MAIN EVENT AT CASTLE DANGER
#1 – Hangman’s Wrath and Meta Subtext
“Why is Hangman so mad?”
I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d missed something in the lead-up to the confrontation segment this week on Dynamite. With their tendency to use not only long-term booking but to incorporate moments of relative obscurity and meta personal occurrences, it wouldn’t have surprised me if there was a hint to something that only those who had been there since the beginning, or had known about him outside of the company, might’ve picked up on. Either of those options were quite possible, since I’ve been slowly regaining my bearings as a no-longer-lapsed wrestling fan now that there was an option where I didn’t feel like I was punished for liking things by the people running the show.
It had been since 2017 that I’d been fully engaged in any wrestling product. Twenty years of fandom and I’d just had enough of forcing myself to watch something out of habit or misguided hope that it was going to get better. I recognize that some people still enjoy that product, and I’m by no means advocating against them doing so. I’m merely reflecting on my own experience here, so please don’t take it as an attack if you enjoy that company’s output. For the most part, I only vaguely followed the happenings through Simon Miller’s recaps on WhatCulture while I fed my nostalgic needs bingeing the Attitude Era Podcast. (Thank you Kefin, Adam, and Billy!)
For a brief amount of time, Edge’s return got me to pay a little attention again, and not just because I’m a sucker for a good earth-shattering pop on a surprise return, though that certainly didn’t hurt. I was working overnights at a hotel at that point, and being able to catch a few of the replays on TV when no one was around… well, it was something to do. I surely don’t need to remind anyone what happened in those next few months, but suffice it to say that hotel traffic was about to dwindle significantly, and one of the few people those establishments would retain would be the night auditors because, well, someone had to be there.
I’d heard about this upstart company called AEW, but I’d been disappointed by alternatives that seemingly flamed out shortly after arrival before, and wanted to see it stick around for a while before I gave it a shot. Wrestling had burned me a few too many times, but despite the empty buildings and the somber tone they desperately tried to avoid, it at least made me feel some kind of human connection with the outside world at a time where that was more difficult than ever. Some of those nights, I’d see maybe one person over eight hours, and even as an introvert who mostly enjoyed the quiet, that got difficult after a while.
Like many I’m sure, it was Punk’s return that really made me consider investing my time in AEW. I’d flipped it on a couple times during the Daily’s Place days and recognized a few people, but truthfully after I left the hotel job for unrelated reasons, I was spending a lot of time in nature and in the garden. After all, the length of those Attitude Era podcasts made it easy to be occupied doing something other than sitting and watching television. Then once the rumors of Bryan Danielson started floating, they had my attention. All Out was the first show I watched, and it wasn’t so much the wrestling and characters that made me stick around, though that certainly did help. It was the unrehearsed, unprogrammed, unforced levels of joy I was seeing on the wrestlers’ faces. Being an autistic person, it’s sometimes hard to read social cues or body language, but it was unmistakable to even me that people genuinely seemed happy to be there. They also didn’t seem so heavily scripted and rehearsed, something that had been getting worse upon my slow withdrawal from being a current fan years back. I just hadn’t felt like wrestlers and characters had the freedom to be themselves. There’s only so many times I can see a heel turn to break up a tag team and see that character blame “each and every one of you” as the reason. Again, I’m not trying to participate in any fan wars or anything like that here, so if you still like that show’s product, I’m not trying to put you down or otherwise insult you. I speak only for myself, my own perception, and what I enjoy watching for entertainment.
The reason I recapped the last few years like that isn’t to make this entry some kind of diary as an introduction to me, this previously unseen columnist named A.D. here at NoDQ, but rather to provide some sort of context as to why I may be somewhat clueless to some of the nuggets AEW is dropping down on these and other feuds that seem to have some kind of meta subtext. I’ve been indulging in the promotion regularly for less than a year, so I missed Hangman’s heel days and most of what led up to his championship win in November. What I can gather from that time that I’ve seen him though is that he’s mostly a quiet, reserved guy who finally unleashes the wrath upon a deserving person when they’ve either pushed him too far or disturbed his code of honor. Adam Cole pressed those buttons, deliberately. You didn’t need to be an expert on long-form storytelling to see the buildup to his demand of a “Texas DEATH MATCH!” to see how things escalated to that point.
So imagine my surprise with a feud that’s admittedly seen very little, shall we say, incitement to violence? While similar things have been said in Punk’s feuds by Eddie Kingston and MJF, those characters have been known to be very provocative, and there were exchanges of equal ignition within those feuds that allowed things to progress to that level of mudslinging.
Color me a bit confused as to why Hangman was so freaking angry this week? It almost made me gaslight myself. As previously stated, I’ve been actively engaged in AEW’s shows for less than a year on a regular basis. I watch Dynamite and Rampage every week. Sometimes I’ll catch Dark or Elevation, though I don’t fully pay attention to what goes on there. It is a nice way to introduce myself to a lot of the names and faces I don’t remember or recognize when they’re put in a match on one of the main shows, and also they’ll get a few matches of buildup when they’re about to be in a big match with a TV regular, so I appreciate that opportunity.
Still though, nothing really prepared me for this face-to-face segment on Dynamite this week, where Tony stood between the champion Page and the challenger Punk. Punk has been in some fiery feuds, most notably with MJF where he had to summon the inner Scene Kid within all of us who were young in that era by the powers of AFI to close out a majestic and vitriolic feud between the two. This one though… They won matches with each other’s finishers and had a few snarky standoffs? What am I missing?
It’s not lost on me that some people in the business aren’t fans of CM Punk, to put it mildly. Hearing the verbal mudslinging between he and Kingston was a pretty clear example of that, in addition to people who were put off by his exit in 2014 and everything that came with it. MJF invoked a feeling of betrayal for being a fan of someone who wasn’t there for him anymore, and that made sense to me. Kingston’s source of rage seemed to be personal from the days of Ring of Honor and what happened backstage. But that was all spelled out pretty clearly by those involved; what I didn’t know could be easily inferred from the text of their spats.
Then, a thought occurred to me. It may be scraping the shards out of a few TV Trope rabbit holes. It may be the years of media analysis from undergrad. And I may also just be putting something on it that isn’t there based on the need in wrestling to sometimes gimmick things around locations with on-the-nose references. But I used that word earlier: wrath. The wrath of Page. They are in Las Vegas, Sin City. Could that be a deliberate thematic choice they’re going for here?
That may be pure speculation, as I’ve already considered. I’d say it’s more likely for a company like AEW to keep that in subtext and let people figure it out. Elsewhere, I feel like if that’s what they were going for, Michael Cole would be saying every four minutes: “Wrath! It’s wrath! Like the seven deadly sins! Get it? Because it’s Las Vegas! Sins! Seven deadly sins! He’s showing his stupendous wrath, King!” (Yes I know he’s not on there with King, but for some reason whenever I think of Cole being forced to say something by the guy on the headset for the 49th time in ten minutes, he’s saying it to Lawler, go with it.)
The anger, or wrath if you will, seems harshly delivered to CM Punk, who in turn rather than matching Hangman’s level of fire is like “why you so mad, bro?” And that’s a good question, because I don’t know either. I don’t need it spelled out, but in Page’s impassioned promo, he mentioned a lot of the what without the why. He talked about defending all of AEW from him, he talked about pitying him, giving him what he deserved, not wanting to be like him, and all of it from this guy who’s normally like “yeah, I’m a cowboy, I’m just gonna hang out with my friends unless you really push me.” To see someone this riled up with almost no provocation other than “I’d like a title match and I think I can win” makes me think there has to be either some unspoken subtext, or perhaps that’s exactly what the regular text is going for.
I’m not a religious person, so feel free to correct my interpretations of this analysis by all means. I haven’t seen clear cut examples of all the other six deadly sins. However, two of them would be pretty well spelled out through this interpretation. What could be more prideful than blaming your friends for your problems, naming an entire stable after yourself, and then proclaiming to be a wizard? Which I enjoy the hell out of, by the way, that isn’t to say it’s a negative thing, only a matter of possible analytic interpretation if this might be what they’re going for.
I believe the word has even been invoked for the other example. Has not ATT Dan specifically called what’s going on with that couple you all knew in high school who violated PDA rules but got away with it because of their social/athletic/economic status? If he or one of the Top Team hasn’t used the word “lust,” it’s certainly been implied. And Sammy and Tay have definitely played that up to eleven, even making out while Kaz sledgehammers a belt, which is definitely a sentence I just had to write.
Are there other examples you can think of for envy, greed, sloth, or gluttony? I know green is usually associated with envy, but Jade Cargill doesn’t seem to be in the position to envy anyone. She did make herself entirely the color of money though, so that might fit either greed or gluttony. Same with MJF and his Burberry scarf, taking everything he can away from Wardlow and forcing him to jump through a million hoops. Envy could possibly be someone like Jamie Hayter, who has shown signs of contempt for Dr. Britt Baker, DMD since I’ve been watching, though not as much recently. And admittedly this could all either be reading into it too much or coincidental, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to speculate.
That does it for the first edition of Main Event at Castle Danger here at NoDQ. Thank you for reading, and shoot me an email at NoDQAD@gmail.com if you so desire.