Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Are the Fans the Real Heels?

Bryan is a poster boy for good guys acting bad, but is it because the fans are really bad people?
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WWE started running a bumper ad before WrestleMania, back in the halcyon days of an apparently healthy Daniel Bryan and RAWs that flowed as smoothly as a perfectly poured Guinness straight from draught. It flashed statistics of how many people producing a WWE show took, paying off with Bryan walking into the arena doing his YES! chants, only except no one was in the stands. The message was to show WWE's gratitude towards its Universe by saying without the fans, said Universe didn't exist. It's a sweet message, if not one that's been relayed a bunch of times by various sports leagues and entertainment outfits. Bryan as the emissary made the most sense because he had become the essence of a folk hero, a wrestler that the kids and the jerk-ass nerds like you and me could get behind, one who seemingly united the "LET'S GO CENA" and "CENA SUCKS" crowds.

this time, however, Bryan, the character, had started showing some unsavory traits, specifically in regards to his gendered, coded language and borderline misogynist treatment towards Stephanie McMahon. Obviously, McMahon, along with her real life and in-narrative husband Triple H, play exceptionally evil corporate overlords who deserve comeuppance. However, one of the things that good people do is not resort to fighting evil with bigotry. Daniel Bryan was supposed to be the narrative hero, but as the final stretch of his career before his injury unfolded, he grew more and more unlikeable in a traditional sense. That is, people whom I thought as decent or upstanding didn't act the way he did in regards to holding up his title or using his new wife, Brie Bella, as bait, only to have her actions be for naught. Still, the cheers for him never subsided.

This phenomenon is nothing new in WWE. CM Punk and John Cena harassed John Laurinaitis even though his evil proclivities were really not apparent until the very end of his run. Hell, Cena violated Vickie Guerrero's privacy in order to get back at her for various wrongdoings by putting a hidden camera in her locker room. Going from the first example, Bella's sister, Nikki, accused Brie of horrible, terrible things that Brie has yet to refute. Even last night, Big Show and Mark Henry cornered and bullied Rusev for the mere crime of being really good at what he does and not being from America while doing it. These examples only chip at the iceberg of supposed good guys doing really terrible things, things that people don't associate with "babyface" behavior, as a means to whatever ends they have in mind.

The terms "babyface" and "heel" are insider lingo for good and bad guys respectively, and wrestling literature, written on this site and others, seemingly focuses on placing behaviors associated with those terms in a vacuum. Good guys are supposed to act good, and right now, WWE's true babyfaces exist only in developmental. Even still, both Sami Zayn and Bayley have plenty of time to be ruined by WWE's perception of how a hero should act. However, a more simplistic definition of face and heel can be derived simply by who gets cheered and who gets booed. Frankly, this definition is more practical for usage when discussing mainstream wrestling because despite everyone in the company acting like a classical, heel, some get cheered while others get booed.

Nothing can exist in a vacuum; that bumper ad with the empty arena drives that point home as well as anything produced by a wrestling company could. The question becomes a chicken/egg scenario (at least that scenario before Neil deGrasse Tyson came along and played party-pooper by answering it scientifically); does WWE write its heroes to be assholes because the crowd wants them to, or has the crowd settled into cheering for scoundrels because WWE has conditioned them to expect a battle royale of bad people in different degrees of scandal?

Rich Thomas posits the theory that the former is the case, that the real heels in WWE's version of pro wrestling are the ones who populate the seats. Cena videotapes Guerrero because the fans misogynistically think that because she's shrill and does mean things that her right to privacy is null and void. Laurinaitis has no room for error because he reminds everyone of the bumbling middle manager at their place of employment. Nikki Bella is bad because she associates with a corporate weasel, and the corporate weasels Triple H and Stephanie McMahon deserve scorn without boundaries because they have the money and the power. Rusev can do everything right, but because jingoistic fans are conditioned to think "MURCA," he'll always be wrong. This theory is tantalizing because enough studies have been done on crowd behavior to show that throngs of people can be influenced easily by charismatic and influential people no matter how in the right they are.

Of course, the only way that this theory can be tested is if WWE radically shifts its narrative policy. If tomorrow everyone who was supposed to be a babyface and a heel showed up and acted their parts without note of how the crowd had traditionally acted towards them, and their actions became consistent across a long period of time, then the fans' proclivities could be monitored. The alignment of the Universe could be better gauged, and it could be determined whether WWE's shows are mostly filled with good or bad people.

Then again, WWE is "nothing" without its fans; the company admitted as much when it filmed Bryan going out into the empty arena for advertisement. Maybe the brass knows something that writers like me don't. Maybe WWE realizes its fans are, by and large, terrible people, and that folks who want babyface and good guy to be synonymous are fewer and further between than I am comfortable with. Certainly, it would explain why the babyfaces in WWE act like spoiled manchildren at the very best, wouldn't it?