Thousands of people gathered around a square last night and urged for change. They chanted in unison; they held signs; some of them even threatened to riot. This wasn’t a political uprising, however. This was a live taping of WWE’s Raw in Chicago and the crowd’s cause was to make pro wrestling less dumb. That is, they wanted pro wrestling to reduce its reliance on stale tropes (i.e., greased-up muscly leading man defeats monstrous/foreign/evil/uncool menace) and push more interesting characters, smarter story lines and better action in the square they were gazed upon.
And their efforts worked! Well, maybe. At the very least, for the first time, the McMahons, who own and operate the WWE in both real life and on TV, explicitly acknowledged that they received the message loud and clear.
Of course, this is still professional wrestling, so the company’s acknowledgement didn’t come in a sober PR statement, but in a melodramatic promo (a monologue that advances a story line). Specifically, WWE superstar Daniel Bryan, a crowd favorite one might easily confuse with a Portland hipster, came out midway through the three-hour show and proclaimed he was going to “hijack Raw.” He used the very words that were trending on Twitter from the millions of at-home supporters of change to pro wrestling’s status quo, prompting two members of the McMahon family brain trust to come out to address Bryan’s — and the fans’ — concerns. The moment was tremendous. The most outspoken fans may as well have put on a flight suit, landed on an aircraft carrier and announced “Mission Accomplished.”
Then again, early declarations of victory don’t always work out, especially in regards to deep-rooted, cultural transformations. While it’s nice to have the WWE acknowledge the opinions of those who shell out money on show tickets, merchandise, pay-per-views and now a digital network, one promo mention does not necessarily a revolution win. Although #hijackRaw was born last week, the fans’ discontent over what many see as stagnation in the WWE has been building up for years. It exploded in late January when CM Punk, another WWE superstar who represents change to many fans, decided to walk out on the WWE just before a Jan. 27 taping of Raw with no explanation. To date, the only statement about Punk’s walk-out came from WWE CEO Vince McMahon on Feb. 20. “He’s taking a sabbatical, let’s just put it that way,” McMahon allegedly said on a telephone call with WWE shareholders.
Punk’s unexplained “sabbatical” helped create #hijackRAW, which Raw’s live audience expressed by disrupting matches with multiple “C-M-PUNK!” chants. They were hoping their efforts would bring back the tattooed, Henry Rollins look-alike. But Chicago-native Punk did not show up, causing many to wonder who, in fact, hijacked whom. Was it the fans pwning the WWE or vice versa?
No surprise: The Internet’s opinions remain divided. What’s yours?