Heroes, Villains, Revenge Plots: WWE Is Like Shakespeare, But With Smashed Chairs
WWE returned to American Airlines Center this Sunday, and this being a culture blog, we asked Jaime-Paul Falcone to go and send a sketch of what exactly goes at a WWE Live event. Drama, that's what. Lots of drama, plus merchandising.
WWE Inc. Roman Reigns over Randy Orton -- and the ladies' hearts.
Scene 1: Thousands of neon-clad children run through the aisles of the American Airlines Center, their parents trying to control them as excitement builds. The reason for the neon, and the reason most of the children are here, is professional wrestler John Cena. Cena is a man who looks as if he was chiseled out of marble by a Renaissance artist who received prophetic dreams that gave him glimpses into the pages of Muscle & Fitness and Men's Health magazines. He's also the face of professional wrestling, a man who looks like a real life super hero, and the man every small boy wants to be. Calm, cool, collected and usuall dressed in eye-catching colors that accentuate his giant muscles, he's the reason World Wrestling Entertainment is able to pack an arena on a random Sunday afternoon.
He's also not here.
An announcer stands in the ring and says John Cena is not there (he's off filming a movie with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey at the moment). Any fans who want refunds have 20 minutes to get them. On cue, the theme music of wrestling and pop culture legend Ric "The Nature Boy" Flair hits, and out steps the legend himself. Thoughts of refunds quickly pass.
Scene 2: Professional wrestling's roots are steeped in the world of carnivals; it's stories - and there are always stories behind the wrestling - are simple, steeped in stereotypes and engaging. In the ring below, one of these stories is being told. Seth Rollins may be one of the most handsome men I've ever seen, but he's dressed like a deep sea diver and has a permanent sneer on his face. He's the black hat, the bad guy. His opponent Dean Ambrose is dressed like a low-rent stepfather in a bad play. His eyes look manic, and he's prone to throwing tantrums every few seconds. He's loudly cheered and is considered the good guy. The story they're telling is one of revenge: at some point in the recent past Rollins aggrieved Ambrose, and Ambrose is determined to settle the score. What's interesting about all this is watching how not only the two performers work together, but also how the referee works with them.
Yes, wrestling is scripted, and it might be the most interesting part of it. Watching the referee convey direction from the ring announcer who seems to be in charge of everything to the performers is a marvel to see. To add to the air of excitement, an obviously planted fan sits in the front row starting, and stopping cheers. We may be in a state-of-the-art arena, but we're never far from the carnival.
Scene 3: Bo Dallas is introduced as "The Inspirational Bo Dallas" and he makes it a point to smile wide and tell everyone to chase his or her dreams. He does this in a snide manner. During his match he takes breaks to jump out of the ring and run laps while avoiding the high five attempts from children. After his match he tells his opponent that he never had a chance, but one day he just might, so long as he "BO-leaves."
WWE Inc. Bo Dallas, Mr. Inspirational.
Scene 4: A bearded man named Damian Sandow comes out wearing Daisy Dukes, a denim shirt and a tiny Cowboy hat. This of course leads to jokes aimed at the Dallas Cowboys' playoff inability. Lucky for the fans Sandow is interrupted by a luchador named Sin Cara. Sin Cara wears bright colors, a mask, and jumps around a lot. Children love him.
Cara makes quick work of Sandow before retreating to the crowd to deliver hugs and high-fives for what feels like forever. During this, Sandow grabs a microphone and says that no one came to see him lose, and he'll fight anyone in the back. A 7-foot-tall man from India dubbed the Great Khali accepts his challenge, and makes quick work of him. Sin Cara, Sandow and Khali check off three more long held carnival tropes: the exotic, the cad and the giant.
Scene 5: A match for the Divas' championship is announced, and a young woman named AJ takes on a younger woman named Paige. It's another revenge story, but that doesn't matter. The real story is the crowd's insistence on chanting "CM PUNK!" at AJ. See, AJ is married to Mr. Punk, and earlier this year, Punk decided he was done with wrestling and abruptly left the company. As a way to voice their displeasure the WWE audiences have taken to chanting his name while she performs. The woman sitting behind me comments about how the chants are unfair and just plain "wrong." She's right, it is unfair to reduce a person's work to a chant just because of who they're married to; in fact, it's sexest. Attempting to explain this to the 14 year old sitting close was futile.
Scene 6: A bleached blonde heartthrob named Dolph Ziggler is celebrating his birthday. The crowd serenades him with a rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" and chant "Happy Birthday" throughout his match. He repays them by spending 10 minutes glad-handing with the crowd after his match. He won, because no one should lose on their birthday.
Intermission is kicked off with the announcer telling everyone that there's limited edition signed photos available, along with a limited edition tour shirt, a program, and commemorative cup. Hotcakes never sold so fast.
Scene 1: Earlier in the evening fans were directed to vote via Twitter or text message on whether there should be a match or dance-off between two performers. Fans chose a dance, but this being a wrestling event, a match broke out during the dance off. Bored by the comic break from drama, my mind wanders.
Scene 2: It's back to the meaty stuff. In an ageless conflict, an evil foreigner comes out to disparage America, only to face a patriot who challenges him to a fight. This was updated for 2014 by having Valdimir Putin's face stoically stare at the audience from a video screen, and having the patriot be a Tea Party supporter. Staying true to reality, the Tea Party guy didn't win despite making a lot of noise and being vaguely annoying.
Scene 3: Wrestling has a dadaist flare to it at times, and no time more than when the performer named Goldust is around. He comes from Hollywood, they say, and is dressed in a leather body suit and Star Wars-themed face paint. Golddust Americanized the Mexican tradition of exciting, flamboyant wrestlers called exoticos by playing the character as a barely hidden transsexual. Over the years, the trans aspects of the character have been done away with in favor of overt weirdness, and now Goldust has a partner named Star Dust who is played by Goldust's real life younger brother. Star Dust is a blast; he wears red contact lenses and never stops smiling. He bit an opponent at one time, and slapped another on the ass. Later he showered both in star glitter. He jumps to do everything, and jumps off everything, including his brother. He's the viral video sensation parkour goat brought into a wrestling ring. It's weird, a little wild, and a hell of a lot of fun.
Scene 4: Our finale and main event features the return of Ric Flair as a special guest referee and is billed as a street fight, which means everything is legal and anything goes. We brace ourselves. The villain in this story is Randy Orton, who looks like the type of man you wouldn't want to leave an unattended drink around; his opponent Roman Reigns is not only Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's cousin, but looks like a SWAT team Khal Drogo. He has many female supporters.
The fight is regulated to outside the ring as both competitors use guardrails, ring posts, and chairs to their advantage. A pair of ring steps are ominously set up and left to wait. At some point Orton get's the upper hand by using a wooden kendo stick which is for some reason kept underneath the ring. An aged and visibly unable to move Ric Flair adds a comedic aspect to the match by stumbling around and eventually getting involved.
As if their fight never ended, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins make their way to the to get involved with the match for a second, before returning back behind the curtain to continue their fight. In my mind, Ambrose and Rollins never stop their endless battle, and are chasing, punching, and kicking each other somewhere around Gaston Road at the moment. The story is brought to a close when our hero Reigns pins Orton. The moment this happens it seems like every child in the building makes a beeline to the barrier by the ring so they can greet the conquering hero.
Yes, stories were told and merchandise was bought. We laughed, we cringed, we cheered. But what matters is 5-year-olds making sure they got their high fives.