WWE took the CM Punk and Undertaker storyline to a strange, disturbing place when Punk dumped out the contents of Undertaker's urn onto him. The controversy and edginess of the angle is sure to have fans flashing back to the unsettling use of Eddie Guerrero's death in storylines.
Villains of the WWE are supposed to make us squirm, but the Paul Bearer story begs the question, how far is too far?
After Bearer died on March 5, his passing became fodder for Punk and Undertaker's feud. Punk mocked Bearer's trademark harpy-like voice, stole the urn that presumably now contained Bearer's ashes and most recently scattered its contents all over Undertaker.
Finding where a narrative crosses over from shocking to appalling is tricky. WWE fans want to hate their bad guys. They want them to say and do despicable things. Is dragging a dead man's name into the heart of a story fair or foul though?
Following Eddie Guerrero's death at age 38, WWE put together a touching video package that paid tribute to the beloved star. It was powerful enough to make the toughest, grittiest dudes on the planet weep.
WWE followed that fitting tribute with appalling usage of Eddie's death in plots.
During Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio's feud leading up to WrestleMania 22, Mysterio continually referred to his friend Eddie as inspiration. He wore Eddie's T-shirt and dedicated his Royal Rumble victory to him as well. All those things are fine.
It was WWE asking Orton to say that Eddie was in hell that turned more than a few stomachs.
While the boundary between indecent and decent is sometimes hard to define, we all know when it's crossed. This was certainly one of those moments. This wasn't WWE honoring Eddie’s memory; it was the company profiting from his death.
WrestlingInc.com asked former WWE creative writer, Court Bauer in an interview if there was a time when he strongly disagreed with a creative direction and he answered, "Exploiting Eddie Guerrero's death." Bauer went on to say, "It's one of those things that I disagreed on and everyone in the room disagreed on." That is of course, excluding Vince McMahon, who according to Bauer pushed for the idea.
WWE writers involved with the current Bearer angle may come to feel the same way as Bauer. The company itself may come to regret these recent choices.
The Bearer family has repeatedly signed off on WWE's usage of his death in story form. The latest act, though, seemed to upset some of the family members.
WrestlingNewsSource.com shared Bearer's son Daniel Moody's Facebook status which mentioned the urn angle. Moody wrote, "If anyone was wondering, yes WWE did come to us wanting approval for tonight's storyline. The way it was presented to us was ok. Seeing it on screen was a different story. I don't know what to say."
With his permission, WWE released a text message they received from Daniel Moody's brother Michael, who had agreed with his sibling on Facebook:
"Hey. I woke up in time to watch the tail end of the show. What you explained would happen happened. Which is fine. Just it was a little difficult to watch it play out. I put a message on Facebook last night saying that we approved it but it wasn't what I envisioned. That I didn't have anything to say. Well woke up this morning and that quote is being used all over 'media outlets.' For the record. I was fine w(ith) it. Was hard to watch but y'all are professionals and I trust."
The story has done its job from a narrative point of view. Undertaker will be fervently seeking revenge at WrestleMania. Punk is made to be one of WWE's most hated characters. At what point, though, is the price of drawing heat not worth the indignity it causes?
WWE stories are meant to suck the audience in, to let fans escape into an alternate world.
Relying so heavily on a real-life death has too many fans debating whether a story is too controversial rather than simply enjoying the story. Punk and Undertaker’s feud benefited from the initial use of Bearer's passing, but it has now become more uncomfortable than compelling.
Chances are, fans will look back at Punk dumping out the urn onto Undertaker in the same light as Orton saying, "Eddie aint in heaven, Eddie's down there, in hell."
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