In days gone by, the WWE storylines have largely been based on ‘Good vs Evil’. Even during the famed ‘Attitude Era’ – prior to which, Vince McMahon himself stated that WWE’s fans were ‘tired of having their intelligence insulted’ and that ‘the era of good guys versus bad guys is definitely passé’ – we still, for the most part, had a fairly clear delineation between which guys were ‘good’ and which guys were ‘bad’ – a heel turn or a babyface turn was still recognised as a significant event, and, generally speaking, the fans cheered as one voice for their favourites. Stone Cold Steve Austin was the leader of this pack. He was cheered by 99% of the audiences everywhere, during his main run from 1998-2001. Austin’s opponent was usually recognised as a heel, and because Austin was so popular, his opponents would be jeered by the audience, no matter how good they were. There was very little of this 50/50 reaction you hear for, say, John Cena in 2012.
There’s always been a portion of the audience that likes to cheer for the bad guy. That will always be the case. But never have there been so many mixed reactions for Superstars than there are in 2012. While this may be something WWE is actively trying to achieve – and it very well may be – I find it extremely irritating, and I’m about to explain some of the reasons why.
Today’s WWE present stories from a totally different perspective. Whilst there are natural heels and babyfaces that still do exist, the lines between these two classic roles in wrestling has been severely blurred. Cena himself has mentioned on Twitter that he is neither a ‘heel’ nor a ‘babyface’ – he is just being ‘himself’. A fan told CM Punk that he ‘shouldn’t have turned heel’ and Punk replied with ‘Don’t use words you don’t understand’. These tweets from the top two men in WWE, along with recent booking trends, are indicators that the WWE are (perhaps) trying to eliminate the two terms altogether.
A lot has been said about WWE’s Anti-Bullying campaign and how hypocritical some of the top WWE personalities are in relation to it. John Cena and Jerry Lawler have no problem ganging up and making fat jokes about Vickie Guerrero. Jerry Lawler has a problem with ‘heels’ that cheat but loves it when a ‘babyface’ (ie Sheamus) does the exact same thing. Cena and Zack Ryder labelled Eve a ‘hoe-ski’ and had crowds chant it at her whenever she appeared. The problem with this picture is that Cena, Lawler, and Ryder are all supposed to be ‘good guys’.
So maybe the WWE is trying to just remind us that there is good and bad within everybody – that nobody in life is 100% good or bad – which is fair enough, maybe – but the problem with presenting the show this way is that it can leave it feeling very flat and uninteresting. Many of the audience either don’t know who to cheer for, or who to boo. Sometimes, the audience simply doesn’t WANT to cheer for anybody. Back to the booking trends. John Cena faces Alberto Del Rio in a main event on Raw (2011). If I’ve spent the last few months jeering Del Rio (who, as an obvious heel, has been in feuds with my favourite Smackdown wrestlers since he debuted) but I also dislike Cena (like 50% of the people in the arena) – then how can I be interested in this match? I don’t cheer for either guy. This is the main event of the show. Look at a more recent match, on Raw in August 2012. David Otunga (who, with no redeeming qualities, can be called a heel) is told that he has a mystery opponent later in the show. Mystery opponents are always exciting, right? Wrong. Otunga waits in the ring, and out comes the Big Show. Big Show has gone from being cheered, to being jeered, to receiving almost no reaction whatsoever – and now he’s facing Otunga. Why should I care? Nobody did. Segment wasted. Momentum stalls. Ratings slump.
I should note here that Big Show is one of the few men in recent years to actually have a definitive turn from being a ‘face’ to a ‘heel’. If it were 1999, Daniel Bryan’s MitB cash in and World Title win at the TLC PPV (in 2011) would have instantly turned him heel there and then – but instead, he spent the next few weeks fluttering between acting like a babyface and heel – and it turned into a long, drawn out scenario, where for weeks, nobody knew how to react to him. The same is happening with CM Punk right now. He still acts and moves like a babyface, but every time he picks the mic up, he starts talking like a chicken-shit heel. Whilst I can see what WWE are doing, for me, it stifles the entertainment aspect of it all, especially when they’re pitting Punk against the ‘polarizing’ John Cena.
So, if WWE is no longer about ‘Good vs Evil’ – maybe it’s about segregation, or ‘cliques’ of you will. Think about it. Jerry Lawler as a commentator will applaud ANYTHING that John Cena, Sheamus, or Brodus Clay will do in the ring, even if it’s underhanded. And, if those wrestlers do anything ‘heelish’, Lawler’s broadcast partner will be the first one to point it out, while ‘The King’ stupidly cheers them on like a child. Michael Cole will also applaud the actions of Alberto Del Rio, The Miz, or Daniel Bryan will do, whether they cheat or not.
I’m not silly enough to say that none of this has ever happened before, but the rate at which this nonsensical stuff is being churned out on WWE TV is quite alarming, confusing, and irritating. I remember when Hulk Hogan cheated to win the WWE Championship from The Undertaker in 1991. Gorilla Monsoon, the babyface commentator, shocked me by saying some things in support of Hogan’s actions, but his words seemed borne more out frustration at the way Hogan LOST the Title a week earlier (Undertaker, the heel, had received help from Ric Flair, another heel) – and that maybe two wrongs had made a right in this situation – so it almost actually made sense. It did seem very strange, though. It stood out as an anomaly, when a babyface cheated, and was applauded by the babyface commentator, and nobody turned heel. It’s a little different to what Jerry Lawler is doing every week in 2012.
So maybe there is good and bad in everybody, and maybe that is what WWE are trying to remind us of, with these disjointed, stop-start heel turns and storylines. It all reminds me of a movie I watched at the cinema in 2008 – The Jumper. Without a single likeable protagonist to speak of – the film felt like a complete waste of time. I, like many other people that panned the movie, couldn’t emotionally invest in anything that was happening. Maybe WWE should heed that message.
To be fully appreciated, an antagonist needs a protagonist, and vice versa.
If everybody in the show is a piece of shit, it’s very difficult to enjoy.
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