Long-term Storylines Over Cheap Fixes
Kharma’s recent exit from WWE was acknowledged on this blog last week as a missed opportunity. Presented with Kharma’s pregnancy and the unavoidable situation of her taking leave, the WWE could have handled this problem far more skillfully. Instead of building up anticipation for Kharma’s eventual return, WWE deflated much of the character’s appeal, as if letting all the air out of a big balloon. WWE had spent time and effort building Kharma up with vignettes, but released much of the intrigue and tension with her exit. There is the possibility that Kharma’s tearful breakdown was in fact real, and her exit became a cover-up job. If so, criticism is less relevant and we can only hope she has a successful birth and makes her return in a year’s time. But in the world of pro wrestling, we have to assume this was all planned before-hand, and if that is the case, the WWE made a misstep.
Writing great, tension-filled plots in wrestling is just as important as doing the same in film, TV and radio. Fans love to get drawn into a great story, and in some ways, wrestling offers more involvement than other mediums. Tension can be created through a variety of devices, and the wrestling writer’s job is to concoct interesting stories full of suspense. With Kharma, the WWE writers seemed to forget that tension only increases the longer you hold it in, and it’s only worth building in the first place if you’re going to release it in a manner that satisfies the fans. Kharma breaking down and crying doesn’t seem to have satisfied anyone.
One commonly employed tactic is to shock fans and give them something they weren’t expecting. A recent example would be CM Punk’s alleged ‘shoot’ interview at the closure of June 27th’s RAW. This can create a sudden interest and buzz which is more time-effective than a long, building storyline. But WWE didn’t need to employ a ‘shock storyline’ Kharma. They were already onto a good thing with the storyline they had in place, and the shock only served to deflate the balloon they’d been blowing up. Kharma’s whole character was based on her bad attitude and destructive tendencies, so to make a U-turn and send her to the ring to cry in front of fans was a bad idea, especially in pro wrestling where macho toughness is valued over sensitive displays of emotion. Yes, heels are often turned babyface with great success, but this was a step beyond that, and left most fans puzzled. Taking some advice from Crave, WWE could have maintained Kharma’s character until she returned if they had wanted to. Granted, the fans may have lost some interest towards the end of the year, but bringing Kharma back with her reputation in tact could have propelled her to even further popularity – we all enjoy that feeling of rediscovering a wrestler we once loved but had just about forgotten existed.
Another mistake was that, apart from the whole ‘sensitive’ direction of the storyline, I believe the WWE brought too much real life into play here. Now there’s no doubt that real life can be used in wrestling storylines in some capacity. Some of wrestling’s most involving stories have borrowed from wrestlers’ lives away from the ring (for example, Matt Hardy being brought back to feud with Edge who had cheated with Hardy’s girlfriend, Lita), but writers have to be able to augment a storyline with flourishes of fact, rather than letting the real life story take over the whole plot.
Links to a wrestler’s real life can reinforce a wrestler’s personality and brand, as well as leaving fans to wonder exactly which part is real life and which part is kayfabe – this is often fun. However, long gone are the days when fans truly believed wrestling is real, so not letting real life take over is vital – wondering can turn to confusion when the drama and real life are mixed up as they were with Kharma. If fans really want to know what’s going on in a wrestler’s personal life they can find out through the internet, but most will be content to go along with the pre-written storyline. Making wrestling too close to real life takes out much of the fun for the fans, and reduces writers’ ability to be creative. For example, if fans are told that Kharma is taking a break to give birth, are they really going to go along with some of the more fantastical story lines that may be involved in the same show?
Unfortunately, it seems that along with more creative plots, the days of huge, building storylines are also on the way out. It’s often said that humans’ attention spans are growing ever shorter, and it seems wrestling has resorted to cheap tricks and gimmicks to satisfy this impatience. There were only five wrestlers who held the WWF Heavyweight Championship belt during the 1980s, and their average reign was around 500 days. Compare that with the 18 wrestlers who held the belt from 2000-2009, with an average reign of 79 days each. These statistics aren’t directly relevant to Kharma’s situation, but they illustrate the point that belts changing hands has become far cheaper and, in some cases, an excuse used in place of good story writing. I would argue that stories are better and more satisfying when they work in long arcs. Even if the fans get impatient, if the story is executed properly the tension and subsequent release will be far more entertaining and interesting.
Ultimately, if the writers at WWE know their history they should understand all of this, and I’d be willing to bet that with the right execution, long, building storylines might rectify some of the apathy and disinterest in WWE. The same applies to TNA.