SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Well, here we are again. WWE once more made the crass decision to exploit traumatic real-life events to generate heat. Last week’s Raw featured no less than three different instances of WWE personnel referring to recent incidents to further narratives – all of which were not only in poor taste but also entirely needless.
Stephanie McMahon used the term “dismemberment” – invoking the disturbing death of the U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi – as a cheeky reference to the backlash WWE faced with their Saudi Arabia deal.
Dean Ambrose used Seth Rollins’s catchphrase “Burn It Down” multiple times while in California which has been dealing with severe loss of life and property from wildfires in the state.
Ambrose also invoked Roman Reigns’s recent leukaemia diagnosis to garner some heel heat calling the illness karmic justice.
Even putting aside the insensitivity of the comments, what did any of the three actually hope to achieve from a storyline perspective? The Saudi fiasco is on-hold – at least until the next show – and Ambrose has been receiving the requisite heel reactions even before this week as fans have not been reticent to boo him as they have been for other recent turns.
All three cases were also strangely out of place in each of the promos.
It’s not like “dismemberment” is a particularly common term used by WWE, and the timing of the comment is at the very least suspect, especially given the context in linking it to being “a corporate liability.” This wasn’t a wrestler saying it about an opponent, it was an executive saying it in reference to negatively affecting a business.
Even both of Ambrose’s comments seemed strange. Aside from his entrance music, Seth’s catchphrase doesn’t get spoken aloud on TV regularly, at least not as frequently as it was uttered on this episode of Raw, while the comment about Reigns’s illness being some form of karmic retribution seemed a bit extreme. I know the Shield weren’t the nicest of fellows throughout their initial heel run, but their actions were hardly deserving of a life-threatening illness.
So even if WWE had reason to exploit these events, none of them seemed to actually fit the narrative or theme of the show which makes the decision to script these lines as even more puzzling. Actually, scratch that. It makes complete sense because this is Vince McMahon we’re talking about. Portraying Sgt. Slaughter as an Iraqi sympathizer during the Gulf War, making fun of Jim Ross’s Bell’s Palsy, having Randy Orton claim Eddie Guerrero was in hell mere months after Eddie’s death (to a close friend of Eddie’s no-less), using Reid Flair’s death in a Charlotte-Paige program, need I go on? Any one of those would be telling of a person’s character, but all of them, transpiring over three decades, is incontrovertible evidence that to Vince McMahon – and by extension WWE – other people’s trauma is nothing more than an opportunity to make money (or maybe just a laugh, in the case of J.R., or a not-so-sly way of telling critics to bugger off in the dismemberment case).
Side note: Even using the phrase “dismemberment case” evokes the Khashoggi case in my head. I find it impossible to entertain the idea that Stephanie’s use of the word was coincidental.
I suppose then that I’ve answered my own musing. This week’s scripting was not done to generate heat. It wasn’t so that people would boo Ambrose or appreciate Stephanie’s cleverness. It was simply so that Vince McMahon can show his bravado and make a point to anyone who would dare say to him that something is off-limits. Given this man thinks a sneeze is a sign of weakness, making fun of a prominent international murder, or poking fun at a national disaster, or exploiting your employee’s (sorry, “independent contractor’s”) very serious illness, is just another a day at the office.
At what point does this kind of coarse behavior create a fuss that’s too much to ignore and forces a culture change at WWE?
When do sponsors, and more importantly the charities WWE likes to associate with, say that they don’t want to be tied to a company which exploits trauma for storylines? We’ve seen similar backlash happen with Snickers and Fabulous Moolah, so is it possible Red Cross or Susan G. Komen cut ties with WWE if they continue to use tragic events which those very charities exist to eradicate and/or mitigate? It’s bad enough WWE indulge themselves in this nonsense, but, at the same time they like to portray themselves as the champions of the good cause and as lovely corporate citizens everyone wants to work with, they are actively undermining their own marketing – ahem, I mean philanthropy.
Is it at all possible that Fox and/or USA decide that they don’t want content like this on their channel? I don’t know if any of that is possible, but I don’t believe it’s likely. WWE have gotten away with this immaturity for decades, but I can only hope that a more sensitive culture in 2018 can force Vince McMahon’s hand.
Finally, a pre-emptive rebuttal to the likely criticism of this piece (which I have already seen on social media) that Roman Reigns was most likely consulted and consented to the use of his illness in Ambrose’s promo. To those who want to make that argument, I won’t even mention the troubling history of people consenting to be made fun of in popular culture but simply this: Did they consult Jamal Khashoggi’s family? Did they consult the thousands of people who have lost loved ones and their homes in the California wildfires? Did they consult other people battling cancer or parents of the children suffering from cancer who sent Reigns get-well messages that aired on Raw?
Perhaps it is time WWE change the E in its name from Entertainment to Exploitation because that episode of Raw was certainly not entertaining – no chance in hell.