As WWE Backlash dropped the curtain with a celebrating Jinder Mahal as champ like many other fans I wondered, what did I just see? The entertainment spectacle known as WWE brand professional wrestling has seen many changes over the eras. Yet in many ways it looks like this era is desperately trying to figure out who it is. Not quite an identity crisis as much as the WWE has recently committed to so many things fans figured would never happen. So what happens when all the things this company never does becomes things that they do. When all is said what will this era of wrestling be known as? Because last night made one thing perfectly clear. We are not in Kansas anymore.
Those who follow wrestling closely have posed the idea that we find ourselves in the ‘Reality’ era, the ‘NXT/WWE’ era, or the ‘New’ era. Yet none of those seem to not quite capture what we are in the middle of. This era expands in a multitude of ways that was unknown to previous eras. From the Network to video games to a film production company, the WWE is clearly maturing beyond the point of professional wrestling. Instead it is developing as a fully faceted multimedia hydra. Perhaps this is instead the ‘Expansion’ era.
With the introduction of the WWE Network the company has managed to take control of an aspect of TV programming that has been missing in all of the previous eras. In previous eras programming has primarily been controlled by media providers and cable companies. Which has resulted in such enterprises calling the shots for airtime and even content. Interestingly enough the WWE Network has taken the control and given it to the average fan. A hard line to be sure but a gamble that seems to be paying off.
Talk About Variety
Recently while watching a PPV shown on said network, I marveled at seeing men like Kevin Owens and AJ Styles on the same card with John Cena and Randy Orton. The worlds of independent wrestling and the WWE mainstream crossing in ways no one had ever called or perceived. While it may not seem like it, we are not long past the days where AJ Styles in a WWE ring was considered a hopeless fantasy.
In that vein, shows like 205 Live highlights the antithesis of the ‘McMahon’ formula by featuring cruiserweights and technical showcases. NXT has gone from an almost crude reality show to a nearly cult-like phenomenon. Women have prominent roles and main event pay per views (PPVs). The network features ‘reality’ variety shows either in live action or animated. The Network catalog is cream for long time fans that remember previous wrestling entities like AWA, WCCW and Mid-South. Never in any era has there been more variety in style, form and figure. What we all knew as wrestling now accepts most stars regardless of variables that would normally deny some performers a WWE stage. In this sense of inclusion no wrestling fan is actually left behind. Instead they are invited to pick their poison.
For most fans wrestling lives and dies in the ring. As it should. It is the current stories and characters that should be used to sell the rest. Wrestling has the unerring task of having to stay relevant at all times. What we see in the ring is a direct reflection of the world we tolerate or do not tolerate around us. Wrestling struggles with ideas of power and authority. Fans know that decisions are sometimes made just for the purpose of aggravating the fan base. In this way of telling stories and selling its fiction it is no different from any other movie, sitcom, or staged play.
Leads and Co-Stars
The irony of it all is that wrestling’s greatest asset and biggest weakness are its fans. Fans of wrestling easily take ownership of their product. Mostly due to the idea that unlike any other entertainment media the fans are also performers in the show. Like most co-stars wrestling fans and performers don’t always agree on how the plot should go and who should get first billing. Even more so complacency and change have dramatic impact on fan reactions. There should be an interesting ‘backlash’ from the Mahal victory. Just as there has been from recent choices in character direction and show designations.
Suspension of Story
As confusing as it may seem it makes an eerie kind of sense. Wrestling is currently wall-less. When the walls are torn down and realities leak into others through social media, public relations, charity and fan events, the fervor that used to drive fans must change. In this idea the foundation must be reset. Conventions that have always been set in stone are melting like ice caps. Gone are the traditional standards of kayfabe, heel and face ideologies. Instead they are mutable points. Still the lynchpins, but no longer the story. Fans don’t wonder as much if it’s real. They wonder why certain decisions are made. In forums all over the web the main subject is ‘Why did they?’ The fan base has matured beyond the suspension of disbelief as much as it now can’t suspend the ‘WTF’ from certain plot points.
Reality of Eras
With all of that being said what should be clear here is that as fans we are in uncharted waters. As a company so is the WWE. Now I won’t advocate for going easy on them. Mostly because I know wrestling fans and they won’t listen. Which is a blessing and a curse. However try not to be so quick to trash what was once something we thought we’d never ever see on a WWE stage. As far as being willing to go outside of the box there is not a more interesting time to be a wrestling fan. This new ‘Expansion’ era is the result of the Larger than Life super hero caricatures of the 80’s. It lives because of the base titillation of the ‘Attitude’ Era. Even the PG era contributed.
With the rising of Jinder, in the evil twin role of Daniel Bryan, we are firmly rooted in the ‘Expansion’ Era. Also try to ignore the snickering from the WWE as they whisper, “Gotcha!” May we enjoy these boundless, anything can happen times. It will be walled up again before you know it.
What did you think of Jinder Mahal’s victory?