Heel to Face: Bitches vs. Psychos—The Search for a Coherent Storyline

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TLDR: In spite of their most tepid efforts, the WWE still doesn’t know how to let female wrestlers check their vaginas at the door.

Unnecessary Extrapolation:

“I don’t trust her as far as I could throw the Big Show, but I would kiss her.” —Jerry Lawler on 2014 RAW Broadcast

There are the haves and the have nots, and that’s it, right? As the WWE would have it, absolutely. To this day, the Divas division thrives on lazy storytelling and time-honored archetypes to further the storylines of male wrestlers (hi Lana) or to keep the same meaningless, wave-pulling brawls a-comin’.

Part of why the Sasha/Bayley match was heralded more or less across the board as the most impressive match at NXT Takeover was because it was one of the few culminations of a motivated Divas rivalry, no matter how clunky and Katy Perry versus Rihanna the aesthetic was.

To shed some light on why the WWE’s female story arcs revolve around bitches and psychos instead of richly developed storylines like The Wyatt Family or Undertaker/Kane, one needs look no further than the promos the writers have the Divas cutting.

In no particular order: Beth Phoenix and the Bellas exchanging body insults. The Bellas shit-talking AJ Lee and Paige. Michelle McCool being hot on a staircase while talking about jealous bitches. Eve Torres turning heel and being like a total B. Hero John Cena calling Eve a hoe and a scandalous bitch while she weeps. This extended fat joke at the expense of Mickie James. Nikki Bella getting called fat, Natalya’s farting problem, The Bella Twins becoming bitches for no reason in a really lazy heel turn, on and on, world without end.

Standout quote: “They might get three minutes on TV, but now you get a whole other show where you get a whole other side to divas!” Just so we’re all on the same page.

With very little exception, women are pitted against each other due to jealousy, at the expense of any real character development. When put up against storylines that have dominated the division since 2008, most female rivalries fall apart. Michelle McCool versus Layla was a broken friendship based on a Layla heel turn, and the Bellas versus AJ Lee was a straight-up bitch-fest prior to the twins turning heel in 2013.

“Us girls are more emotional and so everything is very personal and that’s when it gets real,” Natalya’s voiceover says in a 2015 Divas promo over a slap montage. Matched up with the visual, this sentiment marries itself to the bitch versus psycho characters tropes used within the Diva division, but on its own could be said for any WWE rivalry of note, ever.

Are you going to tell me that the Kane vs. Undertaker years were not emotional and personal? It’s great entertainment, and way more compelling than watching someone go down by the weave without context. While most of the male pair-ups are fueled by testosterone-fueled rage, they’re given story and context to justify theatrical anger. And there’s nothing better than theatrical anger.

Are these not heels and faces, more or less? Sort of, but the superstars and NXT wrestlers can do almost anything under the sun character-wise as a face (from being a human action figure to a dingleberry beard) or a heel (being a White Power Ranger to Charles Manson), while the female rivalries tend to be princess role models versus bitches and crazies. The Paige versus Bellas title feud bore an extreme resemblance to the same feud between the twins and AJ Lee back in the day, and the women are being continually used as props a la this Entourage appearance on Raw earlier this year.

Going back a few years, the announcers would make it exceedingly clear how simply written the female characters were—“I though AJ was the crazy one!” Jerry Lawler joked during a 2014 match between AJ Lee and Cameron.

“They’re both crazy,” came the response. It’s that simple, and it feeds into itself—the less story provided, the less compelling a match is to watch, and the less reason to give the Divas more ringtime. While untelevised house shows and NXT continued to furnish women performers with more time and chances to show off their ability, the main shows haven’t budged. Opportunities for progress are presented, as when Lana bailed on the abusive Rusev, then wasted, as when she immediately allies with another male partner in Dolph Ziggler.

I’m so sorry. Can we get that picture of Big Show vaping again?

Thank you. :-)

Total Divas

In some ways, a WWE reality show makes total sense—it’s not like the women in the show aren’t already making their living from selling petty rivalries, and this is a solid, cash-filled tie-in. When it comes to the supposedly revolutionary take on femininity the McMahon family wants the Divas division to have, Total Divas in its current state has absolutely no place.

As always, you’ve got to hand it to the WWE for its shamelessly transparent advertising and extremely strategic placement of the Divas on the E! network. At its worst, an episode of Total Divas is a WWE Network ad wrapped in a tear-soaked maxi pad, and at its best it’s Trinity sweeping up a glass an Uso brother broke while crying:

heel to face total divas 1.jpg

No, I did not watch every episode of Total Divas—there are four seasons—but I watched eight episodes, and eight episodes from opposite sides of the series is enough to declare that the teased revolution is not reflected in the reality show hosted by the same network that shows Rich Kids of Beverly Hills. While the cast has rotated significantly since its 2013 introduction, the storylines remain the same. Except by season four, there are title cards like this at the top of every episode:

heel to face total divas 2.jpg

The Bellas are constantly fighting and talking about their relationships with stoic flesh-covered cross-promoters John Cena and Daniel Bryan. Eva Marie is constantly positioned as the bitch who’s in it for herself. Girls fight and are pitted against one another (including a bizarre Paige versus Nikki feud in a different episode).

These fights don’t come with suplexes, but with all the tropes of a bridal show with the occasional training montage. In seven out of eight episodes I watched, there is an entire plotline dedicated to hair and costumes, and in eight out of eight there’s a main plotline having to do with whether Nikki and Cena will get married. Like any solid cable reality show, it’s equal parts engaging and embarrassing to watch, but in regards to McMahon’s gender revolution, it’s a serious backpedal.

By season four, the Divas roster has changed along with a few changes in focus. One recent standout in terms of what the show is willing to address is the concept of “aging out” of wrestling. In the most recent episode, Natalya is faced with potentially being moved from the main roster and, at age thirty-three, is worried that she is being grandfathered out of the WWE. Meanwhile, Undertaker hit fifty this year and is still headlining. Even though there’s no feasible conclusion, it’s nice that the WWE isn’t having these concerns censored, even if that’s still the reality for women in the division.

In the meantime, the WWE continues to cater to its male 18-39 audience behind the scenes with supplemental original content like the “Foxiest Features” episode of The WWE List, aired just last month. While the main roster’s heralding progress, there’s plenty of masturbation fodder being produced on the back end.

That said, Total Divas is fun to watch. I’d love to see the guys of the WWE involved in a reality show (Legends’ House was a weak showing), because what is Big Show’s pre-match regimen? According to select anecdotes, it is pizza and cigarettes.

heel to face big show .jpg

Show <3 Do You Hear the People Sing? (Omg Please Don’t Let Them Sing I Was Joking)

Revolutions, for the most part, are used to describe a positive overturn of old thinking. The American Revolution? Cool. The New England Revolution? Not cool. The Divas Revolution is rooted in some pretty sweeping flaws (pinkpussybutterfly) but isn’t necessarily doomed to fail—if the cards are played correctly.

There are twelve females on the main roster versus fifty-five males (some inactive), and nine females versus thirty-one males on the NXT roster. Of these women, there are still cheerleader-turned-wrestlers sneaking in with no clear goal other than hotness, though six out of nine women in NXT have a background in bodybuilding, physical training or wrestling prior to being signed, and eight out of twelve on the main roster. A few cheerleaders and contest winners remain after years in the business, but a majority of the new faces coming in today are trained and ready to put on a real (big!) show.

Progress in the WWE is slow, but traceable.

The #DivasRevolution, in all its pink pussy butterfly glory, is a start, but until there’s a clear-cut endgame that makes for more than a tearjerker promo, the world shall spin madly on. It’s all well and good to high five a kid and tell them to go become an engineer, but there’s still no more than one all-female match on any given WWE broadcast.

Beware: the Diva Search returns this year.

Thoughts from this Week:
-This interview with Charlotte blends kayfabe with real life perfectly and there’s nothing better then some well-salted crocodile tears, I say.

-The New Day and Seth Rollins are the most delightful pairing I have seen in my days as a wrestling fan, and I dare any one of you to top that trombone bit. DARE. Oh, and the kazoos.

-I wasn’t on board with Seth’s storyline, but now I see. And I believe. And I want Jon Stewart to become his manager, please, for the love of God.

-I almost bought a Big Show action figure this week. Here’s a photograph of my indecision.

heel to face big show action figure.jpg

When? Will? My? Reflection? Show? Who? I? Am? Inside?

Jamie Loftus is a comedian and writer whose baby teeth have been bronzed and loaded into a gun for when the moment is right. You can find her some of the time, most days at @hamburgerphone or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.

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