The View From Down Here – One Good Turn Deserves Another

 There’s been something strange happening lately. There’s been a few “turns” in the WWE. Three, in fact. And, more to the point, they all make sense. This is something of a rarity lately, when the fans have become used to the wrestlers being turned quite suddenly and without rhyme or reason. And, by Jove, we’ve had enough of those lately.

First, the good. The most obvious one has been R-Truth. While it seemed like he just got up on the wrong side of bed one morning and decided that was it, he was grumpy, the reasoning that has been established behind his heel turn is sound. He feels that he has been held down, and that he was screwed over by a supposed friend in John Morrison. And as each week passes and he talks again, his heel persona is becoming more and more established. Then there’s the interactions with crowd members and little things like that. While it seemed quite sudden, it has turned out to be something the fans have really bought into and it has definitely rejuvenated his career. Yes, he lost in the main event of a PPV, but he was far from disgraced.

Then there’s Christian. There is a slight problem with his turn, and that is that a chunk of the audience agrees with him – Teddy Long and his so-called mate Randy Orton did screw him over. The heel turn was teased for a while before it actually came, and this build up made perfect sense. The crowds did cheer for Orton over him. Long did go to the crowds for their opinion. Orton did decide to accept the match only a few days after a brutal ladder match. And this heel run is looking good, even if he keeps losing.

Finally there’s Alex Riley. This has been even longer in the making, with the Miz treating him like dirt for a long time. The best comparison I can think of is when Virgil finally snapped against the Million Dollar Man, but with one exception – Riley’s initial beat-down of the Miz was just awesome. He destroyed his former mentor. And unlike most face turns, it wasn’t as though he suddenly changed everything about himself. He made it clear he did not like Cena. He’s still brutal against opponents. It’s just that because he started against the Miz and because the audience had seen him be treated like slime, they bought into it and were ready to buy into it there and then.

That’s three great turns that the WWE’s creative team – and, indeed, the performers themselves – have done well. But what do we have to compare it to? Well, let’s not leave recent history, and look back a little way.

So now we step into the squared circle of TNA. When the Fourtune stable started they were part of a bigger alliance of heels, under the guidance of Ric Flair. It started with AJ Styles and soon involved Kazarian and Beer Money Inc. But there was a problem. The crowd still wanted to cheer for these guys. They still wanted to do the “beer! money!” chant with Storm and Roode. They wanted AJ – a TNA original – to succeed. And so TNA, to their credit, did the only thing they could and turned them face again. Of course, that was forced upon them by circumstances (WWE signing away Booker T and Kevin Nash in time for the Royal Rumble) but it did work in their favour. But the only reason it worked was because the crowds wanted these guys to be faces. They should never have been heels in the first place.

A little more recently it seemed like Scott Steiner went quite suddenly from face that the fans were really getting behind to heel, abusing everyone. But, again, no one told the crowd because they are cheering him like crazy still. Why the sudden turn? It really does not make any sense from any story line standpoint or any character development standpoint. In fact, when he teamed with Beer Money for that surprisingly good 6-man tag match, he looked like he was having the time of his life and the crowd were so behind him it was insane.

This might seem like nit-picking, but it something so very important for an audience if they want to get behind the characters. We need to see their motivations in order to become truly invested in what they are doing. To give a slightly different example: In the 6 Star Wars films, we see Anakin Skywalker become bad, and then good again. The heel turn takes place over a long period of time, and makes sense, and then, at the end, with his own son in danger, that final heroic act that turns him face once more also makes sense. And yet in the James Bond classic Goldfinger why did Pussy Galore turn face? It made no sense after everything else she had done and was simply a deus ex machina to get the writers out of a spot. Yes, that is a good film, but that one little thing still does not make sense to me. The Jaws face turn in Moonraker was much better done, but that’s an ordinary film.

What I’m trying to get at here is that it is not restricted to wrestling. It has happened in comics, when a villain becomes a superhero. It has happened in films often. So many films and books rely on one of the main characters doing a turn at the end (Captain Renault at the end of Casablanca) to give the story its ending. The biggest difference is that in wrestling these are ongoing characters and how we perceive them – face and heel – is supposed to dictate how we interact with them and how they then interact with other performers / wrestlers. It is the ‘soap opera’ aspect to wrestling. The bad guys/girls in soapies need a reason to become and then bad and then good (ad nauseam). A classic example would be Luke and Laura on Days Of Our Lives, which made no sense on any level. (Yes, a Days Of Our Lives comparison… there goes any shred of credibility I might have possessed!)

It needs to be done well in order to not only get the crowd behind what is happening, but also to dictate what happens in the ring so that it makes sense. Look at the past. Good turns include Hulk Hogan joining the NWO, Randy Savage after his Wrestlemania VII loss, Curt Hennig accepting Savage’s offer to form a team against Flair. Bad turns include: Sting joining the NWO Wolfpac, any turn Bret Hart did in WCW, Goldberg turning heel in WCW, Beefcake suddenly turning face and shaving Adrian Adonis at Wrestlemania III… unfortunately this list does go on.

So kudos to the WWE for allowing these turns to happen and to happen well, especially within the storylines. And let’s hope there are many more to come.

And that’s another view.

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