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Woken is Broken: Why WWE is where originality goes to die

To start with, the title is—as you’d expect—a bit sensationalized. There are in fact a lot of original things that WWE has done.

A lot of original things.

The trouble in WWE is that many original ideas—the things that make you say “oh wow that’s new/fresh/unexpected/original”—rarely ever stay original. WWE presents their product like McDonalds. You can go anywhere in the world and a Big Mac is still going to be a Big Mac. It’s not original, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be “same” and “usual” and “expected.” WWE might try to counter that and say they offer “comfort food” but I think McDonalds is the better analogy.

Things in WWE are static and they tend to stay that way until well past their expiration date. When the last ounce of milk has been squeezed from the teet and fans have long since mentally-checked out from it, Vince will get one last

and then move on to something new.

There are exceptions to this, certainly. Kane is a character who, for the first ten years of his career, evolved his look and character repeatedly. But for every Kane there’s a Big Show who may have had more face/heel turns than any single character in pro wrestling history but who never actually changed. For every CM Punk, who evolved in subtle ways a dozen times in a short stint in WWE, there’s a John Cena who reached a certain point and just locked in and never deviated except for the color of his merch.

Then of course there’s Chris Jericho.

Occasionally there is a beautiful and unique little snowflake that stands out among all others, but the circumstances are usually boiled down to the same story: WWE/Vince just let him/them do whatever they wanted.

When that happens you get this:

Which is one of the few few moments where you can have a non-fan walk in the room, be completely confused and you not sink into deep, terrible embarrassment. I wouldn’t even know where to begin describing the New Day to a non-fan. They are...

a trio of sarcastic pro wrestlers who derive their strength from the power of positivity, which manifests itself in the form of unicorn magic...which at one time was channeled via the sparkle horns worn on their heads.

Those who are opposed to such happy magic are deemed “booty,” which is slang for “really very bad and not good.”

Thus they encouraged their fans to eat their Booty O cereal, which “makes sure you ain’t booty.”

That is original. It’s not archetypal, it’s not Campbellian, it’s not easily-digestible (at least not in one helping). It’s layered. It’s complex. Yes it’s moronic, it’s juvenile, it’s rainbow unicorn magic for crying out loud, but it’s more depth than Finn Balor has ever been given.

balor rollins demon

Finn Balor ought to have the coolest backstory in wrestling. Imagine...

a muscular but ultimately small Irish wrestler who harnesses the power of an ancient Japanese demon, which he represses in his soul until he needs to tap into its strength. When he does, the demon takes over and his strength exceeds his stature, allowing him the extra ability needed to defeat a particularly challenging foe.

But, with every unleashing of the demon, the monster seizing a little more of Finn’s soul, making it harder and harder to force the genie back into the bottle. One day, Finn knows, he will let the demon out...and he may not be able to put him back in.

That’s a heck of a character. It’s a little Banner/Hulk, it’s a little Jekyll/Hyde.

It’s not what we get every week. What we get is Michael Cole yelling ”Finn Balor sometimes wears his war paint, to tap into a darker side of him...his aggression and rage!”

That’s...not very deep. That’s just a dude who puts on makeup to psych himself up.

Now you may think wrestling doesn’t need a complex level of fantastical mythology. And you might be right. On the other hand, I submit:

which is widely considered one of the greatest debuts in wrestling history, with a fantastical build-up to a WrestleMania match between two fantastical characters, built on top of one of the most fantastical backstories ever.

Not everything has to be “Randy Orton is an evil guy because he shaved his head and kissed a handcuffed Stephanie.”

And Kane/Taker wasn’t even the main-event storyline heading into WrestleMania 14. Finn Balor doesn’t have to be deprived of any depth just because he’s not the main-event attraction. Why can’t multiple characters at multiple levels on the card have backstories, plots, swerves, things happening? Why must everything remain so static?

Finn is just makeup.

Bayley is just pigtails.

Charlotte is just a last name (so much so that they both took away and then gave back her last name so they could properly milk it).

Everyone is a two-dimensional, cardboard-cutout representation of themselves.

Which brings us to Matt Hardy.

For years he was “the other Hardy Boy.” The less insane Hardy Boy. He was still willing and capable of hitting an insane spot, but when you think of the Hardys you think of Jeff jumping off the top rope, flipping over his head with grace and fluidity and landing on his opponent to rapturous applause. Occasionally Matt would join him...with a leg drop.

In TNA, the Hardys—particularly Matt—branched out. They went out on a limb, to use another woodland expression.

Off the deep end.

Broken Matt Hardy was, like New Day, not something you could just explain to a non-fan. It was layered. It was complex (maybe convoluted is the better word). It was balls to the wall insane. Not the “It’s crazy till you break it down here and here and then you get it” sort of crazy either. It was crazy because it followed no rhyme or reason or pattern or conformed to any established rules within the universe in which it occurred. You never knew what Matt and Jeff might come up with next because neither did they.

Why did “Broken Matt Hardy” work? That’s a little easier to explain:

  1. Matt and Jeff had creative freedom on a show that had nothing to lose.
  2. It grew into being the centerpiece of a show that had nothing else to offer.

Fast forward to present day.

Why is “Woken Matt Hardy” not working? Two reasons:

  1. It’s two-dimensional.
  2. It’s small time.

WWE’s insistence on stripping their characters down to their most basic levels and then not growing or developing them has turned a complex/convoluted insane character into “guy with crazy hair who laughs a lot.”

WWE’s unwillingness (borne, to be fair, out of their lack of need) to devote more than a segment or two a week to the character means fans have no reason to invest in it, especially with it being so one-note in its execution and pointless in its purpose. It goes nowhere. It does nothing.

What’s the solution? Take the shackles off and give it some purpose. It doesn’t need to main-event every other Raw. In fact it could be a staple of the midcard, but only if it has depth and if it evolves naturally from week to week. You can tell me all you want that “Vince loves Matt Hardy’s stuff” and “he’s letting Matt do whatever.” I’m no insider. I just know what I see. What I see are restrictions that are handicapping its potential for success.

I see that all over the product.

WWE has conditioned their audiences to accept the barest possible level of storytelling and development. They think their audiences are morons who would get lost if the storyline became “too complex” and they’ve slowly dumbed most of us down to fit the mold. It makes it very hard to watch if you are interested in more than just “mindless” entertainment.

My children play with play-doh; depending on their age the results are varied. My oldest can make some pretty impressive sculptures. My middle child can do alright too. My toddler...just smashes the different colors together into a bland, grey blob made without any care or creativity.

WWE thinks a show that never ends should be a show where nothing ever stands out from week to week. For the most part it all kind of runs together, like a grey play-doh blob.

That’s frustrating if you want more out of your TV show than just noise. You know that expression “wrestling sucks except when it’s good...then it’s amazing.” Those time’s it’s amazing are almost universally the times when something with layers of depth and genuine plot-development happened (Bryan’s journey to WrestleMania 30 for example).

WWE, for all the various forms of entertainment it touts itself as, is ultimately a traveling circus filmed weekly. It changes a lot, but nothing ever grows. Old wrestlers move out and new ones come in, characters slide from heel to face or from the blue show to the red show, but nothing ever comes of it. It’s all horizontal movement with no upward progression.

It may be a new city every week, but it’s the same show from my couch.

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