I tend to relate the articles I write to story telling. Wrestling, at its finest, is storytelling. The build up to the match is a story. The match itself is a story. Every character has an over-reaching story arc. But the modern arena of wrestling is slowly losing all elements of fundamental story telling. Our wrestling world has gone from sports infused soap opera into a shock tv reality show. And let me tell you, compared to yesteryear’s wrestling, this new mentality that wrestling doesn’t need fundamental story telling elements really, really sucks.
In my other articles I address the wrestling good guys, bad guys, and wrestling in general telling a story. What worries me about the state of wrestling today is the wanted acceptance that these elements aren’t needed. I blame much of this on MMA and the feeling of needing to compete for fans. Don’t get me wrong, MMA can easily be mixed into wrestling. All those exciting knockouts and the technical aspects-it’s always been there in wrestling. The reality television aspect has hit wrestling hard as well. The cliffhanger and shock tv treatment that Vince Russo made famous during the Attitude Era has left positive and negative impressions on the business. In writing, if this technique is used, the writer becomes untrustworthy. If every event is a cliffhanger, then nothing becomes special. It reminds me of Dutch Mantel’s booking of USWA-every week ended with every single member of the roster in the ring brawling it out. And cut to black. Every. Week.
Story telling can’t be left to cliff hangers to make it interesting. Eventually, the fundamentals of telling a story must come in to place. The two major fundamentals being a protagonist and antagonist. Jim Ross blames our modern era, “…our society is one of overt defiance and for being outspoken in essentially all forums…” I do agree that society influences wrestling. The Attitude Era came about with the concept of the anti-hero; much influenced by the likes of Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and so forth. Consider how Batman changed as a superhero. He wasn’t always the Dark Knight. But the concept of an anti-hero, antagonists, and tweeners are often confused.
The Attitude Era had the likes of Austin and Rock doing things that traditional heroes wouldn’t. Wrestling fans never really had anti-heroes before that. Sure, Hogan occasionally gave in and gave the bad guys some of their medicine. Rarely did we see our favorites attacking other good guys, but the anti-heroes did. The wrestling world seems to have forgotten that anti-heroes aren’t antagonists as well. Triple H has said, “I think you’re going to find it very hard now, at the top level, to find anybody that is either a good guy or a bad guy.” We could get philosophical, who is all good or all bad? Besides Ricky Steamboat, that is. But this statement is just an excuse for what they’re doing. Our last two super pushed ‘favorites’ have been poorly received by at least half of the audience. John Cena was the anointed one and shoved down our throats. The fans rejected Cena’s street thug-turned-cub scout gimmick. It became too WWF Hoganesque. (Remember when Hogan couldn’t lose no matter what?) When Roman Reigns became the chosen one and pushed down the fans throats the same thing happened. Not even the Rock could turn those boos upside down.
Triple H also said, “So I think the time of ‘hey, this is the guy and he’s the good guy’ and everybody goes ‘yay he’s the good guy’ – I think that time has gone.” But really the audience has chosen the good guys they want. Daniel Bryan-good guy, and the audience was behind him more than anyone. The recently released Damien Sandow, audience-good guy, unused. I find the excuse of thinking there’s “no good guy, no bad guy” is a way to sidestep the obvious-you’re not listening to the audience. There’s been the mentality that the audience doesn’t know what they want. Vince McMahon is notorious for that statement. Smart territories listened to their audiences. Why? It made money.
Hardcore wrestling fans are smarter these days. WWE is still gunning for the casual fan. I don’t know of any casual fan that’s willing to shill out $9.99 a month for a WWE subscription, but there’s a lot on the network that hardcore fans like. Why cater a network to hardcore fans and book for casual fans? In all of this chaos who is the voice of reason? The Honky Tonk Man. Jesus Christ! Help! Yes, HTM said, “No one knows how to be a bad guy anymore and no one knows how to be a good guy and what you have now are just stunt men.” No one may be a tough statement, but in general he’s not far from the truth. Talent does what they’re told. And for good reason, they make awesome money. Maybe some talent doesn’t know any better. Al Snow has said in interviews, “The performers plan everything out and leave nothing to chance (now)…how do you know what that audience wants, thinks, feels? I don’t either!” And on being an agent “I can’t work that match for you…it’s the fact that it’s overproduced.” I can’t say that I disagree.
Of course, these are all symptoms to a larger problem in the wrestling business, but the fundamental elements of story telling-the face/protagonist and heel/antagonist aspects, being washed away may be a cancerous growth. Our main event scene currently has potential. I’m afraid WWE has walked ass backwards into that potential though. The crowned-face Roman Reigns and his imminent heel turn (You can’t just be The Guy, you have to be a good guy or a bad guy) and AJ’s teased heel turn, but really it’s just a tease, could easily turn into nothing. Nothing. I’m frightened Reigns will stay a tweener, neither good nor bad, and AJ will be a face but aligned with heels. All of that while in the wings the fans have favorites like Dean Ambrose, an unconventional hero and the anti-hero the business has been waiting for, and Bray Wyatt, the other side of Ambrose’s coin, also the anti-hero we’ve waited for. And while our white meat baby face Daniel Bryan is now gone, and they’ve fired our potential second coming of a white meat baby face in Damien Sandow, that leaves us with Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, and possibly Finn Balor to fill the role. And we also need heavy duty heels. Heels that garner HEAT. And while yes, the fans may not 100% love or hate someone, that is more so to the fact that fans now respect when a heel is a good heel, and vice versa. I love Kevin Owens, but he’s a heel and I want him to be a heel. He plays the role well. And Roman Reigns has natural heat with the fans. It’s real heat. Heat that’s come from him being force-fed to the fans. The same heat that brought about die, Rocky, die! And it has to run its course.
Story telling is two-fold. If the author doesn’t do their part, then forcing the reader will back fire. What WWE fails to realize is that if they used what is now happening to their advantage, it’s a new tool to work over the fans. I’m afraid the fans have just surpassed the wrestling business as it stands today. At least those running them. But to say that society demands we no longer have good guys and bad guys is ridiculous. Otherwise, other story telling products wouldn’t be so successful. It’s time for those in charge to quit making excuses and start getting back to the basics.
Tags: The Wrestling Connoisseur