Analyzing the Difficulty of Getting True Heel Heat in Today's WWE
Once the fans pulled back the curtains on WWE's theater, the heel's job got infinitely more difficult.
There was a time when a great wrestling villain could rile up the audience to the point of a riot. Wrestling's cheaters and most dastardly characters genuinely frightened and irked the crowd.
Pro wrestling's "fakeness" was at one point one of the most closely guarded secrets. No more.
We now know that WWE's bad guys are simply playing a role and the action in the ring is scripted. For Superstars on the dark side to get us to boo them, to hate them and to want so badly to climb over the railing and give them what they deserve, they have to work much harder than wrestlers of the past.
They have to do work with the audience knowing how the magician's tricks work.
Triple H turned on Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam, driving his head into the mat to allow Randy Orton to snatch away Bryan's newly won WWE Championship.
The Game has since become WWE's resident tyrant, threatening employees and ordering his goons to pummel Bryan in front of everyone.
His goal as a performer is to get our blood running hot and to want to see Bryan kick his head in. He has done a fantastic job so far, but his road to being truly reviled will be a lot more arduous than it was for the man who trained him.
In the '50s and '60s, audiences didn't see Wladek Kowalski, the man and the husband, they saw Killer Kowalski, the monstrous man terrorizing men like Yukon Eric and Pat O'Connor. He was a towering figure skulking around the ring.
There are stories of Kowalski making women faint and of him garnering heat today's heels would be hard pressed to imagine.
Kowalski told Wrestling Revue, via Slam! Sports, in 1961 to what extent his villainy affected the crowd. He said, "Everywhere I go they throw chairs, newspapers, cigar butts, fruit and anything else they can grab. I have been burned, knifed, blinded by pea shooters and hit over the head with boards."
Ox Baker once incited a riot by beating on a defenseless Ernie Ladd.
That night in Cleveland, Ohio in 1974, Baker pounded on Ladd's chest with his infamous heart punch. It was a move that fans believed had killed two men. Seeing Ladd suffer blow after blow got them to begin throwing chairs and trash into the ring before chaos completely erupted.
The Shield and Randy Orton basically did the same thing to Bryan on Monday's Raw. There was, of course, no riot.
Skull Murphy scared children, Tojo Yamamoto angered crowds with his controversial speeches and Freddie Blassie got the audience so infuriated that they turned his car over and lit it on fire.
For a WWE Superstar to generate that kind of reaction seems impossible.
The injustices that wrestling's villains commit today are acknowledged as part of the show. A great performance by a heel used to have people risk arrest and attack the wrestler, but today it invites compliments.
Before WrestleMania 29, CM Punk mocked The Undertaker and his friend, father figure and manager, Paul Bearer who had recently passed in real life. Punk beat down The Undertaker and poured the ashes from his urn all over him.
Some fans loved it including this one who called it "amazing."
Punk had spent the months up until that moment berating the audience. In a promo on WWE Raw, he called the crowd "jerks" and "losers" and referred to their kids as "filthy, ugly little children."
He hit us with his knife-edged tongue as best he could and we still cheered him.
After Triple H's heinous act at SummerSlam, fans applauded his efforts.
I love "The Viper" Randy Orton's new heel turn. Triple H did a great job at Summerslam with the screwjob on Daniel Bryan.— BIG ELISYEL WU TANG (@ELISYELCAJIGAS) August 28, 2013
After all, he didn't really screw Bryan out of a title and he didn't really abuse his power. In reality, he played a part and played it well much like Daniel Day Lewis portrayed a ruthless, corrupt oilman in There Will Be Blood.
No one is going to see Lewis on the street and attack him because he killed a man in a movie. The same is true for what WWE heels do on the air.
This is the new reality that WWE's villains have to face. They are no longer seen as real scoundrels as the industry has become increasingly transparent.
For Triple H, Orton or Paul Heyman to generate the kind of heat that once led to wrestlers dodging knife attacks from fans, they have to be so enthralling that we forget for a moment that what we're watching isn't a show.
Should one of those men ever incite a riot or have their car burned by an angry mob, they should take it as a standing ovation for a performance that defies our kayfabeless times.
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