Lutz's Blog: It's okay to reevaluate your WWE fandom
By Jeffrey Lutz
I love the professional wrestling business, and I love WWE.
I consume as much information as I can about the industry, and although I stay in my wheelhouse from the late 1980s to the current product, I feel like I can never get enough. I buy almost every wrestling book published and finish them quickly. Chris Jericho's first book is not only my favorite pro wrestling book, but it may be my favorite book, period.
I have stuck by WWE since the early 1990s, when I begged my mother to take me to the video store every Friday for "wrestling tapes" that I watched over and over. I covered the Atlanta Braves as an intern for MLB.com in the summer of 2007 and the only time I became starstruck was when I realized Tony Schiavone, who did radio work for the team, would be joining me in the Turner Field press box on a near-nightly basis.
Over time, I became less emotionally invested in the product, which didn't necessarily diminish my enjoyment of it. The last time I felt a real emotional connection was when Shawn Michaels retired, because I had watched him perform for nearly two decades and it felt like my childhood, represented by the tenures of WWE stars, was officially over.
Since then, I've taken a more analytical approach to pro wrestling. I firmly believe that without the podcasts from this website, which I became hooked on and made me want to join the staff, I wouldn't have as much interest in the current product, and I would get my wrestling fix from books and DVDs that chronicled the previous 20 years. Podcasts and message boards allow fans to commiserate or celebrate with others, and I've used them for that purpose for several years.
I can emotionally detach myself from viewing wrestling because it's not my most important passion. That distinction belongs to the Cleveland Indians, and the argument I'm going to make about wrestling -- WWE, in particular -- doesn't apply to the Indians because nothing would force me to stop rooting for them, buying their gear, or attending games whenever I had the chance. So for fans who call wrestling their passion, this message may not get through: It's perfectly fine to question your loyalties to WWE, especially right now.
It's important to have an alternative. If one day I woke up and lost my love for the Indians, I could become a Phillies or a Giants or a Blue Jays fan. If I don't like country music, I can turn the radio to the classic rock station. If I prefer comedic television shows and movies, I don't have to watch CSI: Miami or anything in the "Saw" series.
For many of the die-hards who inhabit websites like these, there are alternatives to WWE. TNA barely applies because it's a minor-league version of WWE with many castoffs, but the real wrestling gurus can seek out shows from Ring of Honor, Dragon Gate USA, and many other organizations that even I don't know about.
Most fans, however, are like me in that they've decided to stick with WWE, and since WWE presents such a different product than other more traditional companies, it's difficult to step away to search for an alternative experience, even if fans would find that it would be a more positive one. WWE has such a stranglehold on the industry, which it has had for more than a decade, so fans are willing to give the company second and third and fourth chances even after being burned badly.
Lately, it's been tougher to keep going back. Not only is the television presentation weak, but WWE seems to be getting collectively more slimy. The tipping point for me to question my fandom happened last week on Raw, when Vince McMahon and his minions felt it would be appropriate to mock A.J. Lee for fainting during a match on WWE's exhausting tour of Europe. A medical occurrence that could have been much more serious is not fodder to put an employee (ahem, independent contractor) in her place. We like to think WWE's representatives are good people, but we get more evidence of the contrary.
That misguided approach to wrestler health wasn't a one-time thing, either. WWE says all the right things about its concussion policy, and usually it follows through on the guidelines. But fans can't see that. They can see, however, Big Show's character showing obvious signs of having a concussion during a match only to have him wave away an incompetent doctor who declines to stop the contest. It's a storyline, yes, but it only makes the company look bad.
It also makes WWE look bad when it devalues its major championships and everyone holding or contending for them. Dolph Ziggler won the World Heavyweight Championship by handing in a briefcase, just like Randy Orton. Daniel Bryan earned a title shot not by his own far-more-than-worthy merits, but by being hand-selected by Cena. Cena earned a title shot after missing two months to injury. No one earns championship matches and hardly anyone earns championships without interference.
WWE claims that fans drive its business, but WWE isn't really listening. Bryan and Punk being involved in a feud with the Wyatt Family isn't a strong consolation prize because WWE told us long ago that nothing that happens in the mid-card means anything. Growing popularity from Big E Langston vaulted him all the way to possession of the tarnished Intercontinental Championship. WWE is lost on what to do with Damien Sandow, Ziggler and Antonio Cesaro even though it's apparent even to novice fans that they have elite talent and potential.
I would rather feel good about being a WWE fan and analyst than have to constantly rationalize and defend it internally. WWE has forced fans to sink expectations so low that they are met with a television show or pay-per-view that simply doesn't screw things up more than they already are.
But I'm not going anywhere, even though WWE has given me very little reason to stay. Stories rarely take interesting turns, it's nearly impossible for new stars to plant themselves in main-event status and three hours of Raw every week feels more like a task than a cure for a case of the Mondays. You're probably not going anywhere, either, and you'll commiserate with me via podcasts and message boards.
I'm weak. I can't pull away from WWE, and I can't even talk myself into trying. If you can, you're a stronger man (or woman) than I.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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