With the recent gimmick repackaging of Jack Swagger (arrest notwithstanding) and his pairing with Zeb Colter, and the following media backlash and the actual thought-provoking programming that was the result of the creation of said gimmick, WWE has been handed the opportunity to bring WWE programming to a level it has arguably never been in. I am talking about genuine social commentary, amplified by the fact that there’s a live crowd as an integral part of the programming.
With the creation of a new WWE Network and the increased responsibilities of Triple H who is a fresh-minded person on top of WWE, WWE can use this new gimmick that is a main event angle for WrestleMania to test the waters for what would be a whole new side to WWE programming, if not for the whole of mainstream American television. WWE has a chance to add substance to their programming, which a lot of the time is screaming from within the gimmicks, by addressing issues modern western society is dealing with. WWE has the chance to portray characters that are genuinely thought provoking and gain a reaction from the audience (when was the last time WWE had a gay character in a realistic manner?) It doesn’t even have to be the gimmicks themselves, as even the more generic gimmicks can be made meaningful when the characters are inserted into certain situations.
Characters like Damien Sandow, Corey Graves, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, CM Punk, Paige, Kaitlyn, Daniel Bryan, Alberto Del Rio, Vickie Guerrero, Paul Heyman, Bray Wyatt, R-Truth, AJ Lee, Zack Ryder, Wade Barrett, Antonio Cesaro and of course Swagger (and these are just names off the top of my head that scream for a use of their unique characteristics) all have characteristics that can be served as deep social commentary and can raise some very important debates from the programming. Much like Swagger and Zeb Colter do now, Sandow can be used to bring into light things like ignorance and opium for the masses in shows like Honey Boo-Boo when he’s ready to be pushed, perhaps even taking him to late night shows for interviews in-character (which will of course require making the character more realistic – more on that later on) and seeing social media respond to real issues being raised will do wonders to WWE both in the public eye and viewership-wise. Not only will it bring in fans out of interest raised by the media coverage, but it will also make new fans check out the product because it breaks the public view of Pro Wrestling as being low-brow entertainment.
WWE has chances like this constantly, but always drops the ball. The Shield, for example, when they debuted had the chance to be a great social commentary and raise the question of an end vs. the means to it, and how far should one go in trying to get to a cause (and with commentators talking throughout the show, these questions can be asked point blank without interrupting the flow of the program). Damien Sandow started as a character that had some real legitimate criticism of modern American society and society in general, and its treatment of intelligence as a thing to mock rather than praise. You can argue with that point, but here’s the thing – it’s a point. It’s a message you can agree or disagree with. It raises a question and forces the viewer to be critical. Instead, Sandow has been reduced to a caricature of sorts, and The Shield have been made to move to absolute heelville when they had the chance to gain some marks’ following for their gimmick and create something interesting by actually raising valid points and backing them up. WWE sometimes have bursts of meaningful storylines, but why not make it a more centralized theme of the programming? It doesn’t have to be EVERY storyline, but it’ll be nice if it was a regular part of the programming.
It’s the sort of thing that can also catch mainstream media’s attention, though a couple of more controversial thought provoking angles like the Swagger/Del Rio one might be necessary to create a sort of norm of exploring WWE programming for news regularly and speaking about WWE programming for its own sake rather than “that one noteworthy thing”. Here are a couple of examples that would draw attention: A non-cartoonish gay character; A far-to-the-left character that calls America an inhumane country; A black character playing the race card. Such characters will require some blurring of the lines as far as a clear face-heel divide goes, so WWE won’t “take sides” in regards . WWE would be chalk-full of note-worthy things for a media which a lot of the time has to resort to speaking about gossip celebrity news. Eventually, since it won’t be news any longer the discussion of WWE programming will move to debate shows as opposed to news outlets. WWE can create their own media attention by having wrestlers go in character to late-night shows or to do interviews, as mentioned earlier. It will raise awareness of various social issues currently a part of the western world, and having well-articulated people like the Sandows and Barretts of WWE talking on behalf of WWE on real issues like immigration of Honey Boo-Booisms will break some paradigms and false dichotomies about WWE, opening it up to new audiences who used to view it as low-brow entertainment.
The video Swagger and Colter put out addressing Glenn Beck was a double edged sword as far as I can tell. It was good in clearing up that this is meant to entertain and is not real but just taking a topical, current subject in immigration and using it for programming. However, the amount of effort made in making it clear WWE is “no different than Glee” and is STRICTLY entertainment was wrong in my eyes. Why not dare to be different than Glee and CSI? Why not go for something edgy in a PG way and actually tackle important issues (and unlike the Attitude Era, necrophilia does not at all have to be one of them). I say WWE should embrace the fact that they are touching on an important issue, but go in a different direction than face/heel, antagonist/protagonist, and just show characters that act like such people would act. Some would cheat, some won’t. Their likability should not be dictated by the office, but rather by the individual watching. Some will relate to certain characters more than others. This sort of product is very different than what we currently have, and is a big risk. However, this angle with Swagger and Zeb Colter is a perfect way to test out taking the product in a more quality oriented, mature direction, that admittedly has its risks.
This is a transitional period for WWE with a changing of heads and the creation of a WWE network. It offers a platform to try new things, even, say, starting with a minor show in which these are centralized themes and checking the response to it. If you think this is the sort of thing WWE could benefit from – Facebook them a link to this. Tweet WWE and their wrestlers a link to this. I know this is not a very well-written editorial, and might not even be a good idea, but I’ll leave that to the people on top to decide. WWE could benefit from how this whole Swagger-Colter/Del Rio thing turns out. If it works this direction could be a win/win for WWE, and now they are about to have a perfect platform to test it out.