Reinventing the WWE through its Heels
WWE follows a simple formula. We’re supposed to like a face wrestler. A heel wrestler is supposed to generate dislike through cheating against and insulting that face wrestler. Through their interactions, we’re supposed to become intrigued in seeing the face wrestler defeat the heel. We’re supposed to be so intrigued we buy the PPV where their match ultimately takes place. As we’re increasingly aware, this formula has been utterly biased against the more dedicated fans of wrestling over the last dozen years. The faces are often bland and we generally don’t care much about them. As the greats of yesteryear continue to retire, we’re asked to care about more and more new faces who are instructed to be simple and bland. For us, this raises the question of, “How can this change?” The answer is a simple change in the booking philosophy of heels. Heels shouldn’t target face wrestlers to gain heat. Heels should target us, the fans.
First, let’s understand why the WWE book simple, bland faces in the first place. With greater attention and access to the metrics of their merchandise sales, it seems safe to assume they have statistical evidence suggesting how they should book their faces. If the typical programming is any indication, they've found it most profitable to book faces for broad appeal to more casual viewers rather than critical acclaim or maximizing moments of live crowd reaction. As we're all too aware, this is frustrating to the more dedicated fans. We want more compelling characters. We want more incredible moments. We want that incredible experience of a raucous, interactive live show. We don't care if it's a niche desire that moves profit margins or not. As a result, WWE continues on toward profit but at the expense of some of their most loyal and vocal consumers. The profitability of the broad appeal of bland faces is probably why the WWE continues to rely on booking faces this way.
There’s a better way. This better way can be found in change in booking philosophy with heels. If simple, watered-down faces are indeed the most consistently profitable faces, then sadly, this shouldn't change. We can harp all we want about how the WWE should appeal to us but if these suggestions cost them money, they won't be listened to. We should continue to have characters like John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Randy Orton. Thus, the responsibility of producing critically acclaimed work within a highly profitable program will fall squarely on the shoulders of the heels. In order to improve, something has to change. What should change is the booking of the heels.
What should change in the booking of heels is their target. What we've been becoming increasingly accustomed to as fans is the typical heel promo. The typical booking of heels sees a heel go to the ring and cut a promo on whichever face wrestler they're feuding with. We hear about how they're better, smarter, and more successful than the face. Generally, these segments, even when done with what we can recognize as quality heel work, fall flat. When Miz calls Dean Ambrose complacent and irrelevant, we're like, "Yeah, he's kind of got a point." When Alexa Bliss insults Bayley, we generally shrug. Bayley, as sympathetic as she can be, is more or less reduced to being seen as a stammering doofus who keeps getting beat. Even if the writing philosophy behind these face characters generally makes a lot of money, it's also often incredibly dull. To get heat with the fans who will scream their lungs out the most at live events, a heel needs to do more than insult the characters we're supposed to like but often don't.
Additionally, this also presents some new developments in American culture. We probably care less now if people are brash and arrogant now than ever before. We often root for characters like Walter White, Dexter, and Frank Underwood - a drug dealer, a serial killer, and a sociopath respectively. In America, we elected Donald Trump as our president - a man who unapologetically views business and politics simply as a game to be won and won at any cost. Villains can't just be arrogant, rude, uncaring, or even completely without conscience to be unlikable anymore. Today, many people literally celebrate people who don't give a fuck. In order to be more universally disliked, a villain also needs to also personally offend the majority of the audience with their actions.
A heel in the WWE can achieve personally offending the audience by making us their target. When Bayley gets insulted or Dean Ambrose loses via shenanigans, this doesn't personally offend or affect us. Heels who primarily target the face their feuding with don't personally offend or affect us. Why did the straight edge messiah gimmick work so well for Punk? He didn't use straight edge primarily as a way of saying he was better than other wrestlers (with the exception of Jeff Hardy). He usually said it made him better than us, all of the fans. When the straight edge messiah won, it meant more credibility to his antagonizing sermons. When he won, it had direct consequence for us, the audience regardless of how interesting or uninteresting his face opponent was. When heels win, we need to know it's going to result in more of our own personal anxiety in order to care.
Today, we can see how this change can dramatically improve the show with Alexa Bliss. When Alexa Bliss delivers a promo, we see more of the standard fare. She's brash, arrogant, and even somewhat childish. Her character is the embodiment of pure wicked, bitchiness with some youthful arrogance. We see her unleash these characteristics mostly on other wrestlers with promos about how she's better, more accomplished, etc. As a result, when she feuds with Bailey and Bailey loses, there's little consequence to dedicated fans. To us, it just means we're just going to hear a little more about how Alexa is better than Bailey (something many fans would agree with). For most of us, this is of little consequence or reason to care. As a result, the feud means very little to us.
The alternative shows us exactly why it's so important to target the fans. Rather than have a problem with a wrestler like Bailey, Alexa could come to the ring to cut a promo on her problem with us, the fans. It'd look something like this:
"There's something that's been bothering me. I've been wondering why more fans, like all of you, don't like me. I wonder because I was a fan of the WWE as a kid. I remember watching all my childhood heroes getting showered in praise for their accomplishments and WrestleMania moments.
And yet, I stand before you without any of my deserved praise and admiration. I'm the 100 pound, plucky little girl who finds a way to win. I'm David in a division full of Goliath's. And yet here I am - the champion of the world. Are you people so blind? Standing before you is the ultimate role model of scrappiness and determination. I'm the unnoticed, unheralded, unrealized hero to little girls all around the globe. The question that keeps running through my head is: Why don't you see this?
It's not for lack of success [Gestures toward her title]. It's not for a lack of beauty [Gestures from her shoulders down to her feet]. It's not for a lack of creativity and ingenuity [Gestures toward the Titantron as it shows a clip of her latest dirty win].
It's because I am just so unlike all of you.
You sit in your seats content to watch. Sitting so stupidly and happily with what little fraction of life you've carved out for yourself. Unlike all of you, when I hit a bump in the road toward greatness - when I deal with being at a disadvantage to all my competition, I found and keeping finding a way to win.
It's simple how I've done this. There are just winners and losers. Losers think they're happy as they sit and watch the winners play in an effort to escape your own lives. Winners, on the other hand, are just too busy being successful to feel bad about anything. I don't need to tell all you losers which category I'm in. I've got this to say it for me. [Holds up title with a smirk].
Maybe you won't realize I'm just a little scrappy girl finding a way around all the advantages my opponents have over me. Maybe you won't realize what a hero I am to you all. It hurts me deeply not to have the love and admiration I so greatly deserve. Still, it doesn't hurt as badly as it hurts each and every one of you to not learn from my pristine example. It doesn’t hurt as bad as it does to keep being losers. If you want to wake-up from your delusions, I'll be here showing you how greatness is made [Drops mic]."
The end result from this kind of promo is she uses what she already does so well but now directs all her wicked, bitchiness toward personally offending the audience. As a result, she helps prevent us from admiring her like we now do with so many other villainous types of people. When Alexa feuds with someone like Bailey, Bailey no longer needs to be an interesting or dynamic character to get cheered. She can remain in the mold of being bland for the purpose of broad appeal to casual viewers. Bailey simply needs to shut Alexa up to prevent further attacks upon the audience. A heel promo targeting the fans gets us invested in a solution to the problem the heel is posing to us. As a result, a program can work for both the dedicated and the casual viewers. This can happen regardless of whether the face involved is dynamic and interesting or simple and bland. Ultimately, what could work for Bailey and Alexa could work for anyone on the roster.
Overall, WWE can have their bland face characters designed for broad appeal and we can also have more raucous, interactive live events. We can be more invested in these bland characters through their opponents becoming even more despicable. This can be accomplished through a change in booking philosophy where heels feud primarily with the fans. Through feuding with the fans, the WWE would create heels who are both villainous and, unlike Walter White, Dexter, and even Donald Trump, are more clearly unlikable. In doing so, the WWE can maintain bland faces with broad appeal while also providing greater opportunity for more critically-acclaimed stories that even fans like us can get into. With a simple change in booking philosophy, casual fans can have their simple characters and we can have our quality programming at the same time.
Last edited by rennlc; 05-21-2017 at 11:05 PM.