On Wrestling: Heroes & Villains

By Paul O'Brien

Who’s leading who here? Who’s in charge of ‘the world’ the wrestlers live in? Who makes up the rules and who decides the parameters of the characters? And more importantly, who decided it didn’t matter all that much anymore; that the actions of the heroes and villains didn’t have to be distinct from each other.

To put it more bluntly, who cared less about the role of the wrestler first: the crowd or creative?

Blurring the lines between ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ used to be unique to individual characters. The most recent great example is Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin went from ‘heel’ Austin through the Hart double-turn, face Austin without making too many changes to his character. He sold a little differently and played to the crowd more, but essentially, he still targeted who he wanted and used ‘dirty’ tactics. Closed fists, not breaking on a five count, mule kicks in the balls, intimidating referees, stunning other babyfaces, officials, women etc.

The crowd clearly loved it and the creative clearly loved feeding it. But when Austin went to go back to the role of heel, it was more than a bumpy ride. How do you boo a character for being underhand and heelish when that’s what he always was? The WWE for so long has cared so little about the code of heels and babyfaces that now their audience is cheering the ‘wrong guys’ and booing ‘wrong guys.’

But what has been done to fix it?

It’s often been said that wrestling translates so well around the world because you could literally watch it with the sound off and still following what’s happening. It’s good versus evil in its most base form. Is that still true? Take Daniel Bryan on RAW this week. His ‘teenage horror’ segments were bad to watch, terribly cheesy, confusing in their goal, but most of all, they made the babyface champion look like a weak, scared boob.

All Bryan needed was a shower curtain, a high pitched scream and a circle of blood swirling at his feet to make his night complete. But if you turned off the sound it looked like Kane was the badass and Bryan was the coward. I would even argue that was the lasting impression I got even with the sound up.

But why? I understand the basic logic in building a damaged Kane character into a threat, but don’t do it at the expense of your HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION. Surely Kane can do his ‘Halloween’ stuff on someone else.

Having a valiant hero take a step forward towards seemingly bleak odds is the foundation of wrestling. It isn’t old fashioned or contrived. It’s the building blocks to all storytelling centered on conflict. it also shouldn’t be reserved just for John Cena. Audiences have never booed the 'wrong guy’ in the middle of a compelling angle or a brilliantly constructed storyline. The boo when creative gets lazy.

Jim Ross and Jim Cornette have recently had a great conversation about how the art of being a heel is dying. But maybe too is the art of being a babyface? How does an audience root for Cena when he can beat three opponents ten time in essence before being defeated? It’s the small and big things that make a hero and a villain. Those things are being lost and ignored. But by whom? And at what cost?

Paul O’Brien is the bestselling author of the Blood Red Turns Dollar Green crime wrestling novels. The series is what the wrestling world is reading with endorsements from Mick Foley, Jim Ross, William Regal, Fergal Devitt and Paul Heyman.

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