MIL • FORD • MAN
A graduate of the prestigious Milford School, whose students are taught the value in being neither seen nor heard.
e.g. “You can always tell a Millford Man.”
Indeed you can GOB. Indeed you can.
There’s no better student than a Milford student. They go out of their way to sink into the background, allowing neither catastrophe nor celebration to lure them into the public eye. They are the unknown. They are the unnoticed. They are the overlooked.
Notable alumni include former President Calvin Coolidge, former army man Buster Bluth, and former Shelton Benjamin Michael Tarver.
Notable non-alumni include Shane and Stephanie McMahon, the heirs of Vince McMahon’s wrestling empire who have never known what it means to be neither seen nor heard.
With Stephanie’s return to Raw, it’s time to touch on the persistent problem that has plagued WWE Raw/SmackDown for over almost twenty-years now.
Vince McMahon’s kids are no Vince McMahon.
Despite being put in similar situations, and asked to accomplish similar feats, the McMahon kids have proven time and again that they lack the skill Vince had as a TV character and simply can't do what he did. That’s not for lack of trying; on and off since 1999 one McMahon kid or the other (or both) have tried to achieve the same measure of success Vince had as a TV personality, but as effortlessly as Vince’s rapport with live crowds came to him, it is usually awkward, annoying or simply boring when the kids try to be like dad.
Shane, of course, spent several years away from the company, so his act is perhaps not as worn-thin as Stephanie’s is, but there are still problems that need to be mentioned with Vince’s boy. Shane is a perpetual teenager; despite being nearly fifty years old, he still hops around with his custom jersey and sneakers, jumping off tall things with the reckless abandon of a drunk luchador.
His “thirteen going on forty-seven” act rings false as do his many wrestling matches with some of the best performers in the company. In an environment where believability is already in short supply, watching Shane baby-punch the Undertaker at WrestleMania 32 and go toe to toe with Kevin Owens at Hell in a Cell just doesn’t work. Whenever Vince stepped in the ring he either cheated his tail off to build up heel heat, or he got his tail whipped, to pay off heel heat. He didn’t go twenty minutes with Stone Cold at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; he went eight minutes, and was embarrassed throughout.
And then there’s Stephanie.
Without a doubt, she was one of the hottest heels in the company back in 2000. And every now and then she is written just right and is able to find that same spark once more. Too often, however, she is an emasculating, overly-dominating authority figure who gives, gives, and gives, but rarely ever takes.
She will verbally cut down someone like Mick Foley or Kurt Angle—fan favorites—but suffer little to no repercussions. For every example of her getting comeuppance, such as her 2014 mud bath at the hands of Vickie Guerrero, or the vicious spear she took in the main-event of WrestleMania 32, there are twenty examples of her walking away with the last word and the upper hand. That goes against the number one rule in wrestling storytelling: The heel has to get got. Stephanie has been, and can be, one of the very best heels in wrestling, but a good heel needs a bed pan clanging on their head more than once a year.
Watching a loathsome heel get comeuppance at the hands of a popular babyface is one of the primal, cathartic releases that keeps fans tuning in every week. There’s something fundamental about it; blue collar, boss-hating, middle-americans ate it up during the Austin vs McMahon days, because they were able to live vicariously through Stone Cold. And Vince knew exactly how much to push the audience with his little victories before he gave in and ate a stunner.
Stephanie’s character is often written to get little victory after little victory, on and on, well beyond the breaking point of the viewers at home. They reach the moment when fans are ready to see her suffer and then…she keeps winning. And by the time she actually does fall in the mud, it’s a hollow moment because fans had already given up.
The fact is, the Attitude Era feud between McMahon and Stone Cold is never coming back. WWE has tried to recreate it a million times over, but they’ve never been able to recapture the magic. And I’m not even talking about Bobby Lashley vs Vince McMahon; I mean not even Rock vs McMahon in 2000 was able to do it. Rock had a hot feud with Triple H (who was one piece of the whole “evil McMahon” posse in those days) and it propelled the WWF to their most profitable year in 2000, but the actual McMahon vs Rock segments during that stretch were never as great as what the company did two years before, simply because Rock was a different kind of babyface; he was white collar where Austin was blue collar.
And yet, despite the success of Austin vs McMahon being a particular product of a particular time with particular (and unduplicatable) external circumstances and internal characters, the company keeps going back to that well, trying to build up a heel authority figure for whichever babyface they want to be “the guy” to overcome. This is the same company that says the Attitude Era is gone and wasn’t as great as we remember it, and the product is better now than it was then, etc. If that was truly the case, why does the company insist on trying over and over to recreate the Attitude Era’s greatest storyline for this generation? It’s like how every other Star Trek movie keeps trying to be The Wrath of Kahn, or how every Zelda game (before this year) kept trying to be Ocarina of Time.
Vince vs Austin isn’t coming back. Vince himself, but for the occasional “ratings are dropping, panic time” special appearance isn’t coming back either. That doesn’t mean you can just plug Stephanie or Shane in his place, and plug John Cena or Roman Reigns or AJ Styles or Kevin Owens or anyone, no matter how talented, in place of Steve Austin. You won’t (and don’t) get the same result.
Star Trek: Discovery is a bold new direction for its franchise. Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a bold new direction for its franchise. Maybe if the WWE wants to evolve, it should go in a bold new direction of its own. Ditch the McMahon-centric storylines and resist the urge to throw more McMahan-focused drama on screen whenever ratings dip; the short term boost in ratings isn’t worth the long term frustration, apathy and ultimate rejection that always follows.
For a true change of pace, make the McMahons neither seen nor heard, and let the wrestlers carry the show.
As always, I’m Matthew Martin; I love the WWE but everything sucks and I’m never watching it again.
See you next Monday.