Nylons and Midriffs: Brand New? (June 17, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: WWE.com

I think all WWE fans can agree that the product is stale and stagnant as far as storytelling currently. With exception of the bright humor of the 24/7 title shenanigans, I can find little, if any, positive things happening on RAW and Smackdown at the moment. On paper, the main event and mid-card titles for both men and women are on arguably the most favorable people they could be on, with the likes of Rollins, Kingston, Lynch, Bayley, Balor, Joe, and the IIconics representing their respective divisions.

And yet.

Half of these people don’t feel important to their brands at all, and the other half are often eclipsed by multi-man tag matches or non-title feuds (ahem, Shane McMahon).

For the women, outside of Bayley and Becky being champs, there is nothing good, new, or interesting happening. It is the same recipe, just different day of the week it’s being prepared. In a first for Nylons, I am actually going to skip the Good section here.

Times are bleak, friends.

The Bad
I’ll talk about a singular segment that, in my opinion, highlights the core problem with the way WWE writes its female characters. On the past week’s Smackdown, a backstage segment with Ember Moon, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose seemed to set up a feud amongst the trio. In the clip below, Ember essentially loses it because Sonya knocked her handheld gaming console (Nintendo Switch?) out of her hands. There were nods to Ember’s real-life nerdy inclinations, with mentions of heroes and villains.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAMUfOVUozc&w=560&h=315]

It seems as if this storyline may be going the bullying route, and if that is the case, it would be a disappointing turn for Ember. Remembering the bullying storyline between Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss, the bullied character doesn’t exactly benefit from the feud. And given Mandy’s track record, with disrupting the life and marriage of another black woman (Naomi), I don’t exactly have faith that WWE would put over a younger, more subversive black female talent like Ember in the end.

With this probable mishandling of Ember and her gimmick, WWE once again fails one of its performers by misunderstanding gimmicks that bite the mold they are used to. They have the bitchy, condescending white woman down to a near-perfect science. Anything that falls outside of that, especially for women of color, the writers simply don’t know what to do with. And I reiterate, this is why it is important to have diversity in writers’ rooms and higher leadership on any media project.

Image credit: TVinsider.com

As a black woman, I know nerdy black girls like Ember Moon. Heck, to a certain extent, I am one of them! But, for so long, we’ve been fed a certain image of black women, Latinx women, Asian women. That isn’t an accident; it is the working of white supremacy. Many people can only digest women of color if they are a highly specific flavor. People got Ember in NXT because she was allowed the space to explain to us her character, and then back it all up in the ring. Here, on the main roster, she is lost and forced into a very two-dimensional box. Instead of allowing Ember to show her charisma and uniqueness in the ring, we have to see her be picked on as evidence that she is different. It is simply another way to Other her, even if she does come out on top.

In addition, I detest how the trope of the deranged woman applies to any woman who has a slightly out-there gimmick. It works on Nikki Cross — it is even somewhat acceptable with Alicia Fox. But to see it happening, again, with another black woman, is so irksome. “Crazy” is not a stand-in for “eccentric,” and it is possible that women can be aggressive and quirky without being portrayed as unhinged. A man wouldn’t be written to simply scream into the void if someone knocked some of their things down. He would most likely beat the other person’s ass on the spot. Therefore, I want my women written the same way. Human beings, not caricatures.

Also, can we find no better way to set up women’s storylines than to involve catty disagreements? Alexa Bliss’ qualms with Bayley supposedly began because Bayley was mean to her on social media once. Is this a joke? I sound like a broken record, but we would never make this the center of a men’s feud. It is so childish, and I wish with all of my being that people could see women as whole, complicated beings who can handle conflict in sensible ways. It isn’t just inaccurate — it’s insulting to any woman watching to see mean girl antics be the centerpieces of our stories.

The Thorny

Image credit: thechairshot.com

A couple of weeks ago, there was a #1 contender’s match for the Smackdown Women’s championship. Exciting, yes. In a landscape of Kairi Sanes and Ember Moons and Asukas, exciting new matchups were surely right around the corner.

Only in this match, the competitors were Carmella, Charlotte Flair, and Alexa Bliss. And my thought was immediately…of course.

Carmella, to be fair, has had a precarious position in the main event scene since she was called up from NXT. But, because of that, she felt like a decent shot to include in that match. With Charlotte and Alexa, however, there are no excuses. These two have consistently been at the top of the women’s division for the last three years. They’ve never fallen to the back of the line, and if they did, it was because they physically could not wrestle (in Alexa’s case).

We have a field of some of the most talented women on the planet, and WWE thinks, “Yes, let’s continue to push the blonde white women.” Not only that, but the two women with the most championship reigns of all of the women by a long shot. The only woman that comes close in quantity of reigns is Sasha Banks, and look where she is right now. Charlote and Alexa have the most reigns, and some of the longest reigns at the top. I just do not understand why leadership in WWE don’t tire of seeing the same types of women at the top. Well, I do know why, and it’s because of money…and racism. A false sense that women like Alexa and Charlotte are more marketable, and in turn lucrative, and the determination to keep a racial hierarchy in place.

Image credit: wwe.cityblog.ng

Suffice to say, I would be surprised if Bayley came out on top at Stomping Grounds. Perhaps the result of that match will be the launching pad for the next post’s discussion.

***

To you, the reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts on where the product is right now with the women. Or even better, where we can throw our support in the wrestling world to amplify promotions that are getting women right. I’ll be imagining that world for WWE, until next time.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

“Da Crusher” Celebrated in Milwaukee

Works-In-Process, Wrestler Studies

Wrestling legend (from left) Baron Von Raschke, Larry Lisowski and "The Incredible" Kenny J stand with the life-size bronze statue of Reggie "Da Crusher" Lisowski at Crusherfest on June 8.

Wrestling legend Baron Von Raschke, Larry Lisowski and “The Incredible” Kenny J stand with the life-size bronze statue of Reggie “Da Crusher” Lisowski at Crusherfest on June 8. (Photo from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, taken by Erik S. Hanley/Now News Group)

Recently, the City of South Milwaukee designated June 8, 2019, officially, Reggie “Da Crusher” Lisowski Day, in honor of the recently unveiled statue of the professional wrestler.  Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers also issued a proclamation, delivered in his absence.  Other celebrities present included Baron Von Raschke, before a crowd of a few hundred fans.

The bronze statue of Reggie "Da Crusher" Lisowski standing in the crowd on June 8 in South Milwaukee has a very lifelike appearance.

(Photo from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, taken by Erik S. Hanley/Now News Group)

Media coverage was intense: Fox NewsWISN, WTMJ, WTMJ again, and more, both on the day and leading up to it.

According to Wikipedia,

Reginald Lisowski (July 11, 1926 – October 22, 2005) was an American professional wrestler, better known by his ring nameThe Crusher (sometimes Crusher Lisowski to distinguish him from other Crushers, such as Crusher Blackwell). In his obituary, The Washington Post described him as “a professional wrestler whose blue-collar bona fides made him beloved among working class fans for 40 years”.[1]

My grandfather loved Da Crusher, and would surely have donated some coin to the community fundraiser.

There is something interesting, to me, about erecting a statue to Da Crusher in 2019.  It participates in one phenomenon worth thinking about, especially in light of kayfabe, and it runs counter to another.

Statues of Fictional Characters

Image result for mary tyler moore minneapolis

(Image from Atlas Obscura, by lindyi)

Image result for fonz statue

(Image from Wikipedia)

This is the third statue celebrating a fictional character to pop into my news feed, after Mary Tyler Moore and the Fonz.  But this presumes that we see Da Crusher as a fictional character.  The statue of Da Crusher blurs the line between fiction and reality in much the way old-school wrestling, pre-WWE wrestling, especially, blurred a line between fiction and reality.

Minneapolis is celebrating an entirely fictional character in celebrating Mary Tyler Moore.  Milwaukee celebrated an entirely fictional character in the Fonz;  little to none of the energy in creating those statues was about celebrating the actors who brought those characters to life.

But Da Crusher is being celebrated as a character and as the local son.  I’m still puzzling through how to parse this relationship — if asked, who, or what, is South Milwaukee celebrating when they celebrate the Crusher:  their local son, or the character he portrayed?

Communities and New Histories Being Built

At the moment South Milwaukee was building this statue to Da Crusher, statues are coming down across the United States, because the cultural values embedded in those statues have fallen from dominance.  What cultural values are being manifest in this celebration in bronze?

Nylons and Midriffs: Cards on the Table (June 3, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs
Image credit: sportskeeda.com

It’s time to lay it out, friends. This week, we’re taking a step back for once to consider the women’s and larger wrestling scenes at large. Because it would be nearly impossible not to in my opinion, we’ll unpack the implications of AEW as a startup company — what the brand’s existence may mean for some of the women on the roster.

Full disclosure, I was not able to watch Double or Nothing. I didn’t realize the show would not be available for replay on YouTube. So, my consideration of AEW’s women’s division unfortunately won’t include wrestling. Nevertheless, there are still some general thoughts to share.

Let us waste no time!

The Good
I will start off by giving praise to the woman behind the scenes of AEW, a trailblazer in her role: Brandi Rhodes. I came across a post of hers on Instagram in the midst of DoN weekend, and it made me warm to see that she very much acknowledges the unique position she is in as Chief Branding Officer of All Elite Wrestling.

In her own words, she is one of (if not the) first of her kind: a black woman in a notable position of power behind the scenes of a wrestling promotion. Black women, first and foremost, are lucky if they are featured favorably on any wrestling show. To know that someone with a doubly marginalized identity is holding the branding of AEW in their hands is very heartening, and serves as an example of what true inclusion looks like in the rooms where major decisions happen.

In addition, we were given a glimpse of Brandi’s perspective on “colorblindness” in a clip of her husband, Co-Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes, talking to press about AEW’s plan for diversity. Catching general media attention because of a retweet by one Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cody explains in the clip that Brandi helped him to see that colorblindness in terms of race ultimately just erases the specific experiences (and thus, racism) that people of color face everyday. This acknowledgement gave me even more confidence that Brandi is genuine and seems to want inclusion for the brand that she will have a part in promoting. So hats off to you, Mrs. Rhodes!

Back on the WWE side, sadly not much to report. However, there were a few glimmers in the darkness. I want to highlight Becky Lynch, for giving the fire in every one of her matches, no matter how (in)significant it may be.

Image credit: WWE.com

Even in tag matches where she gains essentially nothing from winning, it is fascinating to watch how much she tries to put herself and everyone in the match over. Becky has a natural charisma that it appears she can’t turn off, which is obviously ideal in a champion.

I enjoyed, too, the bits that were done this past week between Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans. I have spoken previously about how similar the two are and, as commentary has as well, it looks like WWE is being more overt in having the two work together. The looks that they served together during their tea time — yikes! Such catty girls, and I feel a little ashamed in admitting that I liked it (despite my feelings about both of them). And, seeing the two turn on each other makes for a potentially interesting story, if the writers should decide to continue it. Although it is rare nowadays, it really does pay off when heels turn on other heels. In my opinion, it drives home even more the reason we’re to believe that they’re bad — because they hate everyone, not just good guys. That is what separates two dimensions from three.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE.com

Here is where the so-called “Wild Card Rule” comes into play. We’ve seen now what this looks like for all divisions, and here is the verdict: it is doing the exact opposite of what it supposedly aimed to fix, which was to make things less predictable on weekly TV.

As we’ve seen, the Wild Card Rule is just an excuse to have the same handful of Superstars appear on both brands, rather than creating any variety in who is shuffled into the mix every week. And for the women, it appears the only people we see partake in the rule are Becky and Lacey. Instead of giving new women the opportunity to fight and feud with women they haven’t before, we are getting the same four or five women in matches in different combinations. And yes, while we see women in other match-ups, they still feel very haphazard. The women vying for the main event titles take leaps of storyline development, while everyone else crawls or even stumbles on any stories they may have going.

Ugh. I hope this “rule” doesn’t last for too much longer.

The Thorny
I want to talk here about the hostile work environment that WWE has fostered, that we as fans have come to expect from the company.

As Double or Nothing aired, obviously, social media was abuzz. WWE Superstars were certainly not exempt from this. I saw a good many stars use their Twitter on the day of the event to either express their good luck wishes to those involved, or live-tweet reactions that vaguely alluded to their marking out at the event.

And maybe it was the algorithm of my Twitter feed, but I noticed that a sizable number of these subtweets came from the female Superstars of the roster. We had Sasha Banks who outright named wrestlers as they went out on the card, Peyton Royce cheering on real-life boyfriend Shawn Spears (formerly Tye Dillinger), Bayley expressing excitement at the future of wrestling, and Naomi flat-out saying that she watched the event. In a strange way, this renewed my hope that these women do, in fact, love what they do. They are simply caught in the crosshairs of a company that refuses to let them go, despite giving very few of them real, substantive pushes.

We had fans making comical remarks under each of these tweets saying that WWE would be soon to fire the Superstar in question over their support of the rival product. And isn’t that twisted?

Some have analyzed this situation at face value as a matter of professionalism. Surely someone working for Pepsi wouldn’t allude to Coke being good on a public platform, right? However, it is my opinion that never speaking positively of your competition, or even demeaning their success, is old hat.

I believe the Superstars of today, in line with their generation of Millennials, are more apt to uplift their “competition” because they recognize that doing so will still ultimately uplift the industry in question. There are exceptions to this, obviously. But, we see this happening every day. Athletes paying each other respect in other sports, influencers complimenting the work of another in a similar field, female writers and politicians and entertainers retweeting and promoting others’ work on their own platforms.

Within the practice of feminism, it is held as a belief that women should uplift other women, especially those in disadvantaged positions. The same applies here, and I think many of the aforementioned women (whether they knew it or not) were embodying this during DoN. Watching other people shine shouldn’t ruin your personal shine. In fact, it should help motivate you to shine brighter.

Why, then, is there a legitimate fear that WWE Superstars and the most vulnerable among them (that being women and people of color) could be putting their jobs in jeopardy simply for being a fan of their own sport?

The insidious thing here is that WWE is asking their talent to be complicit in squashing competition, if only by pretending it doesn’t exist. Knowing that there is another viable option outside of WWE for the women in the locker room can push them to be better versions of themselves or seek out the grass on the other side.

GIF credit: tenor.com

WWE currently is not allowing for either, which is likely creating a bubbling, resentful women’s locker room. My dream for the women of WWE is for them to be allowed to love what they do and actually do it every week, without limitations, without pretending, and without complicity in holding women in other promotions down.

We are not free until we are all free.

***

I look forward to the TV deal that AEW has established with TNT, because it means that I can see with my own eyes what this product is about. Although it is months away, that threat of competition for WWE will surely make my eye more critical week to week. Until next time.

Stay legit bossy,
AC