Mania, or featured in the build at all?
If part of the answer is injuries - notably Bray's alleged back situation and Luke Harper's damaged knee - well, wiser folk than I have written about the need for a relaxed touring schedule or safer in-ring style.
The answer I've gotten most to my questioning their absence from Raw is basically "we all know they're interfering in Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose on Sunday, anyway". Which, even setting aside the value of a surprise story beat we're all expecting, means they're planning to at least partially deny us a conclusive resolution to the most coherent story they've been telling in 2016.
I don't see how the overall build to WrestleMania 32 and the future utility of not just Bray, Erick & Braun, but several other characters to boot, wouldn't be greater if they'd played something beyond a shadow-y role in that show or the last month's worth of programming leading up to it.
The other major point this public relations appearance raises is the kayfabe question. Right from the jump, I will admit to nostalgia for the days of "living the gimmick". While I know it's not always feasible in the 21st century, it's something that makes pro wrestling a unique artform, and I really admire the performers who adapt it to today's world, like Kevin Owens or... Bray Wyatt.
WWE is apparently okay with the confused audience responses to which things like Triple H's disparate roles as NXT savior and Authority heavy contribute. As long as you're tuning in or buying a ticket - boo or cheer whoever you want, the theory goes.
Problem is, things like the Wyatts on Wall Street is Vince McMahon trying to have his cake and eat it, too. Clearly out-of-character appearances like this are a shield for criticism when a story or moment gets too edgy. "Don't boycott us, sponsor X... it's fiction, just like a movie".
Making that point in this way as opposed to running credits at the end of Raw announcing the role of Bray Wyatt is played by Windham Rotunda is a way to keep the Screen Actors Guild or other attempts to unionize from getting their foot in the door of the business. And a union would lead to things like time off, health insurance, retirement plans, and other things that "just aren't the way this business is run" (meaning they cost too much money).
Look, there is a goofy charm to seeing the New Face of Fear and his minions lording over the Exchange on a Spring morning. I'm not so much of a no-fun-nik that I can't see that.
But there's also a list of ways this either doesn't help or actively hurts both the storytelling WWE claims is its core business, and the men & women who literally & figuratively bust their asses for our entertainment.
To me, those harms aren't worth a few moments of goofy fun. But maybe I've just bought too much into Wyatt's kayfabe call to wreck the system...
For something so many label as "dumb", pro wrestling sure is confusing.