That Was The Week That Was: 20th-26th May 2013

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Seven days is a long time in wrestling. Each week Rachel will cast her eye over the landscape and handpick the stuff that stands out. Sometimes they’ll be the most obvious events, but often more subtle shifts in the business. They’ll always be written from her own unique point of view. Unlike the original That Was The Week That Was, she won’t be singing the news. 

AJ Lee’s T-Shirt

One of the first of many rants I wrote on this site was about WWE’s women’s merchandise. By that I mean both merchandise made for women and that devised to promote female performers. Has it changed since then? Yes. As much as I want it to? Not even close. But we’re moving in the right direction.

Four years ago WWE had little-to-no shirts cut for women and, just generally, most of their stock was dull. WWE Shop was a sorry sight, but over time it’s improved. The design turnover has been quick, the clothing pages aren’t a sea of black anymore and there are now shirts designed to fit a female figure. Women have curved waists, tits and don’t want to dress like men. Who knew?

It still irritates me that the choice is limited. I hate that someone in an office decides which shirts women will buy. They regularly get it wrong. Why on earth was the Antonio Cesaro shirt not made available to women when you can buy a slim cut Prime Time Players shirt? Madness.

I also take issue with the policy that women’s shirts aren’t stocked at UK live events. When Andrew and I went to Raw, we both intended on buying the yellow CM Punk shirt as a momento. Andrew bought his but I couldn’t find any for women. I decided I’d buy online the next day. That never happened because even when applying a discount code, the extortionate shipping charge made it a $43 shirt. I don’t love it that much.

WWE_Checkout

This needs to change. And a few more v-necks wouldn’t go amiss while they’re at it. I prefer when my chest doesn’t look like it’s growing straight out of my neck.

There may have been some progress on the buying side, but the promotion of female wrestlers when it comes to merchandise has been dreadful. The problem was the same old cycle of no character, no interest, no merch. I have no idea where the Divas’ division is heading at the moment. It’s in a weird place. I’m both tentatively excited at the prospect of a higher mainstream profile and terrified that it means the death of any matches at all. I’m putting all my faith in Sara Del Rey’s influence and a sympathetically edited reality show.

AJ Lee, though, has done something a little special. I may not always have approved of the stories WWE placed her in, but what’s crucial is that she’s had top-billing placement that made people care. The audience wants to see what happens next. She’s not the piss break. It’s been an awfully long time since the crowd cared this much about a woman. Even the cringe-making narratives that played out between Mickie James and LayCool didn’t produce t-shirts, and LayCool were coming out in custom branded shirts and hoodies every week. 

I cant say that I love the design of AJ’s shirt. It’s not my style, I doubt I’d ever wear it and I feel a little old for it. But if I can stomach the shipping cost I’m sorely tempted to buy it just to drive home the point that if you make the Divas relevant they will shift stock. And the dollar’s what WWE is all about, right?

Good for you, kid. Never has a t-shirt launch seemed quite so significant. Dare I whisper ‘tipping point’?

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Current WWE Shop splash

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What you see when you’re not looking – Part Two

The first ‘What you see when you’re not looking’ post was originally going to include this topic. Then the first turned out to be longer than I expected and I didn’t want to do this point a disservice by tagging it onto the end of something else. So, this is part two – on why wrestling has to stop clinging to the sex industry. 

When we took a step back from blogging and observed without commenting, it became clearer to me just how much the sex industry remains unnecessarily intertwined with the wrestling business. The truth is, we should have cut those apron strings years ago. It’s outdated. It’s harmful to the business as it moves forward and becomes more popular – especially with children – and it’s damaging to the position of women in the industry. WWE is probably cleaner than it’s ever been, but on the independent scene, wrestling’s fixation with the sleazier side is reigning in its potential to be a legitimate and credible form of entertainment. It’s not good enough to say that wrestling is sleazy and always will be. It can change, if promotions are inclined to put the wheels in motion.

For all the rose-tinted harping back to the late 1990s and the 2000s, it was murky. When the American government feel the need to intervene, you know you’re getting something wrong. It was time to start cleaning up wrestling. The government’s concerns largely surrounded health, but wrestling needed an overhaul in every way. The landscape has changed dramatically since I first became a wrestling fan in 1997. It’s changed since we started this blog in 2009. But it’s hit a stumbling block, particularly when it comes to women.

I’m confident we’ll never see a repeat of Trish Stratus barking like a dog on her hands and knees on worldwide television again. I sincerely hope that bra and panties matches have been left in the ‘what were we thinking?’ category of wrestling history. But the connection to the porn industry that hangs around wrestling like a stale smell the day after a party is just one of the reasons I sometimes find it embarrassing to plug it as entertainment to my friends and family and to the young children in my life.

I fully appreciate that not all promotions are looking to be family friendly, although I think they could do a better job at letting families know when a show won’t be for kids. I also acknowledge that being a woman in my early thirties, I’m looking for something very different to what I was searching for when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Your tastes change. You become more discerning. You have a clearer view of what you will and won’t let slide without comment. When I was much younger, when hormones were raging, I was terribly unsure of myself and every conversation felt like it had to be loaded with sniggering innuendo and sexuality. I wasn’t as concerned with women’s place in wrestling. I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t really know how to protest it. I have changed, the world has changed and wrestling has changed. It just needs one last, very easy push to make itself properly current.

Outside the CHIKARA and Shimmer bubble, wrestling still feels sexist. It makes me sad when fans at British wrestling shows are genuinely surprised when the couple of women on the card put on a great match. It’s especially disappointing when they feel the need to point out that they’re ‘Really good, and not just good for girls, either’. WWE has to take some of the responsibility here. For almost everyone it’s the first wrestling they’re exposed to. If their promotion of women involves nothing but one-minute matches and boyfriend or beauty stories, we’re not telling the young people and children watching that women have more to offer. It should be a given, but it isn’t. It just feeds the notion that the female purpose in wrestling is merely decorative. The rest of the responsibility lies with anyone who doesn’t make an effort correct these archaic views.

Women already struggle to get their names on the card in both mainstream and indie wrestling (British and overseas) simply because the impression is that crowds won’t get behind them. When, for example, porn stars or exotic dancers are hired to act as valets, interval entertainment or even makeshift wrestlers, the female wrestlers find themselves competing with both the male talent and the additional bookings. Very rarely are men hired in wrestling because they’ve had a career in the sex industry. You’ll never see a man on the roster overshadowed by someone who works in porn. It’s blatant pandering to dinosaurs of the game and hormone infested young men who have money to burn. Just because the lowest common denominator sells, it doesn’t mean you should sell it. If your wrestling and your stories are good you shouldn’t need porn, and a little social conscience goes an awful long way.

I’m not on a crusade against sex. We’re all grown-ups and we all enjoy our sex lives. I’m not even trying to banish pornography. It’s not my cup of tea, but as long as it isn’t hurting anyone, I don’t subscribe to the idea that it’s universally a terrible thing. Most crucially, I’m not suggesting we rid wrestling of ‘attraction’. It’s a highly visual medium and aesthetics are crucial. Wrestlers, particularly in the mainstream, are hired for their good (or less so) looks to fit who the company wants them to be; just like actors in a TV show. It’s obviously not the only reason talent are hired, but having ‘a look’ that you then shape the stories around – whether appealing to the eye or not – is a fundamental part of wrestling. The irony that I’m writing this post on a website called Wrestlegasm isn’t lost on me. And I’m definitely not ignoring that ultimately wrestling is a load of oiled, half-naked folk rolling around with each other with a story as its backdrop. But there is a stark difference between Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee kissing on camera to sell their relationship, for example, and sex for the sake of selling sex. The latter is what we need to move away from.

Wrestling, and indie wrestling especially, needs to think carefully about the language it uses, too. You can only pull the Jack Swagger/Zeb Colter trick of being outlandishly politically incorrect if you’re making it absolutely clear that the views your ‘characters’ are peddling are completely unacceptable. Without the caveat of million-dollar TV contracts hanging over your head, there’s little incentive to get that balance right every single time.  It’s not enough just to book women on shows. How they’re treated is important too. On the unregulated and non-televised circuit, women are sometimes on the receiving end of unsavoury sexual banter. Eva Wiseman recently wrote an excellent column in the Observer on lad culture in universities. She talked about how you can find it difficult to remove yourself from derogatory behaviour and language because when you’re in a group where it’s expected, you play along to fit in. It’s the only option. There is an awful lot of that in wrestling. I believe it’s one of the reasons so many people leave wrestling as they grow older.

There’s a great deal of tolerating what was once acceptable and it’s very disappointing. I’d like to see braver booking, cleverer stories and less reliance on the sex industry to raise interest in wrestling products. The gap between the two needs to grow larger. Fans will follow where promoters lead. They just need to have the courage to move forward.

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The Eve and John Conundrum

There came a point where I stopped bickering on a regular basis about how disheartened I was with the WWE Divas division. The wound on my forehead, acquired from banging it against a brick wall, would never heal unless I gave it time to scab. Reacting was always tempting. It stuck its middle finger up at me like smoking, sniggering, backpack-wearing teenagers on a school trip to London; beckoning one of the statuesque Queen’s Guards to buckle under the weight of their immature insult. This week, I snatched at that middle finger.

How did we get here? Why was it okay for the WWE’s top babyface to use derogatory language towards a woman, in front of children? We need to backtrack. The WWE is sitting on a goldmine in its Divas division. And yet, they refuse to plumb the depths of that mine to get to the good stuff. For a company so driven by profit, continually looking for the next big thing to keep fans interested, it’s just lazy economics. Why have a portion of your roster largely idle? The merchandising opportunities alone could be worth a fortune. I never understood why there were no LayCool t-shirts, for example.

There is a cycle of indifference at the heart of this problem. When it comes to long storytelling, indie wrestling matches can largely stand alone, and they’re no less enjoyable as a result. In the WWE, we need a sturdy narrative. We need verbal and physical dialogue that lead into the next week. We need peaks and troughs and, more than anything, we need to care about the characters. During the part of a show you care about least, you empty your bladder, or get something to eat, or chat to your mates. Enter the one-minute Divas match.

Give people a reason to care and they’ll stay in their seats. Come up with clever, forward thinking stories and the crowd will engage with the action. Trust that your female roster can perform as well as their male counterparts. Challenge them, and they’ll rise to it. If you work in a professional kitchen as a pot washer and stay a pot washer, you’ll never learn how to cook. But if the head chef gives you the opportunity to step up and be a part of service, you’ll acquire the skills you need to progress. It’s hardly rocket science.

Let the more experienced women bring the others up to their standard. Give them longer matches so they can learn from each other. The Divas aren’t all useless models, as so many like to suggest. The female roster is a mixture of indie graduates and athletes learning-on-the-job, just like the male roster. Beth Phoenix paid her dues in the indies, as did CM Punk. Eve Torres is a jiu jitsu expert learning the craft of pro wrestling as she goes. Dolph Ziggler was an amateur collegiate athlete who didn’t learn how to be a professional wrestler until he went to OVW. Nobody ever refers to Dolph as a model.

The WWE are like those people who buy expensive perfume and only use it on very special occasions. The rest of the time they just leave the bottle sat on their dressing table because it looks pretty. The Beth Phoenix vs Tamina Snuka match at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view was like a gentle mist of CHANEL No. 5. Why not use it every week? Let’s have the best all the time. Nobody will ever  compliment you on the glass bottle you keep hidden away in your bedroom. Use it! Nobody ever compliments the Divas on staying out of sight. Use them!

At first glance, Eve Torres’s involvement with Zack Ryder and John Cena appears to be a small step forward. It’s a Diva taking centre stage in a big story. But the execution was less a dab of CHANEL parfum and more swamped in Britney Spears’ Midnight Fantasy eau de toilette. Its lack of class reeked to high heaven.

It is great that they wanted to give Eve a personality. It is great that they turned her heel. It’s great that she mixed with main eventers. It’s bad that they rushed the entire heel turn through in a matter of hours. It’s bad that, yet again, a woman is rarely made a villain in the WWE without her being linked to a man or without being involved in a superficial image issue. It’s so unbelievably boring, lazy and outdated. I wonder why Stephanie McMahon doesn’t make her team come up with something better. The answer I keep avoiding is that she may be her father’s daughter in the worst ways, as well as the best. It stings when your heroine doesn’t seem to represent the things you want her to.

Comparisons have been made between Edge and Eve. Edge did indeed use Vickie Guerrero’s position of power to serve himself. But the big difference there was that they were both the villains. The dramatic entertainment came in them slowly destroying each other. They deserved each other. Which leads us uncomfortably to John Cena.

Super Cena! Our hero. Children’s charity worker. Fighting the good fight, day and night. The role model. Setting the moral compass for kids everywhere. All this is what makes Monday night so upsetting. They made John Cena ‘that guy’. A lad. The most insufferable kind of man. Baseball cap on backwards, swigging cheap beer from a plastic cup, double-fist-bumping their buddies, bromancing about town and engaging in ‘the banter’. The kind of nauseating, testosterone charged chatter that some men partake in when they’re in the company of other men. The kind of banter where rape jokes are hilarious. The banter that allowed the offensive and now defunct UniLad website to operate. The lad culture that makes young rugby teams write lists of tour rules that allow cheating on girlfriends to go unreported.

With the language John Cena used towards Eve on Monday night, with his ‘skank juice’ and disease slurs, he aligned himself with ‘those guys’. The vocabulary made him sound about as eloquent as a Jersey Shore cast member. Yes, Eve was the villain, and yes, she revealed herself to be self-serving. But Cena’s reaction, while grinning, popping his Rise Above Hate t-shirt at the camera, and encouraging ‘hoeski’ chants, was hypocritical and confusingly out of character.

Much has been made this week of John Cena’s association with the Be a Star anti-bullying campaign. The initiative is a tricky concept to negotiate for a product based on people bullying each other. But it’s always seemed similar to the ‘don’t try this at home’ videos to me. They tell kids that any bullying they see on TV just isn’t cool in real life and explain that the bullies are mean characters.

The problem with John Cena is not only that he’s the number one good guy. There’s also such an extremely fine line between John Cena the character and John Cena the person, that any lapse of grace in either incarnation damages him somewhere. It’s not an easy place to be, but it’s the price paid for never being the bad guy, on-screen and in life. His choice of insults can’t just be put down to the script. WWE and its performers have to start accepting that they offer a unique, hybrid form of entertainment. It’s neither fiction nor reality and if John Cena is to set the example, he has to do it all the time.  They can’t ignore the impact his words might have on one sector of the audience to briefly win favour with ‘the lads’. Usually he thrives on not being over with that crowd.

In 15 minutes of television, all this succeeded in doing was making me wonder if by simply watching WWE programming, I’m trying to push a square peg through a round hole. Maybe this stuff just isn’t made for me. But I don’t want to give up on it. It’s easy to say ‘just leave it behind and concentrate on the indies.’ And I do watch and love a lot of indie wrestling. But they’re two very different entities. Both WWE and the indies offer things the other can’t, and when it comes down to it, I want to be around when the WWE’s penny finally drops.

Report from the Fort: Best Wrestler (Female)

As Rae mentioned in her previous post we have split the “Best Wrestler” award into male and female categories. Not because we feel that female wrestlers are in any way inferior to male wrestlers, but due to the way they are portrayed. For the most part, they are very different entities. It would be lovely to think that this won’t be the case by the time next year’s awards come around, but I’m not that hopeful. In my “Best Match” award I explained how the idea of “gender free” wrestling is becoming more prevalent on the independent scene, but in the world that WWE occupy, it’s not going to change much soon I’m afraid.

With that said, on with the show and our final look back at 2011…

If you’ve read any of the previous awards this year, or for that matter, anything else we write on the blog or Twitter, then this winner should come as no surprise. We are unabashedly in awe of Sara Del Rey. In a year in which we were cautiously optimistic in the WWE Women’s division, only to be let down with Beth’s (hopefully forced) “we’re just giiiiiiiiirls…” whining and Natalya’s inexplicable losing streak, Del Rey has gone from strength to strength.

A wrestler rather than a model (although Rae would like to point out that her thighs are the stuff of legend and her own training aspiration) Sara managed to have a banner year in CHIKARA, beating the likes of Claudio Castagnoli, winning the annual Cibernetico match and wrestling her idol Aja Kong. Add to this her continued appearances for the likes of SHIMMER, her ROH run as part of the Kings of Wrestling, and appearances for a number of other promotions and 2011 certainly stacked up as the year that everyone finally agreed she is one of the best wrestlers in the world.

One thing that Rae and I both find admirable is that Sara has always been very vocal about the end goal of her career. In an age in which many fans, wrestlers and promoters are incredibly dismissive of the WWE’s output (particularly the Diva’s division), Del Rey has continuously stated that she would like to be signed to a WWE contract. As a fan of the intimacy independent wrestling affords, it’s easy to be selfish and hope this doesn’t happen. You can imagine the cries of dismay as her FCW name is revealed to be Stephanie Queen and she jobs to Kelly Kelly after a few weeks. But let’s be honest, financially the WWE is as good as it gets. Not only that, but the worldwide exposure is second to none. Sara knows what she wants, and it’s admirable that she hasn’t succombed to the easy elitist route of “Indie > WWE.”

With the likes of Kings of Wrestling teammates Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero already in FCW, as well as fans and friends such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Beth Phoenix, Awesome Kong and Natalya, it will hopefully only be a matter of time before the call up comes. When it does, I’ll look forward to seeing her on my TV every week.

2011: The Year Punk Broke – Money in the Bank Predictions

Yes, Punk, we’ll get to you soon, you wonderful man…

Sidekick Andrew: But first, let’s get this out of the way. As you may have noticed, we’re big fans of women’s wrestling here in the Bunker. However, even we’re struggling to build up any enthusiasm for this match. Kelly Kelly was essentially given the title thanks to her appearance in the FHM “Top 100 Bland Looking Ladies That Teenage Boys Fantasise About” List, and Brie has very little going for her as a wrestler. As a brief appearance on the arm of some C-List celebrity that nobody outside the US has ever heard of? Fine. In a title match at a PPV? Shocking idea…

In fact, despite actually making the effort to keep up with the WWE over the last couple of weeks, I had no idea what this feud was about (other than the title of course.) Thankfully, Boss Lady Ray is much more knowledgable than I and was happy to fill me in. Apparently “they’re building this storyline around bullying again. Kelly’s too skinny.” Now, ignoring the fact that this is another bullying story line based around two heels making fun of Kelly Kelly, there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in the Bellas calling anyone too skinny, I mean… they’re hardly what you could describe as Rubenesque.

I’m going to pick Kelly Kelly to get the win and retain the belt. While she’s never going to be on the level of Beth Phoenix or Sara Del Rey she does at least seem to have improved recently. Plus I never want to see a Bella with a belt again.

Boss Lady Ray: Really, WWE? REALLY? Pathetic. I think Andrew’s said it all and nobody needs another rant on the portrayal of women from me today, so I’ll just go with Kelly to avoid giving this lame storyline any kind of approval.

Sidekick Andrew: This will either be a really fun brawl or an embarrassing mess, although given the way Henry has turned himself around recently I’m going to hope for the former. The Mark Henry heel turn has been really fun to watch, and combined with his weight loss and new-found enthusiasm I’m suddenly in a very strange place where I quite fancy seeing him have a title run.

As such, I think Henry will win this one, leading to him feuding for the title soon with whoever has it by then. He’s the most imposing “monster” on the roster at the moment, especially with Kane’s recent emo phase crying to Teddy Long, and I do enjoy a monster heel champion.

Boss Lady Ray: I agree, I think Henry’s got this one. I’m rather proud of how Mark Henry has turned himself around and got himself back on everyone’s front page. Good for him. The match, I imagine, will just be the two of them knocking lumps out of each other for twenty minutes, but hey, everyone loves a massive brawl from time-to-time. I just hope Mark Henry isn’t allowed to design his own merchandise if he becomes WWE champ again.

Just...wow.

Sidekick Andrew: Meh… I still find Orton boring and I’ve never been the biggest Christian fan (I know, I know… internet blasphemy) so I’m not necessarily that interested in this match. At the very least this should be a pretty good match, I’m just not that bothered who wins.

I’m thinking this will be the beginning of the end of this feud, and Orton will win to retain the belt. The extra stipulations that Christian added to the match (If Orton gets disqualified or the referee makes a “bad call”, Christian automatically wins the title) rather ironically help to cement this decision. Give a face more odds to overcome and chances are he’ll find a way to do it.

I should mention that at this point in our discussions I noticed a strange, almost dream-like quietness settle over Boss Lady Ray. While I am admittedly quite boring company, I did find this slightly strange until I realised that Smackdown was showing an old Punk vs Mysterio match at the time and Punk just happened to be wearing the Boss Lady’s favourite lavender trunks.

How could I compete?

Boss Lady Ray: Aww. I think you’ll find I was watching the TV and talking at the same time. I’m a woman! I can multi-task! And actually, I was merely observing how different Punk looks these days with short hair and a moustache. *shifty-eyes*

The Orton/Christian feud had the potential to be huge, but the Punk story has picked up such astonishing momentum it’s overshadowed every other story in the company. It’s also amazing how little people still care about what happens to Christian now that this ‘other story’ has taken over. You are fickle beasts indeed, wrestling fans. I’m going to say that Orton will retain and they’ll both move on to other people by Summerslam. There’s nowhere else to go with this one.

Sidekick Andrew: Much as I love them, Money in the Bank matches are always going to be a bit tricky to predict. Other than Evan Bourne and perhaps Jack Swagger, anyone of the competitors could take this one. I was tempted to choose Kofi Kingston as he’s probably due a push again soon, but I think he’ll fill the Shelton Benjamin role of “doing mental stuff every time but never actually winning” instead.

The Miz could win, but I can’t picture him carting that briefcase around all year again. Riley could win, but the same applies as he carried the case with Miz. Mysterio is always an option, and (much as it pains me to admit it) R-Truth is a possibility. But my pick goes to Del Rio. They seemed to tease him feuding with Cena on Raw this week, and he’s due a new push after the Rumble one fizzled out.

Boss Lady Ray: No MITB match is an island. You really can’t just look at the match in isolation because you have to consider where the writers might want to take the winner afterwards. A guaranteed title shot is a big thumbs up to whoever gets it and, let’s be honest, predicting who they might be challenging for the title is almost impossible this year.

After much consideration, I’m going to go with Alex Riley. Andrew’s right, he did carry the briefcase with Miz for a long time. But I think it might be fun for the worm to have turned, possibly with Miz trying to steal it away afterwards. I always think MITB matches should be used to elevate a young, rising star and Riley really deserves to move up.

Sidekick Andrew: Like the Raw match, I’m really looking forward to this one. And much like the Raw match a lot of that is down to the fact that there’s never a guaranteed winner.

true dat...

I think I’m looking forward to this one even more than the Raw match. The combination of Justin Gabriel and Sin Cara alongside Cody Rhodes and Daniel Bryan should make for some great spots. Add in Kane, Sheamus and Wade Barrett and you have the makings of a really fun match. Although, like all ladder matches, that fun will probably involve a lot of cringing on my part. There’s just something about people landing on the edges of the ladders that gets me every time.

I would love Wade Barrett to win this and get another run at the title, but I’m going to go with the obvious choice and pick Sheamus to win.

Boss Lady Ray: If I’m honest, I think this one will probably be Sheamus. He’s been getting a nice little run on Smackdown and he’ll work well with Orton. But it also seems just a little too obvious.  For that reason I’m going to go with Wade Barrett. He hasn’t got much to do now that the Corre have died a death and he really does deserve to get back up to the top. I wouldn’t object if it was a triple-threat between Orton, Sheamus and Barrett at Summerslam and, you know, if I can save Andrew from getting killed by predicting Wade, I’d do it. Who’s going to do all my Photoshopping if he dies?

Boss Lady Ray: Well, what can we say about this match? I can’t remember the last time I saw WWE fans quite this emotional about a story, probably because we’re not entirely sure how much is story and how much is genuine. They are the very best kind of wrestling stories. We’ve discussed what might be happening to Punk endlessly in the Bunker and have come up with so many theories I can’t even remember half of them.

The thing is, none of them seem right, so we’ve decided not to predict the end of the show. Wrestling fans, including ourselves, are a curious breed. We’re constantly trying to figure out what might happen in advance, sometimes to its detriment when it actually happens. The satisfaction of ‘I told you so’ wears off quickly. We don’t want Punk to leave, but we don’t want him to be miserable either, so we’re just going to let this one play out however them on high have decided and try to enjoy it (in amongst a few tears from myself, I expect.)

All week we’ve been playing this song and getting a little weepy in anticipation for tonight. Listen to the lyrics carefully and you’ll understand why. (N.B. Andrew would like me to point out that he hasn’t been getting weepy because he’s a manly-man with a new subscription to Sky Sports and everything. *bicep-curl*)  This one’s for you, Punk. If you really are leaving, I’ll miss you….bloody loads!*WEEP*

 

 

 

 

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Randy Orton, Kelly Kelly and Why It Matters

Over the past couple of days the Internet has been awash with reaction to the derogatory comments Randy Orton made about Kelly Kelly’s personal life during an interview with a Phoenix radio station. In the interest of giving an informed opinion I’ve listened to the interview in full. The comments themselves relate to Kelly’s sex life, suggesting that she has slept with several of the WWE roster, to which the sex was regularly referred to as ‘method acting’ by Orton and the astonishingly obnoxious hosts. The alleged notches in Kelly’s bedpost became a running joke throughout the interview, with the hosts asking Randy if Kelly had “banged” almost every Superstar who came up in conversation, before collapsing in laughter.

There are really two main issues here – the unprofessional nature of Orton’s conduct and the double standards women are held up to with regard to sexuality, particularly in the WWE. Randy Orton certainly has form when it comes to unprofessional behaviour, but in the past it was when he was either on the brink of making it truly big or such a believable villain that it didn’t quite have the same impact that this incident has had. Previously his character suggested it was almost expected that he would be controversial in interviews. Orton is now the face of SmackDown; the brand’s number one good guy. When he’s sent out on these assignments he’s there to promote the company, the shows, the merchandise in a wholly positive light and as the newly loved World Heavyweight Champion. I think Randy Orton’s just found out that it’s not such an easy job being the good guy. He would do well to take some tips from John Cena, who continually oozes professionalism in interviews. Even more impressive is the Miz, who manages to be the man everyone loves to hate, yet comes across as utterly charming in every interview he gives.

Regardless of what you think of your colleagues and the standards by which you quietly judge their life choices, you simply cannot discuss their private lives in public. It’s not what I expect of someone representing a global business. It’s not what I expect of anyone. I once worked in an organisation where a colleague was severely reprimanded for quite modestly speaking ill of the boss, in the pub, after working hours. Someone reported the comments back to the boss and the colleague was punished. In the real world, people get fired for less than Randy Orton has said and I sincerely hope there have been some repercussions here. I cringe to think that young boys who idolise Randy Orton have listened to that interview and think it’s perfectly acceptable to discuss women in this way. Whether he wants to be or not, Orton’s a role mode and should conduct himself as such.

Aside from the fact that Randy Orton makes both himself and the WWE look painfully unprofessional during this interview, the matter he commented on could not be any less his concern. He had no right to report on Kelly’s private life so publicly and especially using such crass language. Our sexuality is ours to own. Whether we choose to have no sexual partners at all or a different one every night, we all make that choice for ourselves and don’t expect to be judged for it. The problem with the way female sexuality is viewed is that, the moment a woman does something even remotely sexual, it comes to define who she is in a way that just doesn’t apply men. CM Punk, for example, is alleged to be quite the lothario. It is mentioned in passing among wrestling fans but it never impacts how he is viewed as a wrestler or a human being. Fans and colleagues alike are currently fawning all over Punk following his glowing performance in what might possibly be the defining storyline of his career. Women (including the WWE Divas) aren’t afforded that same respect. Men are actually congratulated for sexual conquests, while women are considered ‘sluts’. Sexy isn’t a dirty word regardless of gender.

For example, I watched Beyoncé close the Glastonbury festival on television on Sunday night. I’m biased in that I’m a huge fan of hers, but I was incredibly moved by how she managed to woo 175,000 people with the most outstanding performance I’ve ever seen her pull off. The overwhelming response seemed to be that Beyoncé had taken the nation’s breath away. The following day on Twitter a female journalist I (still) adore and respect, Julia Raeside, boiled her performance down to this:

JNRaeside
Re Beyonce: she is professional, clearly works hard, all of the things you say. But she shakes her bottom for money.
27/06/2011 12:59

I was genuinely upset by Julia’s comment. As long it’s not all you think you have to offer, there is absolutely nothing wrong with displaying your sexuality. There is nothing wrong with going on stage in a leotard, heels and a spangly jacket. I see no problem with shaking your arse to music just because it feels good. It was as if Julia had bypassed Beyoncé’s operatically trained voice, her impeccable dance skills, her acting credits, her writing skills and her obvious humility because she had chosen to be sexy during some of the performance. If Usher had joined her on stage shirtless and grinding his crotch at the audience, nobody would have blinked an eye. Run the World (Girls) may not be entirely lyrically accurate, but if I had a daughter I’d want her to listen to it and feel she could run the world if she wanted to. I do think Beyoncé is a positive role model for young women. Her sexuality is just one part of her personality, which she sometimes plays up as part of her performance. This should be the case for the WWE Divas too.

The WWE itself isn’t totally blameless here. Smart, Sexy, Powerful is a good tagline to attach to the women on the roster, but I’m concerned that only one of those words is currently being fulfilled. If the business is trying to gear itself towards a very young audience, it should be trying much harder to define its female talent by more than just their sexuality. They get plenty of opportunities to appear sexy, but very few to display their intelligence and power in the form of clever storylines, long matches and equal billing. I don’t have a problem with the plethora of female photo shoots WWE pumps out so frequently. What I do have a problem with is that the male roster members don’t seem to be required to take part in them nearly as often as the women do. The net result of this is that the Divas’ sexuality appears that much more overt than that of the male Superstars and it becomes what they’re famous for.

I wasn’t exactly banging my drum for feminism when such a huge deal was made of Kelly Kelly’s appearance in this year’s Maxim Hot 100 list. I’m not sure it really achieves anything to ask adolescent boys looking for wank fodder to rate women according to their looks. I think it’s a ludicrous concept as outdated as beauty pageants. But lads’ mags are on the slide on the newsstand anyway, and I’d be surprised if any were still in circulation in ten years time.  For now, they exist and I know Kelly was pleased to be have been included, but it’s really worth no more than some free publicity for the company. Regardless, suggesting that Kelly’s appearance in the list somehow sets her up for derogatory comments is pretty pathetic, yet it’s an argument I heard in Orton’s defence.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve read some outrageous justifications and excuses for Randy Orton’s comments. It doesn’t matter which magazines Kelly’s modelled for. It doesn’t matter what she did for a living in the past. It doesn’t matter which characters she’s played in previous storylines. Pondering whether Randy’s punishment is adequate based on who the woman he humiliated is gets away from the fact that he made the comments in the first place. If you’re thinking he might have chosen his words more carefully if Kelly’s boyfriend was someone more powerful in the company, you’ve definitely missed the point. It doesn’t matter if you like her, find her attractive or enjoy her wrestling, there should be zero tolerance of this kind of behaviour and no room for compromise.

Randy’s an extremely well paid and (supposedly) media savvy professional. It’s not sufficient to say that he was just hanging out with ‘the guys’ and got caught up in a rowdy moment. He wasn’t in a bar bullshitting with his mates, he was on a radio show available worldwide. That should have been his first thought before answering every single question.  This is why his Twitter apology (in which he asked people to drop the subject for her sake) seems a little wet. Irritating and archaic as they were, it’s not as if the hosts held a gun to his head or coerced him into discussing Kelly’s private life. The words spilt out quite freely. Who on earth was Orton trying to impress? Randy Orton repeatedly mentioned his wife and daughter during the interview. A good rule of thumb should be ‘if someone were about to embarrass my daughter/wife/girlfriend/sister/mother with these words, how would I feel about it?’ If your reaction would be to punch the guy in the chops, show every woman the same respect you’d show the women in your life and keep your mouth shut.

If none of this seems important and you think it’s all a silly overreaction (particularly if you’re a woman) I urge you to read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman. It’s the most fantastic, rich, funny, honest book you’ll find about being a woman and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you disagree with what I’ve said here, I almost guarantee you’d take a different view on Randy Orton’s humiliation of Kelly Kelly after reading it – women and men.

Keep the Noise Down

I’ve thought long and hard about whether I want to write this post or not, but Andrew is a wise man and is right in saying that I need to get it out of my system so I can fully enjoy wrestling again. I’m struggling with wrestling at the moment, but it has nothing to do with wrestling itself. I’m finding Raw surprisingly enjoyable, Smackdown is rebuilding itself after the big shift in personnel, Tough Enough was fantastic, Superstars is the hidden gem that not enough people realise is excellent and that’s all before the plethora of indie DVDs we’re slowly making our way through. We recently finished watching CHIKARA’s 2011 King of Trios tournament, which was so outstanding I’d struggle to find the words to describe it. Luckily, Matt Jones did that for us after attending the shows himself. We’re moving on to Colt Cabana’s Wrestling Road Diaries next. I can hardly wait.

So what, you might ask, am I struggling with? Well, it’s the Internet. It’s colouring how I view wrestling, bringing me down, turning me off, urinating on my fire etc.  I spent several months hardly checking in with the Internet Wrestling Community. It made me angry, so I avoided it. But after a recent difficult personal event, wrestling was a welcome distraction and I revelled in sharing it with others. That all changed again when Christian lost the World Heavyweight Title just a few days after winning it for the first time at Extreme Rules. The IWC was outraged, I was not.

To me this just seemed like another twist in a constantly rolling series of stories. Christian dropped the belt to Randy Orton. So what? If Edge hadn’t retired, Christian may never have been a contender anyway. Who was to say that this wasn’t the beginning of something much bigger? This may have been the start of the Story of the Year. Fans behaved as if Vince McMahon and Co. had somehow betrayed them by promising a title run before snatching it away again. I didn’t see it that way. Nobody had been promised anything and, in reality, they were probably more concerned with establishing Randy Orton as the new Smackdown poster boy. I couldn’t cope with such ridiculous Internet venom and when people started tweeting death threats in Randy Orton’s direction I checked out of Twitter, vowing not to return until it had all blown over. Unsurprisingly, it took no more than a week for ‘the most awful thing that had ever happened in wrestling’ to be forgotten.

I started wondering if I was getting too old for wrestling. I don’t actually think you’re ever too old for wrestling; I’m just outgrowing the crowd of people who spew inconsiderate and unintelligent nonsense around the Internet. If nothing else, my time away from Twitter forced me to accept that not everybody watches wrestling for the same reasons and with the same agenda that I do. We all take something different away from it and I decided I’d just have to accept that there would always be fan reactions I didn’t understand. My angst settled again, until the WWE Over the Limit Pay-Per-View.

We decided not to watch the show live, opting to avoid spoilers and watch it on Monday. I watched during the afternoon and, while it wasn’t a particularly memorable PPV, I quite enjoyed it in parts. I certainly didn’t feel angry about anything that happened during the show. I returned to the Internet to see what others had thought and was met with a shower of insurmountable negativity. In some places, whole streams of comments made throughout the show were nothing but diarised bullets of anger shot out at anyone who cared to read them. For want of a more elegant way of putting it, it killed my buzz.

We all have our frustrated moments, but I don’t understand why people continue to watch and comment on wrestling when it is mustering such fury within them. Wrestling isn’t a sport where the outcome of each event is unknown. It’s a scripted television programme. If I’m watching a TV series that’s gone off the boil  (however much I used to enjoy it) I stop watching. Just as an example, I watched and adored the first series of Glee. Andrew will vouch for me when I say that anything where people suddenly burst into song and dance makes me extremely happy, but I didn’t enjoy the second series. To use some wrestling terminology, I thought it became a spot-fest and forgot what it was supposed to be about. I’m disappointed that Glee became something I didn’t want it to be, but I don’t feel that I have or should have any control over the creative process. In wrestling it seems that everyone feels they have a right to dictate how stories will play out. We all have opinions and suggestions, but many wrestling fans seem to express them with such life-and-death desperation it just makes me want to stop conversing altogether.

The only way to make an impact is to vote with your remote control. Stop buying the PPVs and stop watching the free stuff.  I know it’s not easy and I should have done it myself during the atrocious Raw Guest Host months. I loathed it. The shows were painful to watch but I kept writing about just how awful they were week after week. It wore me down and I resented spending my weekends writing about it. I’m sorry I subjected people to that. At the time we were on a blogging treadmill and it took several months before we were able to step off and only write about things we thought deserved our time. It was the best decision we ever made. If you’re hating wrestling, step away from it for a while. If you miss it, you’ll come back. If you’re hating WWE, find an alternative.

After some of those who watched Over the Limit live had stolen my enjoyment of the show, I quite seriously considered deleting my Twitter account. Instead, I checked out again and tweeted a statement I still stand by. ‘There is more to wrestling than the WWE and there is more to life than wrestling.’ There are far more important things worth getting worked up about. I started paying serious attention to independent wrestling less than two years ago and now I couldn’t do without it. It gives you a bigger picture of wrestling. When WWE isn’t hitting the spot, it’s a place to go where your faith in wrestling is instantly restored. When you have options, you worry less about the WWE. King of Trios was our ‘happy place’ during the usual post Wrestlemania slump. In fact, while watching CHIKARA recently, both Andrew and myself agreed that if we had to choose between the two, we’d easily select CHIKARA over WWE. A show that makes you smile for three hours straight once a month is far superior to a collection of shows broadcast three or four times a week where the expectation is that only small portion of the shows will be entertaining.

Once again I tried to ignore the rubbish, but when the Kharma story started seeping across the Internet like an unstoppable torrent, it tipped me over the edge. As a woman, I struggle with the way the WWE treats its female roster. It goes against many of my principles and I’m often embarrassed by the lack of equal billing (among other things) between Divas and Superstars. Still, I persevere because the WWE is loaded with wonderfully talented women who will surely one day be given an opportunity to be trusted with stories and main events currently set aside for the boys. [Incidentally, there’s an excellent article on Feminism and Pro Wrestling by Danielle Stull in the first issue of the Fair to Flair Quarterly. I highly recommend it.]

Kharma (Kia Stevens) was an impossibly exciting addition to the WWE roster. Nobody was more thrilled than I was when she started gate crashing the established Divas matches, paralysing them with fear as she drove each of the girls into the mat, one show at a time. I was brimming with ideas and excited at the possibilities to come. It shouldn’t have taken one contract signing to inject such vigour into the division, but at least it felt like there may be something of a watershed on the horizon.

Out of nowhere on the May 23rd edition of Raw, Kharma broke down in tears in the middle of the ring surrounded by the bewildered Divas. It began emerging online that Kharma would be out for several months. This seemed odd considering she hadn’t had a match yet. It would be terribly unfortunate for her to have picked up an injury after such little ring time. Before Kharma had even had an opportunity to explain her forthcoming absence, it leaked that her time away would be at least nine months. Oh. NINE MONTHS. Wink-wink-nudge-nudge-saynomore. It was disappointing that the announcement of such a personal event had been taken away from her, but if the news was true I was thoroughly pleased for her. What more exciting news is there than finding out you’re becoming a parent for the first time? It never really crossed my mind to consider how it would affect my hopes for the Divas division. Some things in life are more important. Unfortunately, not everyone felt the same way.

I was genuinely stunned at some of the comments I saw online. People were annoyed that Kharma would be disappearing so soon after her arrival. Some were more than ‘annoyed’, they were nasty. Interestingly, on going back to find a couple of them, I notice that some have been taken down. In writing this post I had several examples saved that I planned on using here, but upsetting people for the sake of it is not my style. I’m not much for confrontation. The people who spouted off online about how a woman’s pregnancy ‘let them down’ know who they are. I will, however, quote the comment that upset me the most.

Nine months = pregnancy.

And, if that is the case, one would wonder why she couldn’t use birth control or something before the biggest push of her life. Anti-climactic.

Yeah, mate. How dare a woman have a child when your leisure time is at stake. How very selfish of her. Another comment on the same article described Kharma’s then alleged pregnancy as “PREGO!!!!! Epic fail by Kharma.” A child is never an epic fail. By the way, those who asked if Kharma had broken down because it was her ‘time of the month’ and was she feeling emotional should be ashamed. I saw that question asked by women. Despite the fact that the Internet had already ‘broken the story’, no official statement had been released by the WWE. It was announced that Kharma would address the audience on the next episode of Raw, drumming up significant speculation online about how the announcement would play out. Much of the discussion was about how trashy the WWE would make her departure, considering the fact that maternity leave hasn’t been high on their list of priorities in the past.

Kia is a classy lady and the WWE allowed her to temporarily bow out of competition with real style. I was proud of her and I was pleased they resisted the urge to turn something very simple and touching into anything less than it deserved. Even the Bella Twins coming out to verbally bitch-slap her was done with a touch of coolness. The show must go on! If ever there was a moment for them to ramp up their heel credentials, that was it. When the WWE has handled a female issue with more tact and delicacy than the fans, something is very wrong and I’m not sure I want to be part of it any more.

I’ve reached a point where I’m embarrassed to call myself a wrestling fan and it has very little to do wrestling at all. That’s frustrating, and I’ve had to seriously consider whether the Internet enhances or detracts from my enjoyment of wrestling. At the moment it’s spoiling it. We’re definitely not closing the blog because we love it dearly. And I’m not deleting the Twitter account, but it’s time to reconsider the sources of information I seek out, take note of and allow to cross my path. Differences in opinion and debate are healthy and spark new ideas, but pandering to rumours, sourceless stories and the fans who force their negativity on others only fuels their fire. Being passionate about something isn’t measured in how loud you shout and, from here on in, I refuse to allow people shouting far too loudly to steal professional wrestling away from me.

 

 

A Song For Whoever: Shimmer & WWE Superstars Edition

BOSS LADY RAY: Just a quick one this week, as we’ve got a lot of posts to share with you during this Wrestlemania/blog birthday week. As you know, we’re active champions of our fellow countrymen and women on this blog. Our cooing over Mason Ryan, Wade Barrett and Layla, for example, is unflinching. With this in mind, this week’s song is dedicated to the UK-born ladies who made their Shimmer debuts this past weekend; namely Rhia O’Reilly, Britani Knight and Saraya Knight. We love seeing Brits do well, but we especially love seeing the ladies prosper. Lord knows it’s difficult enough for girls to get ahead in wrestling. Well done, ladies. We’re proud of ya!

SIDEKICK ANDREW: It’s not all good news though. This week also saw the confirmation that WWE Superstars has been cancelled by WGN America, leaving it no TV home. Now I realise that most people don’t watch Superstars, but it has become a very close second behind Smackdown in my WWE TV of choice recently.

People don’t seem to watch Superstars because you don’t get the big names on there each week. But what you do get in place of your John Cenas, HHHs and Undertakers is a group of mid and lower card wrestlers making the most of their limited TV exposure by putting on really fun matches. Over the last few months we’ve had a really fun feud with Curt Hawkins (yes, that Curt Hawkins!) and Trent Baretta, a short series of great William Regal and Darren Young matches (yes, that Darren Young!) and the rennaisance of Chris Masters and Tyler Reks – two guys I couldn’t have cared less for until recently. That’s not to mention current Wrestlegasm favourite Zack Ryder (or, as my favourite commentator Scott Stanford calls his team with Primo, Long Island Iced Z and Primo Colada.)

See? That’s something else you’re missing out on! Rather than having to sit through the interminably dull meanderings of Jerry Lawler and Booker T, or the confusingly genius annoyance that is Micheal Cole, Superstars has commentary from the amazing Scott Stanford and Jack Korpela (the man who “has your back” in the “Please buy our PPV on Sky Box Office” videos) as well as Matt Striker (and you know what we think of Striker here in The Bunker)

If you listen carefully, you can hear Boss Lady Ray swoon at the wink

Anyway, the long and short of it is Superstars was great and you didn’t watch it. Because you didn’t watch it, it’s been cancelled. Cause and effect people… you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

PS. The main event from Superstars last week was a really fun Mixed Tag match that you should probably watch. Click here and see what you were missing out on. You can thank me later.