Shane McMahon and Joey Styles have it in common. What is it? It’s not the fact they were demoted frequently by Vinnie Mac’s “sports entertainment” mentality. It’s their responsibility, at varying levels, to help drive web content for WWE.
Here’s another one. What panda gave Vince McMahon a browbeating ten years ago? If you’re thinking of Panda Energy, the investors behind “Total Nonstop Action” Wrestling and Impact, then you’re wrong. It was the otherwise good, harmless symbol of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, or World Wildlife Fund – whatever they want to be called – that represented the attempts of the charity that boasts Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as a patron, to steal the “WWF” initials from McMahon Jr, son of the founder of what was, in 1963, the Worldwide Wrestling Federation.
His company’s website may have been McMahon’s achilles heel; the wwf.com domain was sought after by the nature people – and rightly so, since snatching it away would have drawn millions of hits from visitors habitually typing in “wwf.com” for months on end, expecting to find out what wrestling feuds were going on. But the court would eventually rule that the wrestling folks had violated an earlier promise not to crossover in confusion by relying on – and promoting – their product strictly as “WWF” (like Kentucky Fried Chicken would eventually do with “KFC”). The use and promotion in the post-internet age of “wwf.com” was a blatant violation of that, and it opened up a trojan horse for Vince & Co., a holocaust of lawsuits and eventual emasculation of his legacy known as WWF. It would be no more.
Since its relaunch as the awkward-sounding WWE (when there were other options – many presented by my fantasy booking), the corporation has pushed the acronym more than ever and rebranded itself in obvious ways via the instant upload nature of its website.
wwe.com went through a period, you may remember, of attempting to essentially co-opt the internet “dirt sheets” by linking to their headline news stories on its very own front page. Of course, that opened a proverbial Pandora’s box of complications and confusion due to the fact that the rest of the website covered much of the product in a manner that embraced kayfabe. The contradiction led to the approach being withdrawn.
Now, the website has recently enjoyed another slight facelift, with a “social network” feel to its site, in-keeping with the “WWE Universe” pitch – while fans can’t openly comment as they once had with this approach, what they can do is access more exclusive content, and share things easier on their own Twitter and Facebook profiles.
The problem now, though, is that the website is also linking to wrestlers’ own Twitter pages – where often they’ll tweet back and forth about storylines and angles and gimmicks and people from rival organisations, most of which does not adhere to the WWE canon.
This means that an individual visitor is expected to know when he or she is reading, listening or watching in kayfabe or not – making the product often as difficult to provide suspension of disbelief as John Cena’s selling. Now, we’re not expecting intelligence to be insulted, but people don’t expect extra spin-off story DVDs of their favourite soaps, sitcoms or sci-fis only to see the actors break character and start looking at the camera, saying, “I love playing this part, it’s great!”
WWE needs to invest in its product in a way that demands emotional investment from the consumer as well. They have to draw a clear line between kayfabe canon and out-of-character shoot. But the media needs to reinforce this, not undermine it.
Personally, I don’t think wrestlers’ Twitter pages need to be brought into the product, and if they are, they then need to be on a separate account for consistency. You wouldn’t expect, say, Clark Kent’s Twitter page to be visible on the latest big screen Man of Steel adaptation of Superman and see the name “Henry Cavill” underneath it with a tweet saying “eighth day on the set; tired but excited.” Of course we know when we watch the movie that that’s Cavill playing the part, but the product would seem preposterous to include that. So why should WWE be any different?
If WWE wants to provide an “insider” look at their brand, then they need look no further than their own state-of-the-art production team. After McMahon’s discontentment over movies such as Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows and, to a lesser extent, Beyond the Mat, what better way to keep documentaries at bay and yet also whet the appetite for behind-the-scenes dirt, than to document it all in-house? This is one way WWE could provide unique and exclusive “insider” perspectives, where they’d beat everyone else to the punch in showing the likes of Phil “CM Punk” Brooks discussing his true feelings on Stone Cold Steve Austin, or perhaps see Joey Styles smack JBL, or maybe Paul Levesque with Stephanie McMahon-Levesque in a manner that doesn’t undermine and render worthless the former’s “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” Triple H origins. WWE’s recent flagging DVD sales would enjoy a boost with such footage; a sense of purpose, even.
There’s also WWE Magazine. In an age where old media is dying, what the publication could uniquely provide is “zine” style coverage for the insider fan who fancies themselves “smart.” There could be plenty of out-of-character interviews with wrestlers on thoughts from convincing selling, to their latest push, or how they felt wrestling for other companies elsewhere and how they compare to WWE. Things like the Montreal Screwjob could be critically examined.
These are just some of the options WWE could take to avoid any confusing overlap of the work/shoot divide. They could then embrace wwe.com as a kayfabe source of exclusive in-character segments like the recent hit videos of Sheamus, Cody Rhodes, David Otunga and John Laurinaitis in pieces that lend to the storylines rather than detract from them, and perhaps save the corporate website for official hiring-and-firing news so that the crossover that causes confusion and sometimes even concern amongst shareholders would be avoided.
WWE needs to pick and choose its media and decide which is kayfabe and which isn’t. This consistency would help audiences invest in the storylines far more and, with such a greater heartfelt attachment to the goings-on in complete suspension of disbelief, the product could only be improved.