Monday, March 10, 2014

Instant Feedback: Populism

The real People's Champion
Photo Credit:
Cultural zeitgeist is a funny thing. Bruno Sammartino was the Italian Superman in a city of immigrants. Hulk Hogan tapped in a hypernationalistic vein at the tail end of the Cold War. Steve Austin was the proxy for everyone who hated their boss. The biggest stars in wrestling often tap into something greater than the whole of the art itself, and Daniel Bryan, more than Sammartino, more than Hogan, more than Austin, found a river of the greatest flowrate of them all. He is more than a man of the people; he is the people.

Batista has used the talking point that Bryan looks just like anyone in the crowd as a negative against him. Why would fans want to see someone who wasn't larger than life? But what the character Batista fails to realize, and what makes him a villain in modern WWE, is that height and girth doesn't make one larger than life. Aura can make the smallest men loom large, and magnetism is strong regardless of the dimensions of the lodestone. Bryan's power belies his size; his ability makes him deadlier than the most muscular, the most statuesque, the most Adonis-like. The people recognize that. The people flocked to that, even when it meant they would trespass on the McMahon-Helmsley-owned set.

Their defiance, their flocking towards the icon, made for one of the most impressive sights in recent WWE history. The hundreds of fans, chanting YES! in the face of Triple H. The power of the people trumps all corporate authority. Bryan could have had the meek of the locker room come out. He could have had the non-starters like Zack Ryder, The Miz, Kofi Kingston, and JTG flanking him. But would that entourage have been as powerful? Were those midcarders and curtain jerkers the ones who kept chanting "YES!" during WrestleMania XXVIII after the infamous 18 seconds? No. The people did.

So the one moment where the course for WrestleMania changed for its best possible path had to be made with the people who made Bryan flanking him. Right now, Mania, on paper, looks like it will be the best installment since X-7. Bryan will get to fight his final boss battles. Brock Lesnar and Undertaker will slap the flesh against each other like two elephant seals in the name of the most prestigious yet most fleeting title in all of wrestling. John Cena will be dragged into the abyss to clash with Bray Wyatt. And 30 men will battle for the chance to get a giant Andre the Giant trophy smashed in jealousy and spite as is the tradition for all wrestling trophies.

The lynchpin for Mania, however, will be those aforementioned boss battles. The chance always exists that Triple H is going to win, or that the ultimate payoff with the Championship is delayed even further. Wrestling bookers are either sadistic or they're taken by the siren call of an even bigger payoff that is always so close but never attainable. But finally, the plan that was put in play at SummerSlam is coming home to roost. All it took was the voices of the thousands shouting "YES!" and galvanizing their hero towards his final, ultimate goal.