Friday, April 20, 2012

The Fragmented WWE Universe


I wasn't alone in being angry at Wrestlemania. Robbing Daniel Bryan a proper Wrestlemania match felt like the worst sort of insult by a company that constantly tells us that we are part of something bigger. On the following night's Raw you saw a crowd that actually was apart of something and it was something special. Hearing a crowd that was unified in their feelings really made viewers at home, at least those that agree with that sentiment, feel as though they were part of something bigger.

That crowd, and the crowd at last year's Money in the Bank, are the exception. There's a lot of talk about how a great crowd can make a decent show into something special. I think Ring Ka King is a very good show made into a great one because of the passion their audience has. For all the talk of us being part of the "WWE Universe", it can oftentimes feel as though we watch and enjoy the WWE despite itself and contrary to what they want us to enjoy.

I went to the April 9th WWE Raw show in DC last week and I think it really cemented home something I've been feeling for a while: that fractured audiences are bad audiences. We all come from different walks of life and backgrounds, and we all enjoy different things and while everyone at a WWE show is a "wrestling fan" it is becoming obvious that we're different types of wrestling fan. It's difficult to talk about the different types of wrestling fans as I don't want to be condescending, because clearly the type of wrestling fan I am is the best type of fan, but the "categories" of fan is pretty easy to see.

When you go to an independent show you'll oftentimes see a more unified crowd. Go to a Chikara or Maryland Championship Wrestling show and while the crowd will be small it will be unified and that unity is something really special. The WWE has become so large and so aware of its demographics that most shows are populated by a loose confederation of people that really have little in common and who are there to see very different things.

When we look at a good crowd we don't really see a "good" crowd but an audience that is unified. When I was at Raw in DC last week the crowd could never get anything going because we were all there for different reasons. There were quite a few people there getting YES chants going, but only a tenth of the crowd joined in and they could never reach critical mass. The only time the crowd seemed unified was when they were unified in ways the WWE dictated. It's weird, but Big Show and Jerry Lawler probably got the biggest pops that night, although R Truth and Brock Lesnar were close, and Vickie Guerrero (who I love) got the only real unified boo'ing.

I think the WWE has done a really good job of giving each person something to like in their programming.This has created a fanbase that is really fragmented and live audiences can come off as lackluster or disinterested. Everyone is excited about something at a live show, but there are very few things the crowd is unanimous about.

I think that the WWE does a good job of catering to all sorts of different audiences. More and more it seems that we all watch wrestling for a different reason, and this can make each show feel really disjointed. We can go from having a great match with Daniel Bryan to video packages of Undertaker and Triple H (at the live Raw in DC last week the crowd was clapping and super respectful during that video package, I even heard a few "thank you"s in the crowd during it) and then to bad comedy segments with Santino. The WWE is so aware of their audience and they do try to give something for everyone, but I doubt it leaves very many people satisfied.

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