Sometimes, wrestling isn’t the place where complicated ideas can be conveyed and explored. Someone wins. Someone loses. Things happen and the crowd is encouraged to react immediately, even when the event is hard to untangle in the moment.
Often, this problem arises when we run into the disconnect between being mad at a character for doing something bad and being mad at the writing team for writing something bad. An example from Smackdown Live’s very recent history is the Jinder Mahal storyline, which is still dull at best and a mess at worst, even if the “diversity” angle isn’t as strong as it originally was. When social justice, kayfabe, and “lolwrestling” collide, the internet gets… what’s the word?
Here’s what happened: to end the historic first women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, Carmella got the win because her half-asshole/half-pawn boyfriend James Ellsworth climbed the ladder for her and retrieved the briefcase, dropping it down to her. So Carmella was the first official participant in the match to hold the unlatched case, meaning she won the match, even though Ellsworth kind of did too. At least he did visually. So the issue becomes this:
In a historic women’s match, the optics are bad.
In a matter like this, I tend to turn to the women who occupy my wrestling Twittersphere because, y’know, I’m interested in actually listening to the group the issue is about. But opinions were split very far; several commenters were absolutely furious to the point of shutting off the show, while others were all-in on the heat being with Ellsworth and Carmella, not with the writers’ room.
Reactions are “I’M A LITTLE PISSED AT THE CHARACTERS BUT MORE PISSED AT WWE FOR MESSING UP AN IMPORTANT MOMENT” and “IT’S META-HEELING” and “YOU’RE BEING A BAD FEMINIST” and thinkpiece after thinkpiece after thinkpiece and they’re all of these things with equal ferocity.
It’s complicated, the problems of optics and forever tarnishing the history books and kayfabe and how to do women’s wrestling well in a social context all running into one another. While I know this doesn’t lend itself to an opinion column, my opinion is that I’m still figuring out how this whole thing is going to sit.
In the meantime, check out this article by one of my favorite voices in wrestling, Kate Foray, and seek out an article from the opposing side, too. (If you have one you like, send it my way.)
And think about snap judgments in wrestling, and think about all the complicated issues that are maybe not best explored in a medium where someone wins and someone loses. And in a fandom where getting really fired up on the internet is basically part of consuming the medium, sometimes, think about listening.
Written by Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)
Image courtesy of WWE.com
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