So yet another WrestleMania is in the books and its time for fans everywhere to reflect on what it all means for the product. This year's show was an absolute cracker. Sure there were some noticeable lulls such as the Battle Royal (what is the point, again?) and the main event that was about as inspired as cat's pee. But overall the show was heaving great behemoth of great action, surprises, cameos, and entertainment. Considering the amount of self-imposed hurdles that WWE had to overcome in the build-up, it's a credit to them that they could pull off such an extravaganza that hit so many sweet spots.
Many of us fans will look forward and speculate on the future of WWE and the upcoming year now that we are in the WrestleMania hangover. But being a grumpy old wrestling fan stuck in the past, I feel it's appropriate to look maybe back for a change.
WWE has gone through an extraordinary amount of often radical change since the 1980s. Given its role as closing chapter on any given year, then, WrestleMania gives us a chance to reflect on where the product is and how these changes have manifested themselves in the product we watch.
WrestleMania is WWE's centrepiece, and it is in looking closely at Mania that we can really see these changes come into effect. Some changes are good, some are bad, and others are neither, but are interesting to note regardless.
7. There Is No Irony In WWE Anymore
People seem to forget that not all wrestling fans in the past have been in it because they actually love the medium. When wrestlers were featuring on things like talk shows and MTV in the pre-internet 1980s, it wasn't because these people believed in the ‘art of wrestling.' It was because they thought it was incredible that there was an entertainment product that featured bodybuilders dressed as cartoon characters acting out morality tales via scripted sports matches.
Similarly, in the 1990s part of the explosion of wrestling came down to the sheer insanity of the product. It was the ultimate form of trash television, and everyone, including the WWF, knew it. They played upon it, and that was part of what made it so enjoyable.
WrestleMania this year highlighted just how much things have changed. WrestleMania is now meant to be a showpiece of narrative drama, grounded somewhat inexplicably in ‘realism.' Despite the fact that WWE programming is often incredibly childish and whacky, there is no longer any real self-reflexivity in how WWE presents itself on the biggest stage.
For example, the main event pantomime was truly meant to be epic and was expected to increase the drama of the match. And while Stephanie was willing to ham her role up considerably, it wasn’t played for laughs. She was meant to be the villain presenting herself in melodrama, and her performance was the artistic expression of the evil character she was. The match was then subsequently played as if the entire future of the company indeed rested on its outcome. Which is kind of weird for a show about play fighting.
It's not necessarily a bad change. In fact, plenty of fans like myself have been begging for more grounded storytelling for years. But it's also sad to think that all the fun that made the WWF such a surreal and fun product has all but vanished in the quest to be seen as serious entertainment. I would love to see someone like Rip Taylor come out for WrestleMania again, rather than have to bear another sombre and melodramatic opening sequence voiced by Sideshow Bob.