WWE smeared so much controversy over the Charlotte vs. Paige feud that it's now hard to see the story underneath.
The company confused real-life tragedy with a means to generate heat for a heel. It confused an appalled audience with an engaged one.
On Monday's WWE Raw, the company turned Reid Fliehr's death into narrative fodder, a cheap, disrespectful move that benefits no one. WWE's writers had a multitude of options before them to spark Charlotte's fury and went in a lazy direction, going down a road better left not traveled.
Paige is set to face Charlotte at Survivor Series for the Divas Championship.
The rivalry up to this point had been built around the bad blood between allies-turned-enemies, championship glory and Charlotte's need to prove herself. Paige split from her faction with Charlotte, telling her and the world that she didn't believe Charlotte had earned her spot as champ.
Paige thought she deserved the gold more. In her mind, Charlotte had ridden her famous father's coattails, calling her "Baby Flair."
Now less than a week before their title match, the two women met in the closing segment of Monday's Raw to sign their contracts, and not surprisingly, they bickered.
Charlotte first brought up her late brother when she talked about how close she and Paige once were.
There was a tinge of discomfort for the crowd there. Charlotte didn't linger on Reid's passing. It was just an attempt at adding depth to her story.
Had WWE stopped with that, there likely would have been minimal backlash. Sure, it was cheap, but it was essentially a thrown-in anecdote, not the tasteless tactic that soon followed.
After Charlotte talked about how much fight she had in her, about how much fight her family had in them, Paige glared at her foe and said, "Your little baby brother, he didn't have much fight in him, did he?"
Reid died in a hotel room at just 25 years old. That was the end of a tumultuous life where the young professional wrestler struggled with legal issues and drug problems. As the autopsy later revealed, per Chris Dyches of WISTV, a heroin overdose killed him.
As Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden, author of Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling said on Twitter, there is no way this should be storyline fodder:
Wrestling is an escapist medium.
Currently, an evil corporate tyrant is trying to woo his next right-hand man. An undead mortician is seeking revenge against a cult leader with supernatural powers. Wrestlers are fighting for the chance to wear a strap of leather and gold.
Those are wrestling stories. Those are angles that allow fans to get lost in the scripted world of the squared circle.
And it did so again on Monday night.
The fact that a father and mother outlived their son, that a sister has to live on without her brother, knowing that he was hurting so much that he couldn't climb out of a pit of darkness, has no business being a part of a wrestling match. Infusing tragedy like this into what unfolds on-screen is uncalled for.
WWE exploited a wrestler's addiction. WWE mined real death for fictional rivalries.
As F4WOnline's David Bixenspan pointed out, it did disservice to Reid's memory:
And for what? Vince McMahon may be happy that this controversy created conversation, but it's not the one he wants people to be having. Fans aren't more captivated by Charlotte vs. Paige; more than a few are certainly put off by it.
That line about Reid doesn't get Paige heat, either. It gets WWE heat. Brandon Howard from Voices of Wrestling was exactly right when he wrote that fans can see through the mechanism and will point their ire toward the writers, not the heel:
Elizabeth Fliehr was among those watching who felt that way. She had to watch on as her dead son was pulled into a story like a cheap prop and her daughter had to be a part of it all.
She tossed out many of the adjectives that fit that segment:
"Lazy" is among them. She's spot on there. Using Reid's death is easy. Rather than generate emotions through well-built narratives, WWE skipped all that and threw in something offensive enough to shock people.
Fans believed that Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels hated each other, that Steve Austin and The Rock were bitter enemies, that a brawl would break out any time that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were in the same room. No references to real deaths needed.
The situation is also unfortunate because the women performed well in a big spot. This was history being made with women earning the main event slot in a go-home show. It could have been remembered for two emerging stars seizing a brass ring on live TV.
This could have been a seminal moment in what WWE so often refers to as the Divas Revolution. Instead, it won't be the women who get the spotlight, nor the Divas title—it will be the folks behind the curtain who chose to bring Reid into a place he never belonged.