Monday, April 10, 2017

A Culture of Bullies

Ranallo is pretty much an ex-WWE employee right now, and it's all thanks to WWE's systemically rotten culture
Photo Credit:
Mauro Ranallo is probably never calling another match for WWE. The last time he called Smackdown Live was the March 7 episode. He missed the next week for what were described as "travel issues," but then he missed the next week, and the next week, and the week after that, and then WrestleMania, and then the show after the big event. Curiously enough, around this time, an episode of WWE's Around the Horn/Pardon the Interruption knock-off show Bring It to the Table was being advertised that featured Ranallo's broadcast partner, JBL, calling him an idiot in addition to what seemed to be "gentle" ribbing on Twitter. However, some of his behaviors started not adding up. For example, he's one of the most active people on Twitter, and he went cold for a whole weekend, leading people to believe that something had gone wrong. Ranallo is famously diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Additionally, his podcast partner, mixed-martial arts legend Bas Rutten, started lashing out at JBL on Twitter, and a post on Reddit's wrestling subfolder, r/SquaredCircle, summarized reporting from Dave Meltzer's audio shows that said JBL was really bullying Ranallo behind the scenes and that it caused the episode which has caused Ranallo to miss Smackdown the last month. The story has been making rounds lately, hence the original link.

None of this stuff coming to light should be surprising, and neither should be the responses of those who are close to the situation. Jonathan Coachman, who was erroneously reported as ceasing his coverage of WWE for ESPN over the incident (he claims he's doing other assignments), has spent so much time on Twitter defending his former bosses and the company by saying it has "no culture of bullying." Honestly, anyone who has a functioning brain can see that statement is a complete farce. Even without JBL's transparent history and glib dismissal of anyone who'd accuse him of being a bully (like when he responded to Justin Roberts' accusations by calling him an "idiot"), WWE as a company that fosters and harbors bullies and bullying is transparent and starts at its head. Vince McMahon has always condoned and endorsed this sort of behavior, even as inclusion into his company's televised product.

Getting rid of JBL would be a great first step, but in essence, JBL does not exist in a vacuum. He gets his power to run rampant on everyone in the company, from Blue Meanie to Billy Silverman to The Miz to Justin Roberts and now Ranallo from at best silent assent and at worst direct order from McMahon as one of his lieutenants. Besides, McMahon won't act unless someone from outside pressures him anyway. In this regard, he's behind Paul "Triple H" Levesque, who fired noted bully and former head NXT trainer Bill DeMott before any sponsors threatened to pull out, rather firing him after more and more former trainees came out with accusations. The pressure won't come from B.A. Star because the foundation is a WWE creation. The pressure won't come from ESPN as long as Coachman continues to vouch for his former employers.

The cold reality of the situation always will keep WWE in the clear because of the nature of the business. JBL can continue to be a throbbing penis because his place of work allows him to do so, and he can deflect criticism of it because he's a "heel." Anyone can do anything they want in the business and use the shield of character to protect them, as if kayfabe is a cloak of invisibility that allows the inner shit of the soul to seep out like pus from an abscessed tooth. McMahon knows how to game the system to the point where if outside pressures ever forced him to remove JBL, another bully would just find his or her way to step up to the plate and fill the void.

The sad part is that fairly few companies in wrestling aren't drenched in total toxic masculinity that allows the bullying culture to pervade it. It's not surprising, given that an industry based on guys needing to look tough will attract a bunch of people who live their characters. Wrestling is always going to be a business with problematic capital exploiting problematic labor with problematic consumers lining up to spew garbage takes about the whole thing. That sequence doesn't necessarily mean following wrestling is unethical or wrong, per se (unless you're a leftist who believes all consumption in a capitalistic system is unethical which, hey, thanks for following me on Twitter, no war but class war). The only thing one can do is keep pointing this stuff out, keep fighting a good fight, no matter where it is. Trust me, things may not change quickly. They may never change, but that doesn't mean you stop fighting for what's right. JBL getting canned from WWE won't change the culture, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. WWE is going to lose a talented, name-recognized announcer because it chose its own bullshit way of life over the well-being of its employees, ahem, sorry "independent contractors." The only way it'll feel the sting is if all fans who realize this speak up, no matter how futile it seems. Mauro Ranallo wasn't the first victim, but the infinitesimal chance that he's the last victim has no chance to come to fruition if people stay silent.