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WWE: Make Us Feel It by Matthew J. Douglas

Happy Tuesday (or at least as happy as it can be) TJR Faithful! I like many of you, am still reeling from last night’s Raw. Particularly it’s opening and it’s ending. Today’s piece isn’t going to be a long one but first and foremost I want to extend my condolences to Roman Reigns, express my deepest sympathies, and wish him a speedy recovery. I was a vocal critic of Roman Reigns the character, but he’s a top notch man, and wrestler who I can’t wait to see back in the ring where he belongs.

Monday’s Raw was very emotional. Roman’s announcement was incredibly powerful and touching. Dean and Seth meeting him at the ramp was a moving heartwarming and heart-wrenching moment at the same time. Seth was an emotional wreck, and Dean looked as though he was barely able to quell what he was feeling inside. Later on in the night, they discussed how there are no words, but that they loved Roman and would be fighting for him that night. All of it was so very touching and made me emotional in ways I haven’t been while watching the WWE for quite some time.

At the end of the Tag Team Title Match, after winning the belts from Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose attacked Seth Rollins in a shocking turn of events. He beat him down. Hit him with Dirty Deeds on the exposed concrete, looked menacing the entire time, and it was absolutely perfect.

I don’t always praise the WWE for the things that they do. In fact, I often nitpick and offer up my own ideas on what could have or should have (in my opinion) been done. People that know me, know that this isn’t reserved for wrestling. As a writer of stories myself, I often watch movies and other TV shows and see opportunities missed and interesting directions ignored. It can be an annoying personality trait for others I’m sure, but what quells it more often than not, is the eliciting of raw emotion. If anything makes me feel something and I’ll never question it, I’ll never parse it, and I will salute it for doing its job.

We all knew the Dean Ambrose turn was coming. Before they started foreshadowing it we knew. Last night was the only way it happens and we don’t cheer it. Last night is the only way it happens and we are left in utter disbelief and shock. Last night is the only way it elicits such strong emotion, and in this medium or any other, getting that emotion from the viewer is EVERYTHING. It didn’t need to make logical sense because none of us care about that at the moment. All we feel is what Seth’s character feels in that moment. We feel shocked, we feel betrayed, we feel hurt. I especially loved Seth telling Dean it’s okay, you don’t have to do this, trying desperately to get through to him before it went too far. So great! And Dean’s conflict throughout was wonderful. The explanation can be written later. The moment is what matters most.

While I understand some of the opposition to doing it last night, I respectfully disagree. I understand that it might feel a little exploitative, but in my opinion, it isn’t. Exploitation is the unfair and immoral act of benefitting or deriving personal gain from someone else’s work or experiences. Exploitation is abuse and oppression and is in poor taste. Last night we saw the WWE narratively make the best of a bad situation. Last night’s turn and the reaction it got for sure were influenced by the all to real and powerful emotional display that opened the show, but I didn’t see the decision to do the turn at this juncture (the most shocking juncture) as exploitative of Roman’s announcement.

Furthermore, I don’t think Roman would have had it any other way. Heyman said it best on the show itself: “The show goes on.” Roman wouldn’t want the WWE to pause in the wake of his announcement. He wouldn’t want the show to stop until he returns. He said it himself when he thanked us for reacting. The reaction is what matters, and the reaction you want for the Dean Ambrose turn was achieved last night because the timing was perfect.

I find myself thinking about how to elicit emotional responses like this more often. Why is it that most stories the WWE tell feel a degree away from hitting the proper mark emotionally? I think about all the times I’ve felt truly emotionally moved watching wrestling, and often it is due to real life tragedy. Rey winning his first World Title in the wake of Eddie Guererro’s untimely death was a truly emotional scene. Christian winning his first World Title after Edge was forced to retire. Daniel Bryan’s retirement and return. All truly powerful moments that stemmed from real life tragedy.

It does seem that the WWE doesn’t know how to write/implement fictionalized tragedy in a way that feels as real as possible. They struggle to present authentic feeling vulnerability in their performers. Only when tragedy is real, and the vulnerability is true, are they able to display it in a way that makes the viewer feel something. It’s strange because TV, Movies, and stage plays elicit authentic emotion from their audiences all the time. This Is Us has their audience in tears every week (of joy and of tragedy). The most recent remake of A Star Is Born has audiences raving about the emotional journey they went on with the movie. In the closest facsimile to wrestling, people are often moved by plays they see at the theatre, and even solely by the movements in dance routines.

The WWE, on the other hand, often plays up the machismo and confrontational aspects of drama. In many respects rightfully so, because it is a show about head to head conflict and battling. That said, highlighting authentic feeling vulnerability would go a long way in making the audience feel emotionally invested. No, I’m not talking about simply doing a losing streak angle, or faking tragedies like death, or even exploiting real tragedies like they tried to do a few years ago with Paige and Charlotte. I’m saying introduce stories and character developments that let a character truly feel and process tragedy and vulnerability. It doesn’t make them weak. Coming back from it makes them resilient and incredibly strong.

Last night was an incredibly difficult position. For Roman, for Seth, for Dean, for the entire WWE locker room, crew, writers, agents, executives, fans, etc. We were forced out of the story we tune into every week and confronted with a harsh reality. An unsettling reality. As human beings, we all feel for Roman. Nobody could want what he’s going through for anybody. We also got the best of what WWE can offer as a work of fiction. A truly shocking moment that left us feeling exactly what a character was feeling when it happened to them. Last night’s Raw wasn’t about matches, or jokes or even logic… last night Raw made me feel something. That should be the goal every week.

I’m Matthew J. Douglas and I can’t wait to see how heated this Dean/Seth feud can get and where it’ll go next. I really can’t wait to see this Dean Ambrose. Again I want to wish Roman a speedy recovery and I can’t wait to have him back in the ring where he belongs. See y’all next time.