WWE: The importance of problematic plots

Erika Heck and Erika Heck

After falling out the World Wrestling Entertainment loop in seventh grade, I got back into watching in 2017 and found myself with a new set of women I wasn’t familiar with, women I knew only in name and not by performance and veterans I loved when I was 11 and 12.

However, after almost 10 years of not watching, seeing the unfolding of #GiveDivasAChance on social media — the biggest movement that gave women wrestlers more screen time and deemed them superstars equal to their male counterparts — and getting a Hulu subscription, I fell back in love with the ropes and the lights and the entrance music.

I say this before I go on because where I’m writing from comes from not a place as an experienced fan but a passionate one who has been so excited to have seen so much progress between Wrestlemania 33 and the present day, two weeks away from Wrestlemania 34.

The argument has been made recently on various social media platforms in the last two weeks that the most recent storyline has not been as feminist as they’re trying to make the Women’s Evolution.

This storyline revolves around WWE superstars Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss, once allies and fondly called “Team Rude”. Alexa Bliss being the bad guy, and knowing that all bad guys in television suck at relationships, be it romantic or platonic, it was no surprise their friendship would go sour after a time of Jax being Bliss’ bodyguard. In August, at the beginning of the school year, Nia Jax turned on Alexa, and since then, the WWE has been building up to the Wrestlemania match between the two for the Monday Night RAW Women’s Championship.

Two weeks ago, it was revealed that through an already-on boom microphone that Bliss was using Jax for her power, declaring to her other ally, Mickie James, “She’s just as dumb as she is big.”

Social media accused WWE writers of fat-shaming and going backwards in their evolution of giving women superstars more opportunities by giving us this cheap storyline where the beautiful blond white woman “feels sorry” for the plus-size woman and even mocks her size.

For a while, I couldn’t understand why writers would go this way, and I tried to rationalize it with the idea that this was a possible oversight by the writers. If that was the case, it highlighted the internalized superiority that someone feels they possess over others because they have something other people may not. Even doing something differently gives people the feeling of superiority over others.

And then, being brought to attention by Nia Jax herself, I had to think of this storyline not as an academic but as a passionate fan. She asked me on Twitter in response to creative theories: “Would you be surprised that this is our reality?”

I had to step away from the technicalities of professional wrestling to fully understand why this is the route they would take for these two women, who have in their lives experienced — like other women — body and self-image. Even in the present day on the reality show “Total Divas”, the women superstars who star on the E! television show often have conversations about the cyberbullying and even past criticisms in regards to their appearances.

The answer was as simple and as complicated as that. WWE, for all its storylines and controversies and historical television moments, has in some way always reflected the reality of American culture and society.

This storyline between Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax is indeed a reality that many young girls who are probably watching WWE on a weekly basis probably go through in their communities. It is indeed, in some way, a reality I remember facing growing up and watching wrestling for the very first time in the mid-2000s.

This storyline could facilitate an important conversation WWE parents could have with their children. Professional wrestling is fake and once the lights and cameras go off, the plot could not matter. But it very well could be happening to a young fan who doesn’t know how to combat her bullies.

I encourage my fellow adult WWE fans to think of the negative effects these problematic storylines could have. However, I’m also encouraging you to think of our younger fans when you see these storylines. We see through these faults and know that exposing them to these ideas is problematic. But we also know these problematic storylines can be teaching lessons to them, like any other television show we allow our children to consume. So let’s make sure we have as much conversation about these storylines as we have criticism.