Monday, August 4, 2014

Death and Rebirth: How To Rebuild the "Modern" Babyface in Big-Box Wrestling

The Rock and John Cena are two examples of bad babyfaces in the mainstream
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For the vast majority of the history of professional wrestling, there has been the idea of babyfaces (or tecnicos) on one side of the equation, and heels (or rudos) on the other. It's been the basis of how the sport has drawn in crowds since the '50s, if not before, in just about every major country. And yet, at least in big-box corporate wrestling, that simple to execute structure has been bastardized and mismanaged to the point where the structure is hanging on by the last fibers of a thread. Why is this? And can it be fixed? The question of whether or not this structure should exist is not something that I am trying to address here. The point, at least for me, is more whether or not the idea of babyfaces as they exist can be rebuilt to what they used to be.

The answer to the first part of that question is simple, The Attitude Era. During its height, look at the men we were supposed to cheer. The Rock? An arrogant cocky jock who delighted in demeaning people, especially with the kind of insults that nowadays would send Tumblr into a full nervous breakdown. Steve Austin? A drunken loudmouth jerk who relished having no friends and showed no care for anyone other than himself. These are not, honestly, people you root for. These are people who, in a previous generation, would have been reviled heels. In fact, Bad News Brown was the proto-Steve Austin, and you correctly don't remember him as someone worthy of cheers. You remember him as the last guy you wanted on a Survivor Series team, and someone who should have gotten a World Title shot against Randy Savage in 1988. The sins of Triple H in this regard, of course, need no introduction or explanation.

The scond part of that question, on the other hand, is a little bit harder to wrap your head around. To be fair, there are some excellent babyfaces on the indies. Sugar Dunkerton is one of these, as are a few others. But for big-box wrestling, the sort that commonly runs buildings like Madison Square Garden instead of intimate halls, the question is a little bit more complicated. So, with that in mind, I assembled a three-point primer to determine how to best build the babyfaces for the modern era. if, by some fluke, you're a young wrestler at the performance center and you're reading this, these are the 3 ways you can make yourself into the kind of babyface that works, and has always worked.

1: They have to have principles, and can't slur people just to get over their dislike for said people.

This might seem like a relatively simple place to start, but believe me, it isn't. Name me the last babyface in WWE who you were relatively convinced was doing the right thing. I'll wait.

The point, as I always understood it, was that the men your cheers went towards were never supposed to make you feel guilty about it. The faces of the modern WWE, by and large, ensure that your cheers come with an uncomfortable aftertaste. Slurs are commonplace, and people generally act like massive jerks. These are not, as a general rule, people I find myself terribly excited about cheering for. It might be harder to do, and it might seem difficult at the early going, but a character with a clearly defined, and sharp, sense of right and wrong is always a good thing.

2: They must seem approachable.

When you're a hero, your job now is also to be the guy the fans admire for the person he is as much for what he does in the ring. This might seem ridiculous, or even foolish, but if you act that way, it makes the idea of being on the side of the angels seem more appropriate. John Cena might bestride the WWE like a colossus, and he may show a great tendency to interfere in angles he does not necessarily need to be interfering in, but no one can deny that he's the sort of person kids gravitate to. To be a good hero you should be relateable. The old trope of "women want to be with him, and guys want to hang out with him" should apply here. At no point should anyone be uncomfortable in your presence.

3: Instead of Batman, they should aspire to be Captain America.

This is the most important thing. The guy who plays their popular character as a dark nihilist who "does the right thing" out of a need to soothe their own manpain is not the sort of hero the wrestling world needs any more. We've already had enough of those. Captain America, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of guy you want to pattern yourself after. He's heroic, but he's not milquetoast. He has principles and will take a stand on them, but he won't beat you over the head with it either. Simply put, he's a heroic figure without being a stick-in-the-mud.

There. That's it. That's the three-point plan on how to be a better babyface. Hopefully, some young wrestler somewhere will read this and will take my advantage.