Breaking the Fourth Wall: How WWE is bringing realism back

The lines are getting blurred, but is WWE choosing to rip up the scripts and let things loose moving forward?

If you have been watching WWE programming recently, particularly Monday Night Raw, you would have noticed a very different structure to the customary style of promos. At the recent No Mercy Pay-per-view event, Roman Reigns defeated John Cena in a ‘taking of the torch match’. Regardless of your opinion of the match, what can’t be denied is how fascinating the build-up was.

To hype their upcoming clash, Cena and Reigns were going back and forth ‘shooting’ on each other and their positions in the company. What made it more intriguing, was that Reigns is considered the company’s top guy and essentially ‘the new John Cena’. This was brought to attention within these promos with Cena calling his adversary ‘a John Cena bootleg’, and calling him out on his ineffective promo work, while Reigns chastised Cena for his part-time status and lack of ability in the ring. These are all legitimate gripes that the fan base has or has had with both performers. While Cena arguably came out on top in these mic battles, it can’t be argued that the feud made both superstars bring their A-game. 

Changing the game

WWE has seemingly decided to smash the fourth wall to provide more of an injection of reality in their programming. A fourth wall is a theatrical practice that separates performers from the audience watching to maintain the illusion of theater. The fourth wall is broken when either the audience or the fictionality of the performance or characters is addressed. With this programme, it is apparent that the effects of the famous CM Punk ‘Pipe Bomb Promo’ from 2011 are still rippling through the WWE. 

From that moment, the game changed forever. The line between truth and reality was completely blurred, and the audience watching could not decide if they were watching a scripted promo or a real-life shoot from the frustrated WWE employee Phil Brooks. The fourth wall had been broken before, but there had been nothing as compelling as those six minutes. It was captivating, spoken from the heart, and clearly formed the blueprint for the Cena and Reigns feud.

Wrestling is escapism, much like films, television series, or books. Mostly, the audience knows that what they are watching is a fantasy. The performers on screen are playing a character, and as Triple H once said, “using their bodies to tell a story”. Wrestling fans know this and allow themselves to get lost in the performance and action that unfolds on their screens. 

Perhaps, to some, it is in fact detrimental for the company to occasionally let the audience know what they are watching is not reality. I can’t imagine it would be much fun watching Breaking Bad if every so often Bryan Cranston stepped forward to the camera and said; “I’m not actually Heisenberg, I’m just pretending to be a massive drug lord”. 

A breath of fresh air?

On the other hand, it can’t be denied that it is incredibly entertaining. It makes the product more edgy and legitimate and performers have the chance to include more personal elements in their promos and make them sound more poignant and believable. It’s much easier to get invested in that than the heavily scripted and lifeless promos we’ve become accustomed to from WWE superstars in recent years. 

We watched all the legitimate criticisms of Cena and Reigns brought to the forefront and said out loud on national television. That’s quite a therapeutic experience, and it makes the audience feel like their voices are finally being channeled. This ultimately is an effective way of making audiences feel more involved and connected to the programme. 

However, this only really serves the hardcore fans of the product. The casual fans, who don’t know the ins and outs of the business or what goes on behind the scenes, have been given no context into what is unfolding on their screens, so it’s difficult for them to get invested.

For a product to remain fresh and not go stale it is important to try new things. What this whole programme has done is created interest and intrigue, and that serves the company well. It’s brought a freshness to the programme which many believe has been lacking for some time. Whether this is a one-off or an experiment to decide if it’s a route to go down for future feuds, it will be fascinating to see how it all pans out.

What are your thoughts in this shift in traditional promo structure? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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