Culture

On The Apron: Pipe bombs and “Total Divas”

total divas

Every Tuesday, features editor Dominick Suzanne-Mayer talks about the latest developments in and around WWE.

Last night on Raw, the Divas division was taken in exactly the direction I’ve been hoping it would be. For a second. And I need to be more careful about what I ask for.

For context: In response to the proliferation of Total Divas synergy on recent WWE television, AJ Lee was sent out after a mediocre (but, sadly, decent by Divas standards) Natalya-Brie Bella match to revive WWE’s new favorite pet concept: the pipe bomb. You may remember this from the famed CM Punk promo in June 2011, one that everybody thought would start a revolution. In the long run, it sort of did; I know a lot of people who hadn’t watched WWE or any pro wrestling since the end of the Attitude Era, and were drawn back by this gaunt man spewing angry invective about John Cena and everything wrong with wrestling at present.

AJ got to “shoot” on the group of newly minted reality stars, inasmuch as shoot interviews can’t really exist in WWE because that’s how mics get cut off and people lose jobs. But her points were nevertheless valid, and it was deeply curious to see WWE allowing for the acknowledgement of what a lot of people have been saying. Salient points included the Divas division being full of an interchangeable mass of models who didn’t work nearly as hard as AJ did to get there, are nowhere near the athletes that she is, that Eva Marie and JoJo are pretty much only there to sell the show and probably won’t last long past the first season of Total Divas, that being related to somebody or sucking up to the right people is the only way to have a lasting career as a female wrestler in WWE.

Where this gets weird, and where I in turn get worried, is in the fact that AJ is currently a heel champion. This was a heel promo, by a heel. I know Punk’s bit came from his heel persona, and essentially turned him face in one fell swoop, but there’s something uncomfortable about the idea that AJ is wrong for being mean to the Total Divas and that, if the basic logic of wrestling is applied here, this will set up a program in which Natalya or one of the other women will give AJ her comeuppance for her cruelty. And that’s where the disconnect exists. I’ve written about this before, but I’m truly excited to see legitimate womens’ storylines in WWE that don’t involve bullying or the word “hoeski.” However, I don’t want the WWE audience to be sold on the idea that the villain talking about WWE’s repeated failings with female wrestlers is incorrect, and the interchangeable fitness models on the E! show are in the right. Because that is literally the opposite of what they should be doing.

Watch this video if you want to see just how right AJ is:

Note how, as she’s talking about how shrill and lacking in identity they are, the Funkadactyls are sort of just standing there, Natalya is as stiff as a board, Eva Marie legitimately looks like a robot, and the Bellas are shrieking over the very well-delivered promo the whole time. The latter isn’t a shock; the last time the Bellas were asked to do color commentary, they actively ruined a Divas match just to pull off the maximum amount of catty one-liners in a three-minute space. However, and this is what I think is most important, listen to the crowd. At the start, they’re booing AJ, because she’s good in her role and that’s what you do. But as she continues, the “oohs” get louder and, eventually, the cheers come.

Now, I know womens’ wrestling is never going to be a priority in WWE. It doesn’t sell the tickets, it doesn’t sell the shirts, and so on and so forth. It’s a specialty thing like tag matches or a cruiserweight division that appeals to a niche crowd, and that’s okay. The point of the carnival is that you have something for everybody. However, who’s the target for a storyline like this? I’m not asking this as a facetious question, either. The target can’t be the WWE audience, not if they want the cast members of Total Divas to come out looking like the heroes at the end of this. If there’s one thing present-day audiences love, it’s faux-shooting, and if there’s another, it’s seeing whiny heels get theirs at the hands of antiheroes. AJ, in this scenario, is the daring rebel willing to say the things that aren’t said outside of internet columns hyper-analyzing this stuff. If the Bella Twins were supposed to come off as the faces at the end of that segment, somebody made a terrible mistake.

But let’s say the audience is the massive amount of people watching Total Divas right now. First of all, I’d be really curious to see how many people have really followed their favorite on-camera personalities back to Raw. I’d hazard a guess it’s not a ton, though I’d love to be proven wrong. (New people: The guy with the beard is the best thing to happen to WWE in a long time, and Cena’s gone right now. Welcome.) Then, if you’re trying to appeal to a cross-branded audience, how does having a heel air very realistic grievances about the cast of your show benefit anybody? As much as I loved AJ’s promo, it’s counter-productive to establishing the cast of Total Divas as stars worth following around. All it does is define them as the low women on the totem pole on the show that the other show is about. And who wants to watch a reality show about a merry coalition of scrubs?