How And Why WWE’s ‘Reality Era’ Has Failed
We have been told regularly over the last two years, that WWE has entered into the reality era. From the Hulkamania, to the “New Generation”, to the Attitude Era, to the Ruthless Aggression Era, to the PG Era, WWE has always been defined by an era. Of course, they are not always led by the same person (yup, John Cena is leading his third consecutive era!), but as a wrestling fan community we always like to keep things perspective. It was David Shoemaker of Grantland that made the term “reality era” popular and it’s essentially stuck. The height of the reality era began with the CM Punk pipe bob, peaked with the Daniel Bryan storyline, and continued strongly with the booing of Batista and the lashing out at Roman Reigns. Today’s fans were done with being told what they were going to like and accept and decided they were going to try and carve their story.
In today’s world where social media is perhaps the dominant form of communication, there isn’t a WWE event where Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit (shout out r/Squared Circle) isn’t full of fantasy booking, strong opinions and endless nitpicking. Despite being a bit late to the party, at one point, WWE was bombarding us with nonstop twitter messages, investing in Tout (remember that nonsense), and seemingly all they cared about was social media (Zack Ryder misses these days). Now, WWE seems to have come to a better grip about what needs to be done, with a simple hashtag in the top corner of the screen. The biggest change that the Reality Era has brought to WWE though, is that the vocal minority has now become the majority. We can still suspend disbelief, like any television show, but it’s harder to ignore what’s really going on.
Perhaps the strongest examples of today’s WWE comes thanks to TMZ. Vince McMahon has always yearned to have his company part of the mainstream conversation. During the Attitude Era, everyone was talking about WWE. He loves seeing his superstars and divas on the Tonight Show and has finally worked into an agreement of sorts with ESPN to get some pub on SportsCenter, with former WWE commentator Jonathan Coachman. Vince pushes his product and view in a controlled environment and it’s really nothing but positive press. When he was ready to have his first wrestler officially “come out”, he went to TMZ. WWE obviously thought it was the right time for them to have a homosexual representative and set up TMZ to interview Darren Young. This again led to positive publicity, a minor push for Young, and that’s about it. The media covering WWE usually results in good press and more eyeballs. Until WWE screwed up.
With TMZ now always watching over WWE, they broke the fact that Rusev and on screen enemy (and former associate) Lana were real-life engaged. The breaking of this story came one week after Rusev was essentially engaged on-screen to Summer Rae. Rusev and Lana have received a ton of heat over letting news of their engagement get out and screwing with the WWE storyline. The real heat shouldn’t be on the performers for living their happy life and posting on social media, which WWE constantly asks their talent to do. The onus for this storyline debacle should be WWE for not following the rules of the reality era. It’s one thing if you want to tell us that Roman Reigns now hates Seth Rollins, after two years of being BFFs. We get it, there are good guys and bad guys in wrestling and that’s completely part of the show. Everyone understands that Reigns and Rollins are probably still very good friends behind the scenes, just like everyone knew that Rusev and Lana were still together, despite their “on-screen break up”. So seeing them engaged in real life, didn’t exactly surprise anyone. However, WWE made the mistake of trying to ignore the reality. They tried to pretend what was real and went so far as having him engaged to a different woman on screen. That’s just silly writing.
They beg for TMZ to cover the company, like they would any other popular organization or television show. When TMZ does their job, WWE doesn’t get pissed at them or at themselves, but on the performers of course. Rusev and Lana were both punished, (so we are told), before finally being brought back to television together. You know, as they should have been in the first place. We have no issue suspending disbelief, but sometimes it’s impossible. No one ever believed that Dolph Ziggler and Lana was a real life couple. Their chemistry was nonexistent, both performers seemed like they wanted nothing to do with each other, and it was uncomfortable seeing Lana make out with someone in front of her real life boyfriend. Again, it made no sense.
WWE can’t ask to have it both ways though. They can’t demand their performers to be active on social media, beg to be covered by outlets like TMZ and ESPN, and then scold their performers for doing what they are told in their real lives. Hell, WWE has Total Divas, a “reality show” following their performers. This past season, Dolph Ziggler, who was with Lana on television, made a pass on ex real-life girlfriend, Nikki Bella Where was the outrage there? Naturally there was none, because all of it was written by the WWE, but the concept remains the same. It’s harder for us to pretend something doesn’t exist when we are seeing it ourselves elsewhere.
The Reality Era doesn’t just acknowledge the main product with WWE, but also NXT as well. (No, I can’t go a single column without mentioning NXT). With Breaking Ground, WWE’s version of Hard Knocks, they are feeding into this era of reality. When Sasha Banks and Bayley embraced after their epic clash this summer, joined by real life besties Charlotte and Becky Lynch, it was a real moment. It was the Kliq send off, 20 years later. Instead of the crowd seeming confused and the decision makers in the back being enraged, they were cheered profusely by the crowd at Full Sail and supported by everyone in the back. This is what the Reality Era is all about and as usual, NXT is ahead of the curve.
Interestingly enough, with ratings still declining, WWE sent out a survey this week to their “Fan Council”, asking to compare NXT and WWE. What you like, don’t like, and why. Maybe, Vince will see exactly what makes NXT so special. And make the necessary changes to the main product. Or maybe he’ll give us Roman Reigns in every segment on tonight’s Raw.
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