There was a play, written by Arthur Miller in 1949, called Death of a Salesman. It was a tragedy in two acts, chronicling the downfall of William Loman, a man suffering from mental illness as he hangs onto this hope of the American Dream. It strains his relationship to his family, nearly driving off one of his sons. This journey for greatness and success in a country where we are told we can be successful, but only few are truly meant to be. It is a system totally against us. Loman clutches onto this dream like a rope he desperately wants to climb to safety on, and in his delusions for a payoff in a structure that isn’t meant for him, he succumbs to these false hopes. He couldn’t accept a life of normalcy and ordinary because he and his family had to be great, that this was meant for him. In a bid to get his family out of property, he “sacrifices” his life, only for it to be meaningless, for life was about to improve had he not made his final choices. He left behind in his wake unresolved issues and complicated feelings.
The story of Death of a Salesman, it feels, permeates to this day and age, and many of us have faced it in some form or another – be it bad luck or systemic oppression. As talented, passionate, and worthwhile as we as humans are, we allow this sensation of unimportance to engulf us, as we just accept it and move on. It is this bitter fact of life that keeps us from achieving our greatness, and we accept what William Loman could not. Us humans walk a middle path, when something greater exists beyond our scope, beyond the eight-to-twelve-hour shifts (or more), and beyond the declining pay and job availability as we continue our struggle against this higher power that is still swallowing this world whole.
But what if I told you of this other extreme – the same one that gives us hope as we see ourselves in those that dare to defy this system and ascend to their own greatness? Where you believe in someone so much that no matter what, you know they have to accomplish their dreams because you so greatly want yours to come true? Because you have to believe in something.
That is what we are here to discuss today, friends.
We all know of WWE. The company with larger-than-life characters, a titan in the wrestling industry – though they’d prefer you to call them sports entertainment. Stories of macho men and Texas rattlesnakes, spectacles involving hellish cells or tables, ladders, and chairs. Summers of Punk and YES! Movements.
This is the same promotion that is having trouble. This particular problem stems from an inability to produce protagonists that we all can enjoy. Rarely is it a wrestling story, and in most cases, the most popular ones are ones where the babyface good guys not only must contend with their foes, but also the system that employs them, keeping them in that vice-like, money-stained grip.
This particular kind of story is one that started with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and continued through to people who weren’t given the brass ring, but rather snatched it to finish off a story that inspires us, that maybe we too can ascend past the limitations placed firmly in front of us by powers greater than us.
CM Punk. Daniel Bryan. Becky Lynch. Kofi Kingston. All of their biggest stories were told in a way that made the company itself the antagonist. Because clearly this is normal.
For as empowering as these moments are when overcoming the odds, it is clear Vince McMahon never wanted these stories to be happening at all. These are not the people he wanted in the picture, but even he couldn’t stop them. This narrative just highlights one of the many issues fans have with WWE. Not everybody is going to be “Stone Cold” Steve Austin or The Rock, but why would you not want to capitalize on what is hot? There are people clamoring for your superstars that they have strong connections with as fans that have sheer, unbridled talent. Why not take advantage of merchandise sellers? Does money just feel better in Vincie boy’s hands if it comes at someone’s expense rather than their success?
It’s the case for a lot of workers out there who have their own chances at success taken from them or derailed. This is what drives workers to be unhealthy, because the place meant to value you and take care of you in exchange for the services provided should not take advantage of that relationship. But parasitic is the relationship between the head of the hive and the worker bees.
WWE has reminded us repeatedly that they can tell fantastic stories, without placing themselves as the villains. It shouldn’t require the talent to fit your vision as to what makes a star. The audience decides that, not you, no matter how much you want to change things to fit your own narrative. Otherwise, competition will catch up, no matter how far ahead you are.
As many times as heels tell us we root for these good guys because they remind us of us, it should be evident that this is what is needed for a good story. We want to vicariously live through the victories of our heroes and breathe it in.
For every talent we’ve seen break through the glass ceiling, there are double as many who were beloved and still had the ground removed from beneath them to place them stories lower than the ceiling they almost broke through. Rusev, Bray Wyatt, Naomi, Asuka…so, so many people that could easily become draws cannot achieve their potential.
Heartbreakingly, there are all of the stories of those who clawed their way through hard work and determination only to have nothing to show for it. Some of these ill-fated talents now exist either to further arguments or to serve as cautionary tales. They’re fated to become episodes of documentary series that serve to tell us the hallowed stories from within the dark side of the ring.
Of course, why should WWE care? They’re going to make money in spite of themselves, no matter how stagnant and complacent they are. Stick around long enough and they may just throw you a bone. That’s how they build up goodwill, by starving you of it before finally giving it to you whenever it feels like it.
Maybe this is just reality. That we really have to force ourselves to become successful in order to make it. We have to fight and scratch and drag ourselves through the glass shattered by others before we break that ceiling ourselves. Maybe then it will all be worth it and we will be as successful as Daniel Bryan.
Or maybe we just delude ourselves like William Loman from the aforementioned play and let it become a detriment to us. That’s what it feels they’re telling us every time we see babyfaces look foolish or constantly fail and look weak. And these babyfaces are us.
Keep fighting, and maybe you too can make that last house payment and be free.