I had a very interesting experience yesterday. I was getting ready to go and meet a friend, and I was listening to a playlist of Billy Joel songs. I’m a Long Island girl by birth so I have heard his entire discography over and over again. And yet, here I was, a New Yorker in her Virginia bedroom, listening to “Vienna” and actually hearing it for the first time ever.
If someone had asked me to quote lyrics from that song, the first ones that would pop into my head (and, surely, many people’s heads) are “Vienna waits for you.” But, out of the context of the rest of the song, that sounds like Joel is telling us that the whole world is available to us, just waiting to be experienced. Get out there and grab it, kid! But that’s not the purpose of the song at all. “Slow down, you crazy child,” he sings. “You’re so ambitious for a juvenile. But then, if you’re so smart, tell me why are you still so afraid?” This is not a song about running out and experiencing all of life as fast as possible. It’s a song about remembering the slow burn – to savor things, to give them (and yourself) room to breathe. It’s a song about learning how to live with yourself, and how to love yourself in those quiet moments. Everything else can – and will – wait for you, not the other way around.
It’s about patience.
Patience takes hard work to cultivate, and even more hard work to properly exercise. In professional wrestling, we seem to have completely demolished the idea of patience altogether. We don’t want to wait for anything. I suppose this is not unique to pro wrestling as an industry – we exist in an instant society, and we want everything right now. As the days and weeks stretch into months and years, it becomes more and more clear that WWE in particular cannot teach itself patience.
The slow burn of Daniel Bryan going from angry “short” guy to WWE World Heavyweight Champion was the last time in WWE that I can pinpoint as having a successful and satisfying long-term storyline. Granted, the past three months have been injury-plagued for WWE, but their inability to plan or plot anything out in advance makes it impossible for fans to become invested deeply in the stories being told.
Kate, of the Raw Breakdown Project, and I were talking about the Diva’s division on Twitter tonight. She was commenting on the fact that we got roughly four minutes of this division during RAW this evening. I thought this was because there ended up being no match, but thought the four minutes we DID get definitely progressed the Diva’s championship story involving champion Charlotte and Becky Lynch. When Kate suggested we could have benefitted from a match earlier in the night, I mentioned the Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch match from a few weeks back, which wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination but was booed by the Brooklyn crowd. WWE fans don’t want to watch matches just for the sake of seeing wrestling. If you want to watch solid matches with less storylines, you should absolutely support your local indie promotion. If you are watching for the big, intricate storylines, you come to WWE. But they’re currently refusing to deliver even on that. There is no reason why there can’t be two concurrent, though unrelated, women’s feuds happening in WWE. Except to say that doing so would require thoughtful planning, which WWE seems to be allergic to.
As a fan, it becomes hard to get invested in anything, as all storylines are subject to change for no apparent reason. And the other side is that, should fans start to show interest in something, it is likely to be done over and over again with very little change, in an effort to “keep fans happy.” That becomes stale and the fanbase will likely tune out from storylines and matches that grow old. What would make us the most happy are evolving storylines that move and generate slowly over time so that we can naturally deepen our investment in them. Great turning points – things like Seth Rollins’ heel turn on The Shield or Roman Reigns hitting everyone with a chair at the end of TLC last month – are important, and WWE does them well. But a turning point is worthless without a story that eloquently builds to it.
I don’t know if WWE has a real slow-burn story in them right now. I think they’re gun shy of planning ahead with all of the random injuries plaguing them. I think it’s always hard to see past Wrestlemania. But I also think even such a big event can benefit from some long-term storytelling. A pay-off at Wrestlemania, like Daniel Bryan’s, is epic and will never be forgotten. But a pay-off at Summer Slam can be equally as satisfying if we have been denied a moment of glory for long enough, while still telling compelling stories along the way. If WWE can take a step back from what it thinks is best, look at all of the moving pieces they have at their disposal, something glorious might just present itself. It will, however, take patience. And never forgetting what Billy Joel said:
“Vienna waits for you.”