After working on yesterday’s post about Roman Reigns’ status as an underdog, I feel like I have opened up this whole section of my brain that I wasn’t using. I never considered before what sort of an impact the live audiences were having on the nature of anyone’s gimmick. I know, for example, that I hate listening to Full Sail crowds on episodes of NXT, but it never occurred to me that a live audience could literally redefine someone’s character.
I’m not sure there is anyone currently active in WWE who is such a solid example of this phenomenon as Roman Reigns is, so I started considering how to fix the problem (aside from actually screening the live audiences which is not, you know, the worst idea I’ve ever heard.) I’m not saying I have the answer, but maybe there are some parts of this issue that are more malleable than we think.
First of all, let’s set some parameters. What I’m really pinpointing as an issue here is not WWE’s inability to properly book someone as an underdog (though, come on, guilty.) The issue is that Roman Reigns is an underdog because we don’t like him – owing to no fault of his own. He did nothing wrong, really. But we are so keen on letting “the office” know how unhappy we are with the job THEY are doing that we are jeering the people in the ring who are actually working very hard and, in effect, running into a brick wall of bad booking.
To clarify further, I’m talking about the response of live audiences to Roman Reigns as he appears on a TV or PPV program. Not that the people who comment or blog (um, hello) about wrestling online don’t matter (or aren’t part of their own problem) but the more directly disruptive issue is the live audiences. These are not only the people who are responding immediately to a match or a promo, but these are also the people who are influencing the at-home audience with their responses. Next time you watch RAW or SmackDown, try muting your TV when you watch one of the matches. Then go back afterwards and watch it again with the sound on and see if you had the same feeling about the match that the crowd did, or if your feelings change after hearing who they were cheering or booing.
I once heard someone hypothesize about creative in the following way: anyone perceived by “The IWC” as being pushed by creative is automatically going to be booed because we know the Authority is in charge and they are heels. That seems like a drastic over-simplification, but it’s not entirely wrong. Our distaste for what is going on creatively in WWE is affecting our ability as an audience to respond appropriately to what is happening in the ring. But to be able to take into account that there is a separation is to exist in a world that acknowledges kayfabe. Not a world that tries to function inside of kayfabe, but simply acknowledges it as an aspect of the business in general.
I try to stay away from fantasy bookings here, but I’d like to float a concept for you, dear readers. Wrestling in general already breaks the fourth wall of live performance. They acknowledge their audience – they’ve even given us a name, the WWE Universe. What if characters actually acknowledged the power of the WWE Universe? Some people like to stroke our egos – the John Cenas of the world, for example – but no one has actually found a way yet to address the impact the live audiences are REALLY having on the program. What if Roman Reigns could be that person?
I know what I’m suggesting means more time for him on the microphone and we all cringe at the thought. But if he was given the chance to work away from scripted dialogue, he might surprise us. It might turn out he’s more competent than we think. Given the opportunity to address what I can only imagine are his real-life frustrations might be exactly what he needs to get himself over – and I mean really over.
Imagine for a moment that Reigns is given the opportunity to come out to the ring and set it all straight. He could even cut the promo opposing Triple H, who is the on-screen representative of The Authority/creative. Triple H announces some ridiculous stipulation for a main event match involving Reigns and when Reigns comes out, he doesn’t cut his typical “I’m gonna show you, believe that” bullshit. Instead, he asks Triple H if he needs to have his hearing checked. Can he not hear the the crowd? Because Reigns can. And the crowd HATES HIM. They hate Triple H. In fact, they hate Triple H so much that now they hate Roman Reigns. Triple H, though he claims to dislike Reigns, keeps trying to force-feed him to the audience, putting him in match after match against ridiculous opponents that no one cares about. If Triple H really hated Reigns, as he claims to, why didn’t he just stop giving him any opportunities at all? Triple H could have just buried Reigns, telling him week after week that they had nothing for him, that the card was full, that his match got cut for time. But instead, they booked him into garbage matches and let the crowd get sick of him. Now they hate him, and it’s all Triple H’s fault. Reigns worked hard to improve as a singles competitor, and instead of getting a chance to show it off in matches like his Hell in a Cell match against Bray Wyatt, Triple H has given him a programs against Big Show. And Sheamus. Triple H is trying to manipulate the crowd against Reigns and we, the audience is letting it happen.
There are so many places they could take Reigns from there. Let him walk out on Triple H. Feel out the crowd response. They could have him turn on the audience instead if they wanted him to be a heel. We’re all getting worked anyway – if what Roman says is true, then the powers that be actually wanted him to be a heel all along and we gave them what they wanted. We are the foolish ones. And if they really wanted him to be a babyface they are the worst bookers in the history of ever and he just called them out on it on national television.
The fact of the matter is that our knowledge of what happens behind the scenes – minute as it may be – has tainted many of us from enjoying the storylines that play out on TV. And those of us who attend live shows don’t boo or cheer according to someone babyface or heel status anymore – we boo and cheer based on who we feel is being underutilized and who is being shoved down our throats. Maybe someone on the roster should try calling both us and Vince out on that and see what happens. We might all just wake up.