We’ve had the good vs. evil simplicity of the Golden Era, the balls-to-the-wall action of the Attitude Era, and the fourth-wall breaking Reality Era. Now it’s time for WWE to cast off the shackles of narrative and logic, and throw itself headlong into a new age of surrealism.
Many art forms have enjoyed a surrealist period, but wrestling is yet to catch up – in WWE at least. After last night’s show, I’d like to put forward the theory that the company are considering dipping their toes in the water. Raw’s tag team division appears to playing an experimental guinea pig role.
In order to test this theory, I’m going to cross-reference recent happenings in the Raw tag division with some key surrealist tropes – helpfully provided by this blog post entitled The Key Characteristics of Surrealism, by J. Rocastro.
Let’s get straight to it.
1. The exploration of the dream and unconsciousness as a valid form of reality, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s writings.
Initially, I thought our first point of reference was going to be more of an overarching theme than a specific example. Then I remembered the Survivor Series pre-show.
For those who missed it, Survivor Series kicked off with a ten-man traditional elimination bout between the tag divisions of Raw and SmackDown. It was a strange one even in the build up, with The Colons materialising out of thin air to make up the numbers for SmackDown. Were they ever really there?
The match itself had an undeniable dreamlike feel. Kalisto feigned or sustained a leg injury, and was replaced by inactive stablemate Gran Metalik. The referee did nothing, barely acknowledging the existence of the switch, let alone enforcing the rules. Again, I’m not sure if the injury was real or not, but I don’t think it matters; my overall argument is that this match never existed in the first place.
Eventually, The Usos secured the win for SmackDown, seeing off a brave final stand by The Revival and putting the blue brand up 1-0. Except that never happened. When Nia Jax emerged as sole survivor of the women’s match, the scoreboard now read Raw 1-0 SmackDown. The events of the pre-show were never referenced on the main portion of Survivor Series, nor on Raw the following night (where Stephanie McMahon explicitly told us that SmackDown didn’t win a single match).
The pre-show never happened – and the only person to challenge that was Xavier Woods, rocking a ‘6-1’ t-shirt on SmackDown like a baffled David Lynch protagonist. Do not listen to him. He is a deranged soul. The pre-show never happened.
2. A willingness to depict images of perverse sexuality, scatology, decay and violence.
You know I’m going to talk about Drake Maverick here, right?
I don’t think that the actions of the AOP’s manager at Survivor Series can be described as ‘perverse sexuality’ – but his actions on last night’s Raw 100% can.
Try telling me that Maverick didn’t derive a certain sick pleasure from urinating on Bobby Roode’s lovely blue robe. Look at the delight with which he jams it into the toilet. Look at the minimal delay between his unzipping and the release of his strong, healthy stream. No stage fright whatsoever, even on a TitanTron in front of thousands of wrestling fans.
Yes, he helped his tag team retain their titles, but that was a happy by-product of his actions. This wasn’t about securing the victory for his team. This was about wazzing right onto an expensive robe on an incredibly public platform.
What a dirty man. (In character, obviously. I don’t want to slander the guy.)
3. The desire to push against the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviors and traditions in order to discover pure thought and the artist’s true nature.
See above. Total Maverick behaviour.
4. The incorporation of chance and spontaneity.
Step forward the Lucha House Party.
There’s one true agent of chaos in today’s WWE – and it’s not Dean Ambrose, SAnitY, or even Vince McMahon himself. It’s three flippy men in masks and bright costumes, for whom the sacred laws of wrestling mean nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Buoyed by the success of their scheme at Survivor Series, Kalisto, Dorado, and Metalik have just decided to take the piss.
The Lucha lads have easily beaten The Revival a couple of times now, thanks to the introduction of ‘Lucha House Rules’. For the unfamiliar, that means that the Lucha House Party are allowed to use all three members, and the other team have to use two. Everybody seems okay with this. Last night on commentary, Renee Young even suggested that Lucha House Rules are a modern, progressive take on traditional tag team wrestling.
WWE’s tag division isn’t just incorporating chance and spontaneity; it is embracing it fully. Welcome to the madhouse.
5. The influence of revolutionary 19th century poets, such as Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Isidore Ducasse.
I’ll level with you right now. I don’t have time to launch a full literary analysis of these poets, and their influence upon both my interpretation of WWE and the broader surrealist movement. I’d love to, but I’m working to a deadline here.
Instead, I googled Charles Baudelaire (because he was the first name provided) and read his most viewed poem: ‘The sky’. Here is the second stanza:
Citizen, peasant, student, tramp; whate’er
His little brain may be, alive or dead;
Man knows the fear of mystery everywhere,
And peeps, with trembling glances, overhead.
Clearly, the first line is a reference to the many diverse gimmicks of Raw’s tag team division – Baudelaire’s staccato rhythm mirroring the arguably one-note nature of said gimmicks.
The ‘fear of mystery everywhere’ is a reference to backstage politics; the ‘trembling glances, overhead’ are a nod to WWE’s metaphorical glass ceiling. It checks out. Let’s move on.
6. Emphasis on the mysterious, marvelous, mythological and irrational in an effort to make art ambiguous and strange.
Absolutely correct, as we’ve covered with several examples above.
7. Fundamentally, Surrealism gave artists permission to express their most basic drives: hunger, sexuality, anger, fear, dread, ecstasy, and so forth.
I think all of these things have already been experienced by The B Team in 2018 so far. What a rollercoaster it’s been for those boys.
8. Exposing these uncensored feelings as if in a dream still exists in many form of art to this day.
I’m not sure what our source means here. Maybe they’re engaging in a spot of surrealism themselves (how fun!)
I’m going to assume that they’re referring to surrealism’s lasting impact, which doesn’t really apply here given that we’re in the midst of WWE’s initial foray. However, if we look towards the independent scene, it does make a little more sense. It’s everywhere in wrestling.
WWE has flirted with surrealism before (seriously, who pied Kevin Owens in the face?) but the Raw tag division’s antics are the most concerted effort so far.
However, look to the modern independent scene and witness the lingering effects of the original surrealist movement. Chuck Taylor’s invisible hand grenade; Joey Ryan’s dick flip; half of everything that happens on Being the Elite – and so on.
9. Two stylistic schools: Biomorphism and Naturalistic Surrealism.
We’ll end with a straightforward one, because Raw’s tag team division doesn’t just practice one of these schools. I don’t mean to excite you too much, but it mixes both.
From what I’ve gleaned thanks to a two minute power-search, biomorphism is the replication of natural patterns in man-made art. That’s wrestling in a nutshell, isn’t it? The violence and beauty of real combat produced in fictional form?
The other school – naturalistic surrealism – is the transformation of normal scenes into strange, dreamlike images. Like that painting of the man in the hat with an apple floating in front of his face. You know the one.
Again, I think wrestling fits that description – particularly the current Raw tag division, which looks a little like normal wrestling, but is undeniably off the rails. On to our conclusion:
WWE’s Raw tag team division is an undeniable expression of surrealism – a very potent one at that, thanks to its use of both biomorphism and naturalistic surrealism.
Thank you if you’ve made it this far, and next time the Lucha House Party try to jam all three members into a tag team match, try not to worry about it too much.
Nothing seems quite right, and that’s exactly how it should be.