The in-arena reaction to Bad News Barrett is a good barometer for where the WWE Universe is at each night.
The character is simple to understand and is memorable. It's backed up by a guy who knows how to work like a heel in the ring. The name even has "bad" in it. Great heel character.
Yet Barrett is cheered.
John Cena is famous for the split reaction, but it's almost become commercialized. It's become part of his character to get the "Let's go Cena," followed by "Cena sucks."
Barrett isn't meant to be cheered.
This past Monday, we saw Barrett against Sheamus. There was a point in that entertaining match where the fans were verbally fighting each other with chants for each competitor. The higher-pitched voices of the woman and children were rooting for Sheamus. The majority of the older males were cheering on Barrett.
Those seconds of conflicting chants sums it all up.
WWE used to target males. WWE, South Park, Celebrity Deathmatch—violence, adult language and sexual references were what made the top brands. WWE would eventually change to become a night of entertainment for the family. Now, it loves to use the tagline, "The best value in entertainment."
WWE prides itself on being able to bring smiles to the kids' faces and tout statistics about how large of a percentage of its audience was female.
Some of the adult males stopped watching WWE and wrestling in general. The ones who remain are the ones who, despite their lack of happiness with programming all too often, are addicted to watching WWE. It's what they do. They're trained to tune in on Monday nights regardless of how good they think the programming is.
It's this loyalty, mixed with this current target audience, that presents the most unique situation WWE has ever had for an audience. This goes past Cena's split interpretation depending on the audience.
Commonly now in WWE, the heels are babyfaces, and the babyfaces are heels. The fans can cheer for whoever they want, and silence still remains the worst reaction a performer can get.
I don't think fans realize how tough it can be for WWE and some of the performers to combat against an always-changing reaction. The location does also play a factor, as a particular city can bring more of the older males than the younger demographic or vice versa.
Barrett is getting a strong reaction, which in the end is ultimately better than none. However, I question how the balance of importance comes out. How much weight is there on getting a reaction regardless of it being heel or face versus getting the reaction management wants you to get?
WWE and Vince McMahon have said in the past that the audience is always right. That's how it should be. I don't think McMahon always believes or utilizes this theory and insists at times he knows what the audience wants better than they do.
The audience is split, and Barrett is a barometer of it. Does this provides better accolades and accomplishments for a guy like Rusev? There is no split with Rusev. He's disliked, which is what WWE wants. For some, it's because he's the foreign heel. For others, it's because they are bored with the character or the way he's booked.
This split crowd doesn't mean Barrett is failing or in the bad graces of WWE. In fact, I think he's a favorite of WWE management if we look at the factors like new T-shirts, pyro during his entrance and consistent air time. It still doesn't take away the difficulty there is in some ways to book guys like Barrett with the constantly conflicted audience.
If it was WWE 30 years ago, Bad News Barrett would have been a heel that gets a chorus of boos every night. If it was WWE 15 years ago, Bad News Barrett would have been a babyface popping the 20,000-person crowd with vulgar, bad news speeches.
In the WWE today, it changes in every section of the arena and every city of the tour.
Justin LaBar is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the creator of the "Chair Shot Reality" video talk show and "Wrestling Reality" radio show.