Of all the times to have an epiphany, I didn’t expect one to show up, shiny and bright, in the middle of SmackDown Live. There was a handicap match, set up by Shane McMahon. Roman Reigns was battling both hapless members of The B-Team, while Elias stomping around at ringside. Elias was the special ref and enforcer for the match. That didn’t explain why referee Mike Chioda was actually in the ring with the grapplers, except to set up Elias grabbing his trusty gimmicked guitar and taking a shot at The Big Dog. Who couldn’t see how the match would end? It was predictable from the get-go. I started paying less attention, playing a game on my phone, when it hit me.
This was a match written and designed for children.
Roman Reigns is the smiling, wet-haired version of a gentle giant from a storybook. He comes ambling down the ramp to take on his foes, even when they are laughably weak. Reigns has no real challengers in this world and, even if the bad guys occasionally get one over on him, that’s okay. We all know Reigns is eventually going to emerge victorious over his foes. The villagers will be safe and the hero will go on to greater acclaim. It’s how the story goes.
Look at Becky Lynch, for example. She’s Becky Two Belts, and the woman has it all. With the keys to both WWE kingdoms around her waist, Lynch is arguably the greatest female champion of all time. She had an excellent match against Bayley on SmackDown Live this past Tuesday. Intense Bayley is a great worker. Free from Sasha Banks for the moment, Bayley gets better from week to week. She’s the perfect competitor to get into a program with Lynch because Bayley can make the champ go. But, who comes in to ruin everything?
The evil queen, Charlotte Flair.
It’s not just a classic situation, it’s classical. This is a fairy tale. Driven from her position of power, the Queen will do anything to regain her throne. Only the plucky usurper can hold things in order and make the SmackDown Live women’s division a peaceable kingdom. Or is it ‘queendom?’
There is a place for this style of storytelling in professional wrestling. It is as basic as a collar and elbow tie-up. WWE is the place for that, with their massive television deals and corporate sponsorships. Kids are watching the product. They’re bugging their folks to visit the WWE Shop and buy t-shirts, jackets, and replica belts. They dig that battle between good versus evil, with few shades of grey. Heck, WWE’s most nuanced character right now is Bray Wyatt, and he’s a creepy kid’s show host! You can bet it won’t be long before the company offers Wyatt’s Hurt/Heal gloves for sale on their website.
The cry for more adult-oriented wrestling is practically deafening. Guys like Joey Ryan, with his phallic gimmick, and Bad Boy Joey Janela are out there doing it, not for the kids, but for their parents. AEW promises to be the mature alternative to WWE and the ghosts of its past. Even Cody himself has said he’s out to kill the Attitude Era and, honestly, thank the gods for that. Wrestling as a whole has been laboring under the specters of Stone Cold and HBK for too long.
Where does that leave a company like WWE, committed to TV-PG family-friendly programming? WWE stays right where it is. It is an option, just as AEW, CZW, or MLW are also options. If you’re the parent of a little girl who shows an interest in taking dance lessons, you have choices. You can let them watch The Nutcracker, or you can sit them down in front of Suspiria. Extremes, to be sure, but that’s the point. You get to choose.
Hurling adjectives like “infantile” towards WWE is pointless. If nothing else, WWE feeds the basic desire we have to see heroes battle valiantly against villains. One only has to look at the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to realize that need does not fade away. Their product may be geared towards youngsters, but we were all children once. Instead of deriding WWE for what they plaster on our televisions week after week, look at the company as one of the greatest teller of tales ever. They gather us around the campfire and present us with glamorous versions of stories that have been around since the beginning of time. While there’s still a lot to be cynical about, such as their next Saudi Arabia coming up next month, dial it back a bit. Look at WWE’s product through the eyes of a child. Mark out, if you will. It’s okay. You have permission. Get your stories.