Nylons and Midriffs: Checks and Championships (May 22, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs, Works-In-Process

Image credit: forbes.com

I’ll be honest with you all. My interest in the WWE product has dipped drastically since WrestleMania. As we all know, we were heralded into a “new era” several months ago, with promises of new matchups and roster changes sure to revitalize a bland product. We got this for a hot minute but, as expected, things went back more or less to normal. Even the NXT callups don’t feel special anymore, because the stars are simply forced to assimilate to the formula of weekly RAW and Smackdown TV.

Thus, for the women’s division, I will discuss what this return to boredom has looked like in the last couple of weeks. But, we’ll also talk about the few seeds planted that have the potential to flourish into fruitful gardens — that is, if WWE nurtures them.

Let’s take a look at both Money in the Bank, and what has been happening on the weekly shows generally.

The Good
RAW and SD Live: I see potential in some of the relationships that are forming between paired female Superstars. There’s the ongoing tension between Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose that continues to play out with little snippets of dissension, but we now have an added layer: the idea that Sonya is carrying Mandy, rather than holding her back. I am intrigued to see where this goes, especially if it leads to a push for Sonya, who is arguably the more talented of the two in the ring. In the story, we’ve seen that Sonya also puts her own aspirations aside in favor of getting Mandy ahead, like when she simply conceded a place in the MITB ladder match to Mandy. In this very small backstage segment, we are now led to believe that there is a power dynamic in place between Mandy and Sonya that logically should lead the underdog in the situation to stand down to her domineering friend.

In addition, we have the odd couple of Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss. I’m not sure what this will evolve into, but I’m into it! In their own ways, they both have an unhinged aura about them, although Alexa is more calculating in her ways. This could lead to an interesting story of manipulation on Alexa’s part, or it could evolve into a weird business relationship of sorts, where Alexa has Nikki do her bidding for her (as her in-ring status is still uncertain). Or, they could feud. We just don’t know! But curious pairings like this can definitely lead to memorable storylines.

MITB: The women’s MITB ladder match was excellent! Firstly, I loved Nikki Cross as Alexa Bliss’ replacement in the match. Partly because I will always favor new faces over old ones, but also because she added a factor of unpredictability within the dynamic of the match. There were admittedly some weird parts, like Carmella’s knee injury (it was difficult to tell if it was planned or not, given Mandy Rose’s reactions). But on the whole, I loved every woman in this match and what they added. From Naomi’s creative evasion of certain attacks because of her flexibility and athleticism (still dying over that horizontal splits spot!), to Dana Brooke’s sheer desperation to win, to Sonya Deville carrying Mandy Rose up a freaking ladder — it was all chef’s kiss. Spot of the match goes to Ember Moon, for executing an Eclipse from outside the ring from a ladder to Natalya.

GIF credit: helluvaclash.tumblr.com

Every year as I watch the women’s MITB, I smile. I am filled with joy at how much better the women get at these stipulation matches with each successive year. I will not lie — the men’s matches are still generally better than many of the women’s efforts. However, that gap is closing. Quickly. I love to see it.

Image credit: forbes.com

And also, Bayley! I am SO happy for her, after such inconsistent and arguably disrespectful booking since she was called up from NXT. It seems as if now WWE is more ready to pull the trigger on building her as a top babyface for the women’s division, and fans are starting to cheer her again. We are ready for Bayley. My hope is that this time around, things are different.

The Bad
RAW and SD Live: As I mentioned earlier, WWE has returned to their standard formula of booking for the most part. This includes the women and chucking them into single segments every week, mostly on RAW. Women who have nothing to do with one another, who have no chemistry, are being put into one giant segment labeled “The Women!” because WWE doesn’t know what to do with any of them individually. This plays out week-to-week with few longterm plans. The problem with WWE for the last couple of years, but far longer for the women specifically, is each of their segments play out like those plays you did in high school. Everyone comes out and talks when it’s their turn, and hits their marks and says their signature lines, and once everyone has said their stuff, the musical number begins. Er, the match in this case. It just feels over-scripted.

Image credit: WWE.com

Everyone is just sort of there because they were told to be. Most of the women sound like they are acting as an interpretation of themselves (that coming from the writing team) rather than their actual selves as they understand their characters to be. The element of freedom is missing.

Not only this, because of all of the multi-woman matches, WWE has become so accustomed to seeing the women as a monolith that they actually struggle to send women out to compete in matches alone. Few women are afforded the luxury nowadays to simply walk out to the ring on their own, without someone in their corner or interrupting their loss or victory at the end of a match. Too many women are in pairs that are not long-term tag teams, but rather arbitrary attachments, something to “do” until writers can figure out stories for one or both of them. I miss the days when women were singular beings, able to stand alone and that be enough. I’m not sure why it isn’t anymore.

MITB: Luckily, I don’t have too much to report as “bad” from Sunday, but there are a couple of contentious points I think we should consider moving forward.

First is that while I am overjoyed for Bayley, many fans have pointed out that the briefcase win may have been better served to newer faces, such as Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, or even Dana Brooke.

Image credit: womenofwwesource.turmblr.com

Whereas Bayley likely could have recovered from a loss at MITB, many of the women in that match will not, and will slide back down the card. It appears that WWE now uses the MITB briefcase as a plot device rather than a means to put over newer talent into the main event scene, as it used to be. So in this way, Bayley’s win was bittersweet.

Second is the fact that Charlotte won…again. I obviously see why she needed to win, in order to pass the title between Becky and Bayley while keeping both of the aforementioned women over with the fans. But it’s still annoying that Charlotte is racking up title wins for essentially no other reason than to make the babyfaces that eventually beat her look more triumphant. I am of the mind that each title win should be earned within the context of a storyline, and with Charlotte it seems so often that she is the de facto champion when the writers have nowhere else to go. Could we not use another heel woman in her place some of the time? We’re now stuck with the reality that Charlotte is a 9-time champion, which is just an unfathomable amount of reigns in such a short period of time. And that’s not even counting her Divas title reign.

The Thorny

Image credit: picbear.org

And with my discussion of stuffing the women in one segment and calling it a night, I must mention one of the more insidious effects that this is having on a particular division. You may remember that the IIconics won the women’s tag team championships at WresteMania. You may struggle to remember a time where they’ve defended these titles against legitimate opponents in the nearly two months they’ve been the champions. And therein lies the problem.

People are still giving Sasha Banks (less so Bayley, as she’s now being cheered) such crap for complaining about losing the titles. Given how the belts have been treated since then, I’d like to hear the perspectives of those that still justify hating on Sasha for taking a stand. The IIconics were simply not ready to be champions. Not because they are not talented. Not because they don’t have potential. But because WWE is not ready to put forth the effort to make their title reign work.

They are taking pins left and right to women that aren’t even in tag teams. They are fed to women’s championship contenders. And for what? What is the reason? Why did we give them the titles? My hypothesis is this: WWE knew they had their hands full with Sasha and Bayley as champs. They knew that those women had plans for those titles, ideas, passion, and clout. They wanted to make those titles feel important, to the women’s division and WWE as a whole. WWE, put simply, didn’t have time for that. They put the belts on the IIconics because it was a sign marked “Exit” for them. It was an excuse for them to not try as hard, since the IIconics are not as established as performers in the political sense but also in the ring. If they were booked the way that they are now, WWE knew they wouldn’t put up a fuss.

Which brings us back to why this whole situation is still bogus: women, especially women of color, are penalized for demanding more. For reaching for more. Because WWE is lazy, and the women are expendable. And as long as that is their ideology, the division will never prosper the way the men’s does. And it is unfortunate to think that they might actually prefer it that way.

***

Now that the women’s championships are spread evenly across both brands, we should see some new feuds. Should. But we shall see.

Until next time.

Stay legit bossy,

AC

Call for PWSA’s Inaugural Symposium

Calls, Symposium

The President of the PWSA invites submissions for the association’s inaugural PWSA Symposium: WrestlePosium I.

This virtual symposium will happen online on Saturday, April 4th, to coincide with WrestleMania. That week has become a touchstone for all of professional wrestling, not just the World Wrestling Entertainment’s signature show. As such, the PWSA seeks to bring academic scholarship to the festivities by connecting wrestling scholars around the world to present their research and ideas.

Presentations can be given live, via a videoconferencing tool, or be recorded and collected for viewing during that day. Additionally, all live presentations will also be recorded and collected for later viewing. Presentations and videos will be no longer than 15 minutes, but applicants can also submit ideas for roundtable discussions and complete panels. Sessions will be scheduled during the day based on the proposals.

Interested applicants should submit a 500-word proposal outlining the purpose and scope of their presentation, roundtable or panel. Proposals should include titles and contact information for all speakers. Submissions should be sent to PWSA president CarrieLynn D. Reinhard (creinhard@dom.edu).

The deadline for submissions to the symposium is December 31, 2019.

Nylons and Midriffs: The More Things Change…. (May 7, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: est143.blogspot.com

Greetings good wrestling fans. I hope the weather has started to warm up wherever you may be! In the post-Superstar Shakeup world of WWE, things in many ways are heating up. But, for some female Superstars, things are….well, a prolonged winter in May, to say the least.

Unlike most weeks, we’ll discuss how the Good, Bad, and Thorny are somewhat related to each other. I believe that the positives have made the negatives more glaring, and vice versa.

The Good

Image credit: SEScoops.com

The general good happening with the new RAW and Smackdown women’s rosters is that the spotlight is being shone on women in different ways then it had been previously. Particularly on the Smackdown side, we have seen Bayley re-emphasized as a singles competitor, and Asuka and Kairi Sane re-imagined as tag-team partners. We’ve seen these three women featured more prominently on the show since the Shakeup, and I’m sure I speak for many fans when I say that this is a welcome change of pace.

Further, it’s Bayley specifically I am really impressed with. In two consecutive weeks on Smackdown, Bayley faced off against her Four Horsewomen counterparts (the fourth of whom is still jarringly absent from TV), and in each showing she fought with heart and fire that we haven’t seen arguably since her NXT days.

Image credit: WWE.com

It is a shame that I’d actually forgotten just how good she is from a purely in-ring standpoint. WWE as well have allowed her to show more tenacity on Smackdown, which hopefully will translate into a Seth Rollins-esque babyface climb to the top. Only time will tell, of course, but things at least look promising as of now.

To continue with Smackdown praise, the “B” show continues to outgrade RAW when it comes to women’s segments. It feels as if every women’s segment has intention, serving a larger storytelling purpose (even if the quality of said stories isn’t always ideal). When watching Smackdown, I get the sense that the writers see the women as an actual part of the show to be seen throughout, not simply filler between men’s segments or afterthoughts. The majority of the women on the Smackdown roster has at least some sort of story going at the moment, and you can see where things can logically go with each of their feuds. There is Kairi and Asuka going for the IIconics’ tag belts, Becky interacting with Charlotte, even Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose stewing up a rivalry. In varying degrees, most Smackdown women feel important to the writing and pacing of the show itself. In turn, it makes the show more desirable to watch than RAW. And speaking of…

The Bad
It is baffling that on the show with an entire extra hour to work with, there seems to be a problem with making the women feel important rather than obligatory. Without Sasha Banks (and some may argue, even with her), the RAW women’s division is shallow. To add to the shallowness of the division, the writers can only seem to create women’s segments wherein the women featured are only sniping at each other to lead into a two-minute match. It is so odd, and actually a little infuriating when you stop to consider just how much more the women could be given to work with every week in comparison to some of the downright buffoonish men’s segments we see.

Image credit: fightful.com

And in regard to the aforementioned two-minute matches — what are we doing here? It is 2019. The fact that RAW consistently delivers women’s matches (and even segments) in under five minutes should be ridiculed as unacceptable. I can’t say that I am shocked that WWE has continued the legacy of “bathroom break” matches on their flagship show, but it certainly makes evident that the writers have a long way to go in the realm of positive female representation.

The Thorny
Revisiting a familiar theme to this section, I once again must express my boredom for the current title picture for the RAW and Smackdown women’s belts. We have Becky Lynch facing off against Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans, two physically sculpted, tanned, and conventionally attractive blonde white women. I understand that Becky’s “The Man” gimmick has historically gone over better when her foil is someone like Lacey or Charlotte, a heel that fans can loathe for being exactly what I’ve described. But it continues to be shocking just how lazy these feuds shape up to be. WWE is taking the easy way out by doing what they’ve always done, and the rest of the women’s roster pays for it.

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

In the media landscape of today, we have entered a moment of “meta.” Showrunners work subtle and not-so-subtle racism, sexism, etc. into their storylines and call it an intentional choice to potentially “expose” or portray how commonplace said things are in our everyday interactions and systems. There is a self-awareness that feels almost self-congratulatory; these writers believe that because they are in on their own joke that it nullifies the impact of the representation of whatever oppression they aim to realistically depict.

The problem with this approach is that it is often done without the consultation of the oppressed groups targeted by the negative portrayal. And thus, the depiction only works to confirm in real life the biases being written for fiction. This comes across often in the form of premature character deaths for women, queer folk, or people of color before they’ve satisfactorily completed their story arcs, or invisibility of these people on the shows altogether (looking at you Game of Thrones).

So, in looking at the women’s division, WWE is now smart to the fact that fans have caught on to their favoritism toward blonde white women. They now subtly work our smark critiques of this bias into the character development of these women, and in turn their pushes to the top. But ultimately, WWE now embracing this tendency within the confines of storyline does not somehow negate the effect that this continues to have on a sizable portion of their women’s locker room. A spade is a spade. Oppression on a smiling, joking, knowing face is still oppression. And we should still treat it as such.

***

I am looking forward to Money in the Bank; it is usually a memorable pay-per-view, if only for the ladder matches themselves. For storyline reasons, I’m ready to get it over with, in the hope that something fresh awaits around the corner.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Killer Bees Comic Biography

Wrestling Comics

This is the last of the Inverse Press comics biographies I purchased as a part of a Humble Bundle.

In my last blog post, I nodded to the place of religion in the Bobby Fulton story;  this comic opens with the same theme:

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It’s possible, though, that I am out of steam on these — the narratives are looking more and more alike, despite the fact that I know that the lived experience of these men is in fact very different.

This story, I have heard told orally, at an AWA event [about which I blogged several weeks ago].  It’s good to see it on the page.

kbcc

I can imagine some classroom uses for these books, both to learn about wrestling history and to teach the celebratory genres of biography – the hagiographic and the mythic forms of storytelling.  And they are fun reads, in moderation.

CFP: Professional Wrestling Studies Journal

Journal Publication

The Professional Wresting Studies Association invites submissions for the inaugural issue of the Professional Wrestling Studies Journal, an open-access, peer-reviewed academic journal.

We welcome scholarly work from any theoretical and methodological lens that is rigorous, insightful, and expands our audience’s understanding of professional wrestling past or present as a cultural, social, political, and/or economic institution.

All submissions must be original scholarly work and free of identifying information for blind review. Written articles should be submitted as Word documents and no more than 8,000 words, inclusive of a 200-word abstract and a reference list. MLA citation style is required. Any images that are not original require copyright clearance. Articles will be converted into PDFs for publication, so hyperlinks should be active.

For multimedia productions and experimental scholarship, please contact editor-in-chief Matt Foy (foym38@uiu.edu) to verify length and proper format in which to send the piece.

The deadline for submissions is October 31, 2019 for an April 2020 publication.

Please email submissions to prowrestlingstudies@gmail.com.