The entertainment we love is filled with tropes. The hero gets the guy or girl after saving the day. The one person dumb enough to investigate the strange noises in a horror movie. Or the cop who plans to ride into the sunset in 14 days. The point is, we know them when we see them. We see some more than others because they’re consistently effective—emphasis on some. When used wrong, tropes are trite tricks put in place because of pure laziness. They don’t work because the story or emotion around them isn’t solid enough, and we can see the strings.
A moment on last Friday’s SmackDown (March 26) was all about the latter example. So much so it practically begged the audience to collectively groan, sigh, and roll their eyes. It’s time for faces and heels alike to stop what they’re doing just because they hear someone’s theme music. Better said, it’s time to stop making the heroes—especially—and the villains so damn stupid.
For those new to this or losing their breath jogging their memories, allow me to set the scene: your favorite wrestler is in the middle of handing out a severe beat down. Cue their rival’s music, and they suddenly turn lamer than your mom or dad raising the roof in 2021. The wrestler has no idea what to do because…music plays, they turn their back on their actual opponent in the ring to face their imaginary opponent outside of the ring, possibly losing the match in the process.
Bianca Belair fell victim to the dreaded theme music thing last Friday, and she deserves so much better than that. Especially heading into her first WrestleMania match. If there’s one quality we like in our heroes, it’s competency. It’s easier to bring out the pom-poms for James Bond or Captain Marvel because they’re not inept. The same is true for the bad guys; a competent and capable villain poses a more significant threat.
The bigger the danger, the bigger the victory. And yet, WWE wants to make one of its brightest stars look not very bright at all. Bianca isn’t the first to fall victim to this, but for the love of everything holy, please let her be the last.
What makes it more egregious in 2021 is the fact wrestlers are well aware of other wrestling tropes. They know contract signings end in fights, they’re entirely mindful getting married in the ring is more than a bad idea, and they fully understand how fragile that Spanish announce team table truly is. Yet they still fall for the banana in the tailpipe when they hear someone else’s music in the middle of a match. Every. Single. Time.
All these wrestlers watch wrestling, so they get it. But what they’re aware of and how often they choose to exercise said awareness is as consistent as a teenager’s emotions. Rather than building a situation around Bianca’s character, WWE did the thing with round holes and square pegs that kindergartners are told not to do.
Tropes can and should evolve. After all, the reason a storytelling device even becomes a trope is that it’s worked well enough over a long period. But there are some better left to the trash can of history. This particular one overstayed its welcome eons ago. In a business that sometimes slowly changes with the times, it’s weird how something this silly that makes no one look good is still a thing.
Making the heroes fallible is a good thing. Making them complex is even better. It’s one reason the “cool heel” became a thing. They’re often more interesting than the babyface with the mile-wide smile who never adapts to any situation and has less personality than a stick of gum. It’s not fun watching people we’re supposed to cheer for being dumb. Especially if we’re supposed to identify with them.
Intelligent wrestlers who don’t fall for the same old tricks inspire the villains to develop new ways to pull a rabbit out of their hat. Ways that won’t insult the audience’s intelligence or the protagonist we’re supposed to root for. Thankfully, Bianca didn’t lose her match like so, so many before her. Perhaps that’s WWE’s way of inverting our expectations and showing they’re smartening up. But it feels more like the company’s desire to have its cake and eat it too.
What’s worse, the match’s outcome and the aftermath rendered the entire thing pointless. If you hop in your Delorean, dollars to donuts says you’ll find a similar result every time.
Bianca, Sasha Banks, and wrestlers around the globe deserve better. And not for nothing, but we do too.