Shore's Blog - The theme is what's important
By Chris Shore
Wednesday, September 21, 2011 6:15pm CT
I remember sitting in English class in high school and listening to my teacher break down classic stories for their themes and symbolism. I also remember thinking these topics were not only unnecessary, but made up out of whole cloth so that these fantastic stories could be ruined for generation after generation of school children.
Now that I've written a book (available here for only 99 cents) and will be writing more (keep an eye out here), I have begun to understand that themes and symbolism are present in every good story. Even if they show up by accident.
It is through that prism that I started evaluating WWE storylines. What I found is that the basic storytelling pillars are corrupt. Especially theme. And without theme, you don't really have a story. At least not one worth telling.
Theme, of course, is the thread that holds a story together, and usually consists of "big ideas" like "good always triumphs over evil" or "love conquers all." For example, "decisions have consequences" is the dominant theme. I say dominant because most stories have more than one theme. That theme is present again and again, both for bad (the main character assaults a man over a huge misunderstanding) and for good (the main character also saves a kid). Notice this is different from plot, which is what happens in a story. Another way to say that is plot is the "what" of a story, and the theme is the "why."
In essence then, my contention is that WWE no longer has a "why" to most of their stories. At least not a visible one. And this is where the general malaise over the product has come. Let's look at the three biggest stories in WWE right now and see what we have.
The John Cena title win is probably the most obvious bastardization of a theme. The only discernable theme is "Cena always wins." The problem is that once that theme is established, there is no longer a reason to watch. It ultimately does not matter whether you love, hate, or are indifferent about John Cena the character. Once you understand that every story will come down to Cena standing tall, you have no reason to watch. There is no hook. There is just Cena. And nobody is talking about it. Or watching.
The Triple H/CM Punk/Kevin Nash (nWo) story is a little better. Here we have a theme of resisting those who use their power unjustly. The story is not without its problems, but those are primarily plot issues, not theme. What they have done has been clunky, but the why--mostly--makes sense. And so this story is working despite of its clunkyness.
Finally, there is the Mark Henry story. This is the story that is most intriguing on WWE television (after accounting for star power), and it's not surprising that this story also has the strongest themes running through it. We have Henry seeking acceptance based on his body of work, Henry crossing the line because he sees no other way, and ultimately for whoever beats him, the retribution that comes when you don't play by the rules. There is little, if any, negative that can be said about this program.
The good news for WWE is that there are other stories like Henry's waiting to be told. But they must find a unifying theme for us to surf in the ocean of the story. Failure to do so will only lead to more stale characters and angles. WWE can survive without fixing their themes, if for no other reason than they are the WWE. But that fact won't keep us interested. As we get older, and we start discovering themes like my teacher crammed down my throat in high school, we will look for those stories that have strong themes. And the demographics bear that out.
Questions? Comments? Anyone, anyone? Let me hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @TheShoreSlant with whatever is on your mind.
And read my first work of fiction: The Following Contest is a Dark Match available exclusively on ebook for all eReaders, smartphones, tablets, and PCs for only 99 cents.
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