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.
Solutions on how to fictionalize a wrestler’s departure into a captivating storyline.
PREMISE: Following a series of dark vignettes, Kharma, best known as TNA’s Awesome Kong, made her WWE debut on May 1st 2011 at Extreme Rules. Before her first sanctioned match, Kharma’s run was cut short by an unlikely character: the fetus growing inside her womb. Though hopes for for Kharma were strong enough to keep her on the roster, WWE officials needed a way to shove her behind the curtain.
Instead of turning a negative into a positive, creativity left the arena, and WWE told the truth. On the May 23rd edition of Raw, in the middle of the ring the relentless powerhouse cried like a baby. A week later, Kharma announced her pregnanncy vowing to return in a year. Honesty may be the best policy, but when it comes to fictional wrestling storylines, reality has no place in the plot. Just picture this: “I was going to beat the living hell out of you, but next Sunday on pay per view I will be in jail for unpaid parking tickets. But in three months I’m going to park my fist on your face!” Granted, that would present a funny and unique exit for an injured heel, but if not it’s lame. Audiences deserve better, they deserve intricately woven fiction.
PROBLEM: WWE possessed the most terrifying female wrestler since Chyna, and they buried her by having Kharma speak as Kia Stevens (legal name). Instead of building up anticipation for her return, the writers fostered apathy from the fans. In order to properly re-introduce her in a year, they’ll need to pull an ‘Incredible Hulk’ by ignoring the first installment and starting from scratch.
SOLUTION: The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ terrified the cast without being seen. Beginning in 1996, Sting didn’t compete in the ring for over a year, yet with each passing week hiding in the rafters his character grew more popular. Simply put, Kharma doesn’t need to be around to wreak havoc. She can put her feet up on a recliner while she dips steak sandwiches into mayonnaise, while creative personnel puppeteer her character. Consequently, there’s an effective way to execute Kharma’s exit strategy.
May 23rd: Following the Divas tag team match, Kharma appears on the entrance stage. After staring down the Divas from afar, the lights go out. Screaming and pounding is heard in the darkness. When the lights return the ring is filled with crippled diva corpses, many requiring medical attention. The purpose here is to make a scene. Audiences love carnage, and seeing beautiful bodies lifted on to stretchers is a lovely sight. During all of this, Kharma is nowhere to be seen. Narrative announcing is needed here to build up the mystery. “Was it Kharma?” “Where did she go?” “Can one woman annihilate so many?”
May 30th: Without Kharma in sight, the anonymous GM announces that Kharma’s actions will not be tolerated and fires her. The lights go out, but this time, no one is harmed. Instead, Kharma’s laugh is heard over the loud speakers mumbling, “I’ll be back.”
Given a proper exit, the audience doesn’t need to know why Kharma isn’t on TV. If fans are curious they can scour the internet or stalk her to realize she’s pregnant.
But Kharma’s role won’t end there. Capable of any task outside of the ring, she’ll be cast in a series of quickly pieced together vignettes. Since Kharma symbolizes a woman’s hate for ‘pretty girls,’ she doesn’t need to only wreak havoc on ‘blonde bombshells’ in the ring. Each vignette will show Kharma attacking ‘pretty women’ in all facets of life.
- On the set of a morning talk show, Kharma attacks a perky host.
- A young woman tries on a wedding dress in front of her friends. Returning to the dressing room she’s laid out by Kharma.
- A pretty weather woman is hurled into the green screen by Kharma and when the anchorman asks ‘so what’s today’s forecast?’ She replies, “Kharma,” with her signature evil laugh.
- At a beauty pageant for little girls, Kharma storms on stage in Godzilla fashion, chasing the miniscule beauty queens.
- Two college students peruse fashion magazines. With their backs turned, Kharma dumps gasoline over the magazine rack and lights it on fire.
- At a toy store, a little girl places a faux Barbie on the counter and begins to count her change. Kharma appears behind her and flattens the box with her fist. The little girl is frozen as a Kharma action figure is placed on the counter (bonus merchandise plug). The little girl apprehensively counts her change, when Kharma beckons her to empty all of her money, and even hand over her teddy bear.
- A beautiful figure skater hurls herself into the air, off screen a smash is heard and ice cracking effects made. Kharma is seen standing on the ice, as the figure skater’s body is seen laid out on the cracked ice.
- If pop-culture tie-ins are possible (but doubtful given the short time span before Kharma becomes unavailable), something with any beauty themed reality show/American Idol. Even a vignette with Miss Piggy would not only help Disney further promote their Muppets franchise but also give the WWE more exposure on YouTube and other media.
By airing these segments the audience will be entertained while not forgetting Kharma. In the PG era, super villains don’t need to attack their enemies in their home with a loaded gun like Steve Austin did to Brian Pillman. A dark yet humorous approach appropriately sets the mood while moving the plot forward.
The vignettes will air sporadically beginning a month after Kharma’s departure for five to seven months. Critics may argue today’s audience doesn’t possess the needed attention span, but beginning in 1996, WCW successfully kept it’s audience waiting over a year with their ‘Blood Runs Cold’ vignettes for Glacier to debut. While that was over a decade ago, this method will especially work in the case of Kharma since the vignettes are more entertaining ‘YouTube-ready ‘ material than vague, teasing promos.
Cease the vignettes about three to four months prior to her established return date. This is the time where the buildup and anticipation for Kharma is used to place other divas in the spotlight. Following a PPV divas match, history repeats itself. The lights go out, and all of the divas in the ring are laid out. Immediately, fans begin to wonder if this marks the return of Kharma. Though in fact she will return, fans will have to be patient. Any good writer knows how to take its reader on a hair-raising sidetrack until the time has come for what’s expected to be delivered. The announcers and wrestlers will not mention Kharma, and instead a ‘witch hunt’ will commence to discover the culprit. The attacks will continue for over a month until suspects become clearer.
The prime suspect should be the most muscular of the divas. While it’s uncertain who will be available, a prime candidate for this role is Beth ‘Glamazon’ Phoenix. She has enough bulk to match up to Kharma and should be returned to her former role as a dominating diva.
Just as we believe she’s the one behind the attacks, another steps in to keep the audience guessing. Gail Kim or Natalya Neidhart, given their in-ring prowess are prime candidates. When the lights go out, one of these divas would be seen at the entrance ramp. While it’s made to look like an accident, the announcers will allude that perhaps she wanted to be seen. Involve at least two to three divas, and perhaps throw the championship into the battle to give it more importance, as they fight each other but more importantly to prove who is the force behind the ‘divalicious ‘ devastation.
Prior to Kharma’s cleared return, feature the two or three divas in question in a high profile pay per view match, with the premise that the fans will find out who the culprit is. Following the match, the lights go out, and all of the competitors are laid out in familiar fashion. Then Kharma’s distinctive laugh is heard on the loudspeaker. This is where the announcers need to play dumb, “that laugh sounds familiar, but I just can’t place it.”
It’s important now to give some validity to Kharma’s return. She was fired due to violent behavior, so she can’t ‘realistically’ return when she feels like it. There needs to be a reason for her return, and there’s nothing better than someone bringing her in for their own personal gain. Simply put, Kharma needs a manager. One who can portray a grimy sleezeball while manifesting enough hate for Kharma. This is imperative since audiences will be in awe of her amazing dominance. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Kharma got the Undertaker at Wrestlemania VII treatment by being cheered as a heel. A prime candidate is Vicky Guerrero as she certainly has motive for taking out all the divas due to envy. If a male manager is used, they must be smaller in stature to Kharma.
The manager appears following the aforementioned PPV and after the lights have gone out, Kharma stands behind her/him. Some would say that she would have to ‘earn her place,’ and work her way through the competition like Goldberg. But Kharma doesn’t need to do any climbing; she is the mountain, and it’s important to place the belt on Kharma at the next PPV to symbolize her dominance.
Instead of being paraded around as a carnal beast as was Kamala, she should instead be utilized as a women’s Vader, similar to his 285 day long WCW championship run.
LONGTERM: Eventually Kharma can lose the manager, or at least overpower her/him. This would also create another feud as the manager would seek vengeance and recruit new personnel to defeat Kharma. Heel vs. heel feuds can endanger the validity of the narrative, but they do make for interesting isolated matches.
The diva who finally is able to dethrone Kharma and/or strip her of the championship will be instantly enshrined as a hero and be granted honorary competence as a ‘true’ in-ring competitor. Kelly Kelly, arguably the most ‘modelrific’ of all the divas fits the bill.Ideally, Kharma’s long title reign should come to an end at Wrestlemania or Summerslam.
Then pair her with a new manager or place her in a tag team with a new, undeveloped talent. After she’s put over enough of the competition to risk being seen as a decorated jobber (ala Val Venis), give her a face turn and a second run as champion, and the rest is…the future!
While this may be looking too far ahead, it’s important for wrestling promotions to pen long term story boards for every competitor. Without a proper exit strategy, will Kia Stevens and WWE fall victim to karma?