We open 2016 with Roman Reigns at the top, holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, in an old-school feud with the McMahon Family. Although the WWE fans are often caught, indulging in Attitude Era nostalgia, online this throw-back storyline seems to be generating only Roman Reigns hate-related comments. Then again, on live shows things look very different, as Roman gets all the crowd support he could wish for. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, somewhere at the bottom, a strange group, led by none other than Heath Slater, called the Social Outcast has risen to answer the call of the Internet Wrestling Community. Yet, when the stable, blessed with social media popularity, got some air time on RAW, the crowd remained silent. Inevitably, this makes the mind boggle as to what the WWE fans actually want.
Once again, we come face to face with the fact that the overly critical IWC and the people, who actually pay to attend shows don’t overlap as much as we’d imagine. Not long ago and yet before Roman was champion or Slater was on RAW, I attended a WWE live show. I had fairly good seats on the ground floor, 10 rows or less away from the announce table. The show opened with the tag team match of Heath Slater & Adam Rose vs. Damien Sandow & Fandnago. I quite possibly lost my voice there and then. As weird as that might sound, despite having Del Rio, The Wyatt Family, Ryback and Roman Reigns later on, I felt most excited to see the WWE’s forgotten jobbers. I was over the moon to watch the talent that I don’t get to see on regular WWE TV programming. I was happy to see something different. However, I seemed to be in the minority when it came to vocally responding to that match. Slater gave his all to get some sort of a reaction from the crowd. Subsequently, some of the small children around me started booing him. One young lad, around 6 or 7 years of age was vigorously screaming: “The guy in the red pants, you suck! I hate you!” I felt taken aback upon realizing that the boy had no idea who Heath Slater was. You might think that he was too young to know but you’d be wrong because that child and his friends had such expertise at recognizing different moves and performers during the show that it made me feel a little underprepared.
The same group of children, dressed head to toe (ironically) in John Cena merchandise, mirrored by the thousands of other young fans in the arena, remained dead silent during the divas match, featuring Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch and Naomi, with the exception of the occasional “Divas Suck!” scream. My neighbor by seat started a business-like discussion with a boy roughly his age from the back row, discovering their mutual dislike for divas. Despite feeling disappointed that there were no WE WANT SASHA or BAYLEY’S GONNA KILL YOU, or any other chants going on, I thought to myself that it wasn’t all that strange that 6 years old boys hate girls, even if these girls happen to be fierce fighters. And yet, that unfortunate divas match left me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. As someone, who writes about wrestling for a living, I couldn’t help but wonder what the real point of social media fame is. Open any youtube video, featuring divas and you’ll see comments, asking for a push for Becky or Sasha. Go on Twitter and you’ll see many ask for longer divas matches and more screen time for the ladies. However, when you attend a live show and more than half of the audience is made up of children, or their parents, who more often than not are dragged there, only for the sake of the said children; when the merchandise stands are sold out to the young ones, mostly because they don’t yet have the understanding of what the price tag really means; when most of those who think, discuss and criticize remain behind their computer screens, then it really is no wonder that the WWE writers create stories that would appeal to children only. After all, business is business and the paying customer is always right.
If we go back to the Roman Reigns issue, which has been chewed upon over and over again so many times that there probably isn’t anything new to say, we’ll see the exact same pattern. The Internet is full of mean comments and mockery about Reigns but if you watch RAW, you’ll hear nothing but loud fan support. Even at that live, in early December, the crowd was firmly behind Reigns. He was the main event and all the young viewers loved it. It’s not that the WWE’s not listening to its audience, but that it’s listening to the part of it that actually brings money in. Although, in all fairness, the current WWE World Heavyweight Championship storyline seems to be a misguided attempt at pleasing the critics, who still can’t get over the end of the Attitude Era. Roman Reigns is, in fact, doing a fairly good job at playing the superman necessary to withstand the unrealistic odds of fighting your own boss. As old and as overused as this storyline may be, the facts show that it works. The live crowd reacts accordingly and the business reaps the benefits of that.
Sadly, the rise of the Social Outcasts that started on RAW is most probably destined to be a mere case of 15 minutes of fame. It is a good example of the IWC actually achieving some results, though. Showing online interest in Heath Slater led to this. However, if the live crowds keep their silence, Slater’s new group might not even see the brief success Zack Ryder got out of internet fame. I personally see a lot of potential in the Social Outcasts. The bizarreness of the group is pure gold when it comes to entertainment. I do hope that they will catch on, despite what the general belief of the WWE officials might be, just like the New Day did last year. That would be a victory for the IWC. It would mean that the wider WWE fan base, which might not have the ability to attend live shows, due to geographical or financial issues, still has some influence over the product that we all love to watch. Then again, money does run the world and a dead crowd can only send Slater and friends back on the chopping board.
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