T.M.Z. BLOWS COVER ON LANA AND RUSEV! – Kayfabe in the age of social media
On Sunday, October 11th, TMZ broke the story that WWE superstars Rusev and Lana are engaged, and have been for a month.
Fantastic news for the happy couple, everyone at The Daily Jobber wishes them well in life and in love.
However, having the story publicized as widely as it was has thrown a wrench in the gears of the story-line in which Lana and Rusev’s characters are currently involved. Namely, they hate each other’s guts after their relationship dissolved months ago, Lana is hot for Dolph Ziggler, and Summer Rae is wanting to marry the Bulgarian.
On Monday Night Raw, WWE was forced to address the social media buzz before fans started to do it for them, thus making them look stupid.
The charge was put on Summer Rae to address the story. She acted hurt and humiliated by the betrayal, giving Rusev the business and walking off on him.
WWE now has no choice but to acknowledge their real-life relationship, and incorporate it into their characters.
When Lana returns to action, the couple will have to give some kind of brief promo explaining the rift that developed between them. They could perhaps say something about “being confused” and “finding solace in the arms of another”, but that “those were meaningless affairs” that made them “realize how much we truly loved one another”. You get the idea. The couple will embrace and forge ahead on a new path, united instead of pretending to be apart anymore.
In retrospect, WWE really missed out on a great opportunity with this story. If Lana and Rusev had perhaps orchestrated their personal and professional lives with a bit more forethought, they could have had a Randy Savage/Miss Elizabeth moment.
Having Rusev go down on one knee, live in front of the entire WWE Universe is a great angle for a story-line if it wasn’t true. Having it be genuine, though, that’s the stuff that truly great moments in wrestling are made of.
Maybe they can still capitalize on a live wedding.
However, in the wake of this latest swerve instigated by a third-party news source essentially spoiling kayfabe, it brings up larger issues pivotal to the sports entertainment industry.
In the old days, it was comparatively easy to suspend disbelief and stay in character. Wrestlers would travel from town to town, faces and heels acting like they hated each other, and as long as they didn’t break character in the ring the effect was flawless.
The performers would take precautions, regardless of how well the show went, showing a dedication to the act that any method actor should envy. Heels and faces would avoid drinking together in public places after shows, or would at least avoid any friendly interaction. They would travel separately whenever possible.
There were notable exceptions, and they have become notorious. Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Diesel and 123 Kid would travel together, and this made the old schoolers nervous.
They remembered the damage done when “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik were pulled over and busted for drug possession in the eighties, essentially demolishing kayfabe.
By now, we live in an age where the show is acknowledged as theatre. It is generally assumed everyone knows that the athletes are performers playing characters, the drama is scripted or at least previously conceived, the punches are pulled.
The same way we watch action movies and don’t really believe Tom Cruise is killing terrorists, we watch wrestling with the same thrill of letting our minds get lost in a compelling drama.
However, if Tom Cruise were to pause after shooting some rogue agent and wink directly into the camera, it would ruin the experience for anyone watching.
By the same token, part of the enjoyment of watching professional wrestling is allowing oneself to become absorbed by the suspension of disbelief. And in the age of social media, it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain kayfabe.
Some characters have it easier than others.
Brie Bella and Daniel Bryan have no issue posting photos of them doing happy couple things like bathing their dog or baking vegan brownies, because that’s who their characters are on screen.
Now, it lands a bit strange when Brie suddenly starts behaving villainous inside the ring, and that’s where kayfabe suffers. If Brie is such a heel, how can baby-face Bryan feel all right about being with her?
I’m sure that’s partly the reason Nikki Bella and John Cena aren’t more visible together on social media. It’s bad enough their private lives are in such focus on E! Network’s Total Divas. John Cena is the biggest face in the company, and if Nikki behaves like the biggest heel, it goes against all kayfabe logic that they would love one another.
Herein lies the complications inherent in our day and age. The age of communication, of technology connecting us constantly, the age of celebrity transparency, the age of massively reduced privacy.
It’s fine for Roman Reigns to post pictures of playing tea party with his daughter, but if Bray Wyatt were to do the same, his character would suffer.
One superstar who has covered his bases nicely is Kevin Owens. Speaking as a clear heel, he makes mention of his family frequently, making them part of his drive, his motivation to succeed at all costs.
This allows him to post photos being tender and loving with his wife and young children, and we as an audience don’t find it conflicting with the public persona he projects. It even covers him if he were turn baby-face. Even after a turn, his promos would have to change very little, if at all.
To say Lana and Rusev committed an act of wrestling heresy is a bit harsh, but is it untrue? They failed at one of the major duties any professional wrestling star is charged with: commit to the bit.
If they were thinking of tying the knot, they could have weaved it into their in-ring story-line and it would have played beautifully.
Considering previous TMZ headlines from March 1st of this year announced the pair purchased a house together in Nashville, it appears the foundation for a future together was being laid.
For a superstar to weave their personal story into their wrestling character, compelling the fans to care not only for the wrestler but the person underneath can be difficult, but when done properly it is the most moving thing you can witness.
Shawn Michaels was a master at this, especially in his later years. Daniel Bryan made his quest for WWE gold a personal journey, and it endeared him to the world. Rey Mysterio, Tommy Dreamer, Eddie Guerrero, Bret and Owen Hart, all were heroes who made the joys and tragedies of their personal lives part of the show, and it made the show truly special.
Lana and Rusev decided not to involve the truth of their personal relationship into their in-ring story, keeping their life separate from the show. Instead, they allowed their in-ring feud on off-screen relationship to go on simultaneously with no regard for kayfabe.
I witnessed this myself while attending a house show in Vancouver. Lana and Rusev were at the height of their bitter separation, with Lana boasting that her new squeeze Dolph Ziggler was twice the man he was and Rusev appearing satisfied with his new woman, Summer Rae.
After the show, a horde of fans were gathered outside the arena hoping to catch a glimpse of superstars as they loaded up their cars and left. Lana and Rusev rode together, with Summer Rae hitching a ride with someone else.
Any old-timer would shake their head at such an act, as they shook their heads at Duggan and Sheik, or at “Curtain Call”.
The love and commitment Lana and Rusev show for one another is truly heart-warming, but it also demonstrates a lack of commitment to the business of sports entertainment, the art of professional wrestling, and the fans that hang on their every word and action.