I didn't want to burden the email chain with what turned into quite a diatribe, and I think it is well-suited to the blog anyway because in my opinion it bears discussion. As background, we are discussing our group project, which will involve looking at the serialization of wrestling and it's similarities to the soap opera. In this group project Sam suggested including a call to action for the WWE.
I think we could really take this opportunity to also address some of the issues we've come across since starting the semester, including what was presented in Wrestling with Manhood as well as the articles we've read about homosexuality, feminism, and race. Not in a sense that we should scold them for anything, but more in terms of challenging them to challenge the norms they (and of course our society) have been upholding for years.
My biggest issue with the documentary from Monday was how characters from the Attitude Era who were progressive in a sense (Goldust was progressive, but also (in the storylines) treated like crap not just by fans but by the rest of the WWE; female wrestlers were independent and powerful, but also humiliated and objectified) were still subjugated by the WWE in that they were too restricted by mirroring public opinion. The straightest, whitest wrestler still came out and won the belt, and while it's great that the WWE would have a "gay wrestler," what good is it if he exists solely to draw homophobic heat.
To me, Daniel Bryan left a void in the WWE. I may be blowing it out of proportion, but I don't see a clear sense of direction for the coming years. This isn't a bad thing by any means, because I think the world of pro wrestling could do a lot by rising to a new level of artistic depth and meaning. What if a new Chyna came through, and rather than forcing her to change her body or character to be more palatable/desirable to fans, she just wrestled her ass off. She wouldn't have to go top of the card immediately, let Cena and Lesnar draw the casual fans, but still make some waves. People respect Chyna because she earned the respect of her fellow wrestlers and demonstrated her ability, but I don't think Vince offered the vast majority of fans the opportunity to make the same transition, because it would have been hard for them. Rather he sexyed her up to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
I think lowest common denominator thinking is outmoded at this point, because:
1. The WWE no longer has any other competitors, so the vast majority of people either watch the WWE or don't like wrestling.
2. Wrestling fans are (as far as I can tell) mostly divided into two groups: kids, who just want to chant let's go cena and can't comprehend the intricacies of most of the storylines anyway, and hardcore fans, who are unlikely to stop watching because something upsets their idea of whether homosexuality is right or women are equal to men, because to them these would probably be much more interesting angles than "Rusev is Russian so you should hate him. Rusev made Marc Henry cry so hate him more."
3. People are, in general, better educated than they were even in the early 2000s because of the important of a college education.
4. The Facebook/Buzzfeed generation ensures almost daily confrontation with a myriad of social issues, because friends constantly post articles and statuses and lists reflecting their opinions on feminism, race, sexuality, gun rights, politics, etc. One can ignore the body of the post and the point trying to be made by the writers, but you can't be ignorant of the fact that gay marriage is quickly becoming a reality, gun violence is out of control, wages are unequal, and prejudice is still a problem.
Vince said many years ago that he thought we were tired of having our intelligence insulted. I think that angles like Rusev and petty "frenemies" rivalries between AJ and Paige are horribly insulting to our intelligence. Goldust has been reduced to an angry man with face paint on, and after some serious consideration I've decided Stardust is a carnival clown mixed with Mark Hamill's Joker (not to knock Cody Rhodes, the idea of a contemporary clown is awesome and I applaud him for it, but when are they going to employ his "cosmic key?").
The WWE needs another big push to be on the forefront of things. While the Attitude Era capitalized magnificently on that generation's desire to rebel, I think the 2010s version of rebellion is more socially conscious and progressive (albeit lazy and internet-based). I more or less agree with the argument presented in Wrestling with Manhood, that the values being pushed by wrestling were the same conservative values from the 50s and 60s, but raunchier.
In this new era, I would call the WWE to action to push the envelope and challenge the values of the elder generation by championing the causes of minorities and the disenfranchised of our society, because that is what wrestling has always tried to do. The lower class worker still deserves his Marxist drama, but not one trapped in bigotry. Openly gay wrestlers should be successful, not as a sexual deviant gimmick in face paint, but as a human being. They would still draw incredible heat from the conservative crowd, but so much the better for business. And as he or she works his way up the card, perhaps some of the homophobes in the stands will come to respect him or her for her wrestling ability and see past their petty prejudices. The same goes for women. The idea of "divas" should be buried, and while I'm glad their current storyline can probably pass the Bechdel test, it's still smacks of high school he-said-she-said "drama." Foreign menace wrestlers should actually spark debate about the conflicts we're embroiled in, not name-drop Putin for a cheap "USA" chant pop. If Rusev spouted facts about the West's inappropriate handling of the Ukraine crisis, or unchecked aggression in the Middle East over oil, there would not only be infinitely more consternation because the USA is still the best durn country in the world, but dammit, the guy has a point.
In conclusion, not only would this appeal to current fans of the WWE (because it reflects the same storylines that have been in place since pro wrestlings' birth, just better developed), dispel many of the arguments against wrestling (taking a moralizing high ground invalidates most of the issues we saw in Wrestling with Manhood), contribute to the mental development of it's viewers (raise a younger generation of viewers to see homosexuals and women as equals, maybe shift some opinions of adults), but also bring wrestling back into the public eye, not as a scourge to polite society and bastion of regressive thinking, but as a force for positive social change that would bring a lot of non-wrestling fans into the fold.
Progressive social groups campaigning for equality would align themselves with the WWE, countless Buzzfeed articles would be written, and it would really get people talking about wrestling on a level that I don't think it has ever been discussed. For the first time in the history of professional wrestling, it would be considered something along the lines of high art for it's political and social consciousness, without sacrificing the spirit of the spectacle. It's a public relations miracle waiting to happen, and would certainly be good for business/America.