Thursday, April 22, 1999
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
As the characters turn
Before we were grown up and relatively mature, there was no great effort required by bookers to get us to see things their way. If they wanted us to cheer, we cheered. If they wanted us to boo, we booed (with the exception of Demolition, who I consider the first anti-heroes of the industry). The times have changed. While I am sure the younger fans are still easily manipulated, those of us who have aged now demand more out of an angle. We won't be told who to cheer and who to boo. Now, we make that decision ourselves. And, when an angle is force-fed down our throats, we respond by not co-operating. It is the nature of how we express ourselves to bookers.
I refer first to the Rock. Rocky Miavia? No, not yet. I am referring first to "The Rock" Don Muraco. Before I started chearing this wrestler as a hero, I recall that the reason I did so was because of how he ran out and saved the life of Superstar Billy Graham from manager Slick's vile henchmen. Prior to this, I don't recall Muraco giving us any reason to like him. In that one brief episode, however, Muraco became a hero. What fan of eighties wrestling doesn't remember the sound of Muraco's music playing while he and Graham made way to the ring wearing tye-die? In the blink of an eye, we did as we were told. We liked Muraco because for no apparent reason, he saved Graham from a beating. We liked Muraco because we were instructed to like Muraco.
Fast-forward more than ten years, and a thousand character turns later. More specifically, let's look at a different Rock, "The Rock" Rocky Miavia. Here is a man introduced as a face, turned heel as a result of crowd reaction, turned face as a result of crowd reaction, and turned heel primarily as part of an angle. The first two of the three character turns were as a result of fan decision. Fans were never prompted to chant "Rocky Sucks!", especially when we was supposed to be a face. Fans were never prompted to chear for Rocky with any great persuasion later on. I was at the In Your House in Hamilton, and I can say from my vantage point that people were there to see somebody other than Austin...they were there to see the Rock. But, it's the third character turn that is of most interest here. At Survivor Series, Rocky turned on the fans. Ready to boo him yet? Hardly. It is the next night on Raw where Rocky makes it all clear. Rocky promised himself that he would never forget how the fans treated him upon his arrival to the WWF...hence, the heel turn. Now, there's a character turn that a mid-20s adult wrestling fan can follow and agree with! Sufficient explanation. Substantial reasoning. These are the things that today's wrestling fans demand. Try too hard without substance, and you get Ken Shamrock, who was turned heel and taken out of mega-push mode because the fans were sick of this guy being force-fed to us.
More recently, HHH leaves DX and joins the Corporation. My understanding is that Chyna made this move "for the money" but I am not as fussy when it comes to supporting characters. HHH's reasoning is something I'm a little less clear on. For somebody that I am to understand (from the fountain of knowledge that is the Internet rumour mill) is being groomed for main event status, I am still at a loss as to why exactly HHH has made this move. The point is that bookers are required to make a larger effort than before to sell these angles to us. Fans at live shows still seem to be at a similar loss, evident by the fact that more people were booing the Helmsley from Greenwich, CT and cheering the HHH of DX then they are booing the current HHH of the Corporation. There has been no substantial HHH interview to explain his actions, no great effort on the part of the commentators to explain the reasoning to me. All evidence points to the fact that HHH has left DX, joined the Corporation, and we're being asked to play along and boo him now. No thanks. Those days are gone. If you would like to manipulate me, then please make a larger effort. I refuse to boo and chear out of anything other than personal opinion or appreciation of well-crafted storylines.
Muraco's character turn was an overnight success. Rocky's character turns have all come as a result of mass crowd decision or properly-explained and -orchestrated scripting. HHH's character turn has come out of nowhere, meant to shock me, and cause me to boo HHH for no other reason than because I am being told to. Oh, but to be a fly on the wall of a bookers' meeting. McMahon presented us good and evil in the 80s and claimed to have taken it away in the 90s. Where booking tactics differ between the Big Two, bookers would do well to remember that we are no longer gullible and naive. It's the 90s...you will need to make an effort to manipulate us now.
Marc Wortman is from London, ON, and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.