This week on The Right Side of the Pond (TRSOTP), Maverick and I cover some thoughts about the major talking points coming out of last Sunday’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view, and chief among them, naturally, is the behaviour of the live crowd during the main event.
I have no desire to cover that topic specifically at any length. Plenty of words here at Lords of Pain and elsewhere have already been written about it, and if you want my unfiltered and deeply personal thoughts on what took place that night you can check out tonight’s podcast in a few hours on LOP Radio.
It has, however, got me to contemplating in recent days the way the role of the wrestling fan has changed, and more specifically about the conversations surrounding what that role is. It is not my intention, in this short piece, to try and provide any definitive answers to the questions that most frequently crop up in this conversation, but I did want to spend just a short while thinking out loud and hopefully sparking some interesting discussion.
At the heart of the debate as to whether fans are ever in their right to ‘hijack’ a show or a match sits the question of rights. What are the rights of the paying fan? The majority maintain that the fan has the right to rebel against what the company is providing them considering they’ve paid good money to be there. This seems like an appropriate reactionary attitude to take, though less excusable if, heading into the event in question, the fan already has more quibbles with the promotion hosting the show than they do good things to say. One would question why such a fan would show up in the first place, surely, if their majority feeling towards the wrestling promotion in question is a negative one?
That same fan has the right to still attend, of course, especially if they’re a WWE Lifer like myself. After all, are you really a true fan of anything if you walk away at the first sign of creative trouble? But this is not really a question of what the fan has the right to do, as much as it is what is simply practical for the fan to do. If the fan doesn’t care much for the promotion in question, it seems hard to reconcile the idea that they would practically expect anything other than a mainly miserable time, ergo ostensibly ‘wasting their money’ on a ticket.
Quite aside from that common sense aspect to the debate, however, is a question I have asked a number of times and yet still wait for a viable response to: why does the right of one fan to ‘hijack’ the show when they’re not enjoying it supersede the right of another fan to enjoy that same show that they might like were it not for the crowd attempting to drown the promotion’s creative output, especially when said fan has paid their own hard earned money to be there as well? Does it boil down to a matter of cost? Are we really willing to literally put a price on a wrestling fan’s right to enjoy or tear apart any given show?
I cannot help, every time I think about this, to ultimately arrive at the same conclusion: that if the show is off-putting to a fan, the fan should leave. Usually when this notion is suggested, I have seen the conversation revert right back to the ‘Lifer fan’ claiming they still have a right to go and stick with the company they always have. This is undeniably true. The matter of a fan leaving a show they don’t like, or simply not attending it, however, is not one of rights but, as I mentioned in passing some moments ago, a matter of practicality.
Since the Yes Movement and the ascent of Daniel Bryan in 2013 and 2014, I wonder if there has been a belief that fans, in the event of taking over any given WWE show, can force change to happen. I would consider any such belief to be sadly misguided for two reasons that I will keep brief for now.
First, the Daniel Bryan situation was an infinitely more complex one tied into a number of other issues that, cumulatively, influenced the change of direction heading into WrestleMania XXX – though the ‘hijacks’ of Royal Rumble Weekend played a huge role, it was not an exclusive one. Secondly, and more importantly, every time a ‘hijack’ has occurred since, it has categorically failed to change WWE’s adopted creative direction. Instead, the only outcome is such that WWE dominates social media trends, with Twitter in particularly proving a crucible of expressed sentiment. Is it negative press? Yes, if you believe such a thing exists, but I’m not convinced Vince McMahon does. If WWE dominates the top five to ten trends on Twitter in the world for a period of twenty-four to forty-eight hours – which has happened more than once off of the back of ‘hijacks’ in previous years – it means the world is ultimately talking about his company, after all.
Agree with that conclusion or not, the point stands that these revolts have failed to create change since the days of Daniel Bryan, and instead had seemingly the opposite effect in reinforcing Vince McMahon’s chosen ideas.
So the question then becomes this: if you pay for a ticket to attend a show of a promotion you generally don’t enjoy because you choose to exercise your right to do so, then proceed to ‘hijack’ said show, who benefits?
Let’s take last Sunday night’s main event as an example.
The fans wanting to enjoy the show didn’t benefit; instead, they ended up spending most of the week thereafter, like this very column, talking about wrestling fans instead of wrestling.
The performers didn’t benefit; instead, what was a historic occurrence that demonstrated that meritocratic value in WWE is not yet extinct was instead reduced to familiar divisive conversation after the fact, with Seth Rollins denied his moment to cement his place as the top performer in the company extrovertly and Dolph Ziggler denied his long overdue moment of redemption as a performer.
The fans wanting to see a change in WWE’s creative direction on Monday Night Raw didn’t benefit; instead, we are right back to where we were before Extreme Rules, looking down the barrel of a gun loaded with the cold prospect of Roman Reigns or Bobby Lashley vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship headlining Summerslam.
Did Vince McMahon and WWE benefit? Not in the sense that they dominated social media trends again this time, but certainly in the sense that they have been armed with a fresh reason to maintain their creative direction most fans have spent months criticising, essentially justifying McMahon’s arrogant adage that he knows what the fans want better than they do. He gave them what they wanted at Extreme Rules 2018, after all, and instead they obsessed over a clock.
True, nobody asked for Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler to headline last Sunday. When I say fans were given what they wanted, though, I am not talking in the literal but in the conceptual: a demonstration of meritocratic values, where the hottest thing in the company was openly recognised as such in a demonstrable fashion. It’s what we’ve wanted for a long time – for those who ‘get over’ to be recognised and treated as having ‘gotten over,’ while others less popular are pushed further down the card. That’s what we got last Sunday, and that’s what was risked.
We know it was risked because the once touted main event of Sunday’s pay-per-view, being Reigns vs. Lashley, was pushed further down the card. It didn’t receive a particularly noteworthy rebellious response and, as a result, is back to the headlining position for Summerslam it seems.
It seems to me that ‘hijacking’ is little more than a self-defeating exercise, engaged in because it rewards with a misleading sense of accomplishment. Leaving the show instead, not attending the show instead, is the superior means of rebellion, not because a fan should or because rights are lost, but because it’s practical. Not only is it a method that fails to infringe on the rights of other fans who are enjoying the product, but there’s also no debating the fact an empty and silent arena sends a stronger message than a raucously distracted one.
As stated at the top of this column, it is not my intention to provide any answers to the questions often hotly debated when it comes to the role of the wrestling fan today, especially in WWE – it’s not for me to tell someone what they can and can’t do. This is, ultimately, a free society and every fan has the freedom to do what they like. I harbour deeply contentious sentiments on the issue personally that I discuss on tonight’s podcast, but to take a more constructive and dispassionate point of view I guess I would conclude only that we might benefit collectively as a community by spending less time discussing what we have a right to do and more time discussing what we have a responsibility to do towards other wrestling fans of a divergent opinion (and the wrestlers themselves of course, who do not write these shows): that is to be mindful and to be respectful.
The take away from all of this for me has been the troubling realisation that, coming out of a wrestling pay-per-view, we fans – myself obviously included – have spent more time talking about ourselves than we have anything else. That just seems perverse to me.
But you can hear more on all of this, and on the matches and creative content of Extreme Rules, from Maverick and I in just a few hours on the next instalment of The Right Side of the Pond, airing only on Lords of Pain Radio to kick your weekend off right! The Right Side of the Pond airs only on LOP Radio every Friday night, 9pm BST / 5pm EST, or can be listened to on demand at any time via BlogTalkRadio or on iTunes, so be sure to check it out!
Until then, if you have any thoughts on the role of the fan today, on Extreme Rules 2018 or on anything I have discussed in this column, let them be known in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums, where TRSOTP and every other LOP Radio show has its very own discussion thread for you to throw some responses our way without the limitations of Twitter or Facebook; just click here to sign up!
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