This one is coming on the heels of John Moxley (or as you may know him, Dean Ambrose) releasing a video that is essentially proclaiming his freedom from WWE. One of the reasons, if not the main reason, Dean/John did not renew his contract is that he didn’t like the roles he was given by the creative team and wanted more control. Which is fine, but as always that brings with the chiming in from all corners of the peanut gallery about the evil Vince McMahon and how he stifles everyone’s creativity and forces them to do things that he wants them to do and all, and that even though you signed a contract it’s ‘just not fair, man….’ Which means that now I have to put my Vince McMahon shill hat back on, again. You guys really have no idea how ironic it is for me to be doing that, and it’s not because I think Vince is so awesome so much as I think some of the people ripping him are full of crap. ‘Creative Freedom’ isn’t something you just get to have, it’s something you have to trade other things for. The fact of the matter is that unless you work for yourself you never have full creative freedom, and that those who appear to probably get it because they already share the same vision as their boss.
And it’s not just a wrestling thing. Movie studios dump directors and writers all the time because they’re not on the same page as the studio or the executive producer. Rock bands and singing groups do the same thing with producers and even members. If you’re part of a company, team, group, etc then you are not there to just do you, you’re there to play a role in a collective performance, and unless you are in charge then you don’t get to choose how you are supposed to work. If you’re fortunate the person or people in charge will give you input into how you are utilized but even if they do you still have to color inside certain lines or you won’t be long for the place. That doesn’t make it a prison, but to hear some people talk about you’d think being told how to do your art by a company that you knew about before you went there is the same as working in a coal mine because you don’t have any other options. In case you wondering, no it isn’t.
I read comic books, and going to work for Marvel or DC means that you get to write Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, the X-Men, etc. And that’s great on one level but at the same time you have decades of canon to be consistent with, fans who are very specific in what they consider acceptable for their favorite characters, and whatever the corporate creative vision is at the time. You don’t get to write whatever great stuff you might have in your head, you have to stay within certain parameters that aren’t set by you. And what’s happened is that a lot of prominent writers and artists have left the Big Two after a while and gone on to do work that they own for smaller companies like Image or just try to go the totally independent route. Some come back, some play for the Big Two while doing their own stuff outside, some leave and never come back. But in the grand scheme of things working for one of those two companies gives you the profile to trade off of that you would not have gotten by being ‘free’ for your whole career so you are getting something in return other than a paycheck for what you may be losing in creative control.
Coming to work for WWE is not some secret society. If you’re in the business you know what the deal is because that’s been the deal since Vince took over. If you have some grand ideas about what you want to do as a character that’s all well and good but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get to use them. Maybe you will, maybe you’ll get to incorporate them into whatever the boss sees you doing, maybe you won’t. But you know that already, and you chose to sign so don’t act all surprised when they want you to do something you didn’t quite have in mind before. You knew. We knew. It’s not a secret. And for the most part it’s the best way to go. You know what happens when you let people just do their thing? You get Vince Russo in WCW. So yeah, shutting down a potentially good idea is a fair price to pay for not letting anything through that could have unintended bad consequences. And while that is frustrating to the wrestlers and to us as fans, it is what it is. Anyone who witnessed what giving guys creative control did for WCW should know better than to think that would be so awesome.
Some of the best ideas in history were born out of something that the wrestlers themselves did not have in mind. Ric Flair wanted to be a tag team partner/sidekick to Dusty Rhodes while Dusty, the booker, saw money in Ric taking an old Buddy Rogers gimmick and cranking it up to 11. The Million Dollar Man gimmick was about as far a departure from anything Ted DiBiase was known for as you could imagine, and the story is that he had to agree to sign before Vince told him about it. That worked out ok, didn’t it? Nobody was thinking about splitting the Rockers up and pushing one of them as a singles star, not even Shawn Michaels himself as far as I know, before Vince went and did it. At the same time Chris Jericho came up with the idea for Money in the Bank and hey, Vince approved it! Some wrestlers do have good ideas, they run them by Vince, and he agrees with them so they happen. Chris isn’t the only one; guys like the Miz and New Day have repeatedly shared how they got their ideas into fruition. That’s not prison, folks. It just isn’t.
Now Vince is one of those old school Alpha Male type of dudes and yeah going to him requires you to “Man Up” and all of that, so if that’s not you then yes you’re going to have some issues there. But again…..we all know. The stories about people getting over with him by not backing down have been around for years. It’s not a secret, and it’s not for you then don’t go there. There are other places to work, they just require a lot more out of you and a lot of good fortune to make the same kind of money there. I’m no fan of Joey Ryan and his act but he’s been willing to do whatever gets people to pay to see him and make enough money to stay away from WWE. The Elite guys have done the same and now they’re running their own promotion. Juice Robinson totally reinvented himself after leaving NXT and has done well in Japan. There are other paths if you’re willing to take them and stick to it, but like everything in life those are tradeoffs, too, and life is no crystal stair there, either. Betting on yourself can work if you’re willing to put in the effort and catch the right breaks.
Now to give a more personal example I run and pay for this site and as a result get to write about anything I damn well please. It’s fun, it’s great, and I enjoy it a lot. But…..nobody’s paying me here. I’ve thought about installing a tip jar or soliciting donations, but even that comes with some level of obligation to the people who contribute. If you were to give me money here it would be because you like at least some of what I do AND because you want me to keep doing those things you like. If I’m relying on donations to keep this thing running then yeah that’s going to affect what I do here. Decisions will be made about which subjects get spoken which ones don’t. Such is life. If someone offered me enough money where I could quit my day job and do this full time, yeah I’d think about it. But I’m not naive and I know that it would come with it’s own set of strings. So long as you’re doing a job you’re beholden to somebody out there, and if you don’t think so you’ll find out just as soon as you run afoul of they want you to do.
Lastly, do I begrudge people who leave the WWE after a while because they wanted to be able to do more of what they wanted? No, not at all. But please, call it what it is. You worked there and ultimately it wasn’t for you long term. You got some name recognition you didn’t have before by being there, whether you were a main eventer or someone who lost all the time like Curt Hawkins, and you’re going to trade off of that going forward. You gave them something and you got something that you can use to your advantage in return. And yes your personal experience may not have been that good there, I won’t deny your personal story whatever it may be. But enough with the shoot interviews and social media sympathy pleas. Enough with telling us your new employer is going to ‘let you be you’ when: a) they probably won’t and b) if they do it’s because they agreed with you from jump, not because they are so damn open minded. That’s life; creative differences aren’t a cliché, they are real and sometimes you have to choose between going along to get along or splitting off when they arise. Just be honest about it, ok?