It’s not always easy to love WWE, and it hasn’t been for almost a solid decade. It’s not even USUALLY easy to love WWE. As a company, they have made a lot of missteps. Many of those missteps have been creatively, sure, we all know about those. Others have been socially and politically.
It’s unfortunate. WWE is like a lover who repeatedly forgets anniversaries and calls me fat and dumb in arguments… but then will have the occasional grand gesture of love that makes me think those other moments aren’t so bad. After all, they are not downright abusive (and that would make this analogy much more offensive), so those other red flags are just mistakes. And mistakes can be corrected, right? Right?
In an era where WWE has surrendered to being almost a borderline parody of itself–where the booking is predictable and repetitive at best and offensively insulting at worst, and the company finds itself happily engaged in a contract with a brutal Saudi regime and dealing in corruption to have itself deemed essential–how is it possible to respect, or even like, this company? There are a lot of warts on this rose.
I will say that the COMPANY itself is downright indefensible. Vince McMahon, for all of his past innovation, and for as thankful as I am for his product… he is not a particularly good person. I’m not enamored of the people he gets into bed with or rubs elbows with, but I get that national and political issues can be divisive. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me there, and you may be fine with the flea-ridden dogs with which Vince lies. But Vince is also annoyingly hypocritical when it comes to his policies towards other companies or venues when he feels he is “owed” something. And he is heartless enough to lay off dozens of employees (and “contractors”, which is another whole thing) during a pandemic right after bragging about how much cash on hand the organization has.
But the talent involved in WWE isn’t Vince, and it’s incredibly easy to support most of them. Am I supposed to hold the issues I don’t like about Vince against someone like, say, Roman Reigns, who is a cancer survivor and an incredibly positive guy who loves being a role model and a hero to others with the disease? Or Sonya DeVille, a openly LGBTQ athlete in a world with so few? Does not wanting to support Vince mean I can’t support Daniel Bryan, who is passionate about issues that I agree are important?
I could go on. Kofi Kingston’s international heroism, John Cena’s tireless Make-A-Wish work, Finn Balor’s messages of inclusion and acceptance. The top of the WWE pyramid may be despicable, but there are a lot of great, charitable people in the company that I enjoy supporting.
Even disregarding whether or not there are GOOD people, WWE is certainly full of TALENTED people. I’d watch Cesaro, Keith Lee, Adam Cole, Matt Riddle, AJ Styles, Asuka, and so many more work any time I can. These are folks that are experts at the craft to which they’ve dedicated themselves. They have put in the time and effort, and they have become masters of their craft.
In that regard, 2020 WWE exists in an era where the curtain is pulled almost all the way back. Now, if you were to tell me that the current age [where it is easy to find out about these superstars as real people] ruins the illusion for you, I would accept that. If you miss these men and women being borderline mythical figures who you could accept at face value as their characters, I can sympathize. But that’s not me.
I love the WWE Network specials that show the real life struggles of these brilliant entertainers. I’ve written before about how UpUpDownDown–which shows these stars in a fun-filled, relaxed environment–is one of the best things about modern WWE. I, personally, don’t need these men and women to be one-dimensional figures any more than I need to believe Bryan Cranston is actually making meth (though I AM always upset to see him with hair and sans goatee. Huh, oh well). To me, getting to know what makes the Becky Lynches or Kevin Owens tick is as much fun as watching them tear it up in the ring. So when the Network adds shows like Table For 3 or 24/7 or 360 where I can watch them in their actual lives, I gobble it up.
If there is a downside to it, it makes me want pretty much everyone in the company to be a babyface. And that UpUpDownDown makes me wish Tyler Breeze was a main event player.
That brings us right up to the WWE Network, doesn’t it? That $9.99 per month marvel that has been a staple of the company for over six years now. Since its inception, the Network has had many great options for extraneous viewing. I, personally, love lists, so for a while, I was obsessed with new episodes of Countdown. I forced my wife to power through the Monday Night Wars and some episodes of Rivalries. Since then, we viewers have received Table For 3, the Stone Cold Podcast, and a never-ending stream of other high-quality content.
Which is, of course, to say nothing of having every single monthly live special/pay-per-view. That has always been a great bargain, and while it feels like WWE has been talking about either tiering those off or redistributing their PPV rights forever now, I don’t live in much fear of that happening. Having every PPV for $9.99 a month is the toothpaste that you can’t put back in the tube. It would be devastating for them financially to try, as I imagine an unacceptable percentage of their subscribers would bail.
The Network provides access not only to the Pay-Per-Views, but also to NXT. And honestly, I love both. NXT speaks for itself, and while the general consensus seems to be that it’s on a bit of a slide in the Empty Arena era, it still features some of the best talents in the world allowed to be themselves. And with NXT’s track record, I have no fear whatsoever that they won’t right their ship in short order. And the PPVs? I still love them. Say what you will about Raw and Smackdown, but WWE fairly consistently delivers with its big shows. It’s been quite a while since I saw a PPV that made me regret having stayed up to watch it. Even when creative is in a rut, WWE has the in-ring talent to make their events enjoyable.
That’s a bigger point than I am making it out to be. At least once per month, WWE puts on a spectacle that, more often than not, is eminently fun to watch. The wrestlers are allowed to put on longer matches with mostly decisive finishes (unless they are building to the NEXT big event), and there aren’t as much in the way of “skits”. I think the PPVs are a higher quality than most of their television output.
And that brings us to Raw and Smackdown.
Sigh, Raw and Smackdown. What are we going to do with you?
You see, the single biggest secret to how I stay a WWE fan is simply this: I couldn’t tell you when the last time I watched Raw or Smackdown was.
It turns out it’s really easy to genuinely enjoy a product when you avoid the worst of its offerings!
There’s just no reason to watch Raw or Smackdown in a world where Larry’s morning-after reviews and YouTube both exist. It’s too much wrestling to watch and too time-consuming and I don’t have cable television. So I read his entertaining reviews and seek out clips of moments that seem watchable on YouTube.
Now… if I am avoiding the flagship programs, do I still “love” WWE? You could argue no, but I still say yes. Between reading reviews, watching pay-per-views (and NXT, and other Network specials) and writing articles for 411mania and Ghosts of the Stratosphere, I still dedicate a lot of time and energy to it. Just… five hours less than I could be.
So my advice would be if you don’t enjoy WWE as much as you used to: just quit watching Raw and Smackdown. It does wonders for what ails you!
So that’s it. It’s 2020. The man at the top is slime. The weekly television programming is more miss than hit. But… I still kind of love WWE. They offer me a lot for my entertainment dollar, and as long as the Network and programming like UpUpDownDown exists, I will keep on loving and looking forward to it.
Here’s what worries me about the comment section. I’m no fool. I mean, I am, but not about how the Internet works. So I know it’s impossible to buy a PlayStation without implying that you despise XBox. I know you can’t praise a Marvel movie without someone assuming you mean you hate DC. If you bust out your Go-Bots, you need to prepare for a diatribe on why Transformers was better. And I figure by this point in the article (probably ever since the title of this article), there are people who are all fingers a-twitching to type up an impassioned defense of WWE’s chief U.S. rival…
My passion for WWE does not inherently mean I don’t like AEW or have anything worse to say about it than I would WWE. I really enjoy AEW, and I hope it survives forever and continues putting out a quality product. I do think it has flaws, but it also has so many positives.
My primary issue with AEW is that it’s not 2001 anymore, and I don’t have cable television. And, as far as I know, AEW doesn’t stream anywhere useful (now this is where some helpful soul says “You idiot! AEW streams on Hulu or something! And you call yourself a wrestling fan! Don’t quit your day job!”, and I say “Thank you, I am an idiot, but now I’m an idiot that can stream AEW”). So until AEW releases the AEW Network for $9.98 per month or whatever… it’s always going to exist on the periphery of my fandom in Larry’s next day articles. I did attend Full Gear live! Which is exactly one more live event than I have attended of WWE’s since Extreme Rules 2018 ended.
So it’s possible to like both WWE and AEW, as I’m sure the majority of you reasonable folks know. Don’t take this article as an indictment against the latter.
Like whatever you like for whyever you like it. There are a lot of positives all around.
Until next time… take care!