On worked injuries
The past few days saw WWE kick up their use of worked injuries in storylines: Beth Phoenix lost the Divas Title following a storyline ankle injury and then was unable to participate in her rematch at Extreme Rules, John Cena teased some kind of serious arm injury at Extreme Rules and most recently, on this week’s Monday Night Raw WWE claimed that Brock Lesnar broke Triple H’s arm with his Kimura Lock. All of the above are extremely useful story pieces, with the first explaining why a Divas as dominant as Phoenix could lose her title to Nikki Bella and the others putting Lesnar over as an absolute monster, but I have to wonder about the long-term wisdom of booking all these fake injuries.
Worked injuries have a long and distinguished history in professional wrestling, and for good reason. They can be used to garner sympathy for a face, build up a heel as a remorseless destroyer or even carve out space in a hectic schedule for a guy to take a vacation (or film a movie even). Back in the days before the internet and dirtsheets and general fan awareness of the inner workings of the wrestling industry it was easy to sell the audience on even the most ridiculous injuries. Just have the guy act hurt in the ring and explain it later in a promo – it was as simple as that.
Now, however, a lot more work needs to be done to get the audience believing that any injury is legit, as fans have been fooled too many times to buy into anything easily. Not only does an injury angle require excellent acting on the part of the wrestler in question, but the facade has to be kept up backstage and even in people’s private lives with the prevalence of video-enabled smartphones. Furthermore, to make an injury believable, wrestlers must tweet and talk about it publicly and and WWE themselves have to issue regular updates on their programming and website, just as if the injury were real.
As we’ve seen this past week, when done correctly, this can be terribly effective, causing fans to wonder whether they’re favorite wrestler might in fact be actually injured. But the problem comes with what to do next, when the injury is revealed to be nothing more than a storyline and WWE is perceived as crying wolf. It’s only been a week or two since WWE started in on its current trend of pushing worked injuries, but already the strategy is showing diminishing returns. After Extreme Rules, it wasn’t exactly clear whether Cena’s arm was actually injured, but one night later, everyone with half a brain knew that Brock Lesnar didn’t actually break Triple H’s arm. Part of this is due to context (injuring someone’s arm in a match is far different from breaking it as part of an assault), but it’s also due to the fact that fans have already started wising up to this particular tactic.
Worked injuries are a great storytelling tool in professional wrestling, but they have to be used judiciously, or else you run the risk of diminishing their effectiveness altogether, especially when the current media landscape necessitates that WWE go so far in trying to pull the wool over fans eyes. Perhaps worst of all, by regularly scripting fake injuries, WWE puts itself in an extremely difficult decision for when one of their wrestlers is actually injured in the ring, conditioning fans to see absolutely everything as a storyline.
What do you think about the current rash of worked injury storylines in WWE? Were you taken in by any of them? Do you find them all effective?