WWE: The Undertaker and the Importance of Gimmicks in Eras.

Ben GartlandAnalyst IINovember 16, 2011

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 15. The Undertaker enters the arena during WWE Smackdown at Acer Arena on June 15, 2008 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Gaye Gerard/Getty Images)
Gaye Gerard/Getty Images

Guess who’s back, back again. BG’s back, tell a friend…

Two months away from writing gives a fellow a long time to think. I ended up thinking about Survivor Series history, since I’m a wrestling nerd like that. It struck me as odd that it was 21 years ago that the Undertaker debuted at the 1990 edition of Survivor Series.

Quite a long time ago, and an entirely different era in fact. I was thinking of just how different the current era and the era Undertaker debuted in are, and it raised this question to me.

What if the Undertaker had debuted now in 2011 with the “Deadman” gimmick?

Can you imagine that pitch?

“Hey Vince, I have a great new idea for a gimmick for this Calloway guy! “

“Alright let me hear it.”

“Alright, so he’s a ‘deadman,’ like it’s kind of hard to explain but it makes sense.”

“What the hell?”

“Let me finish, he has the power to rise from the dead Every time he gets injured and-”

“Get the hell out of my office.”

Seems ridiculous doesn’t it?

The era of “gimmicks” is over. The current crop of characters is a symbol of that. The most outspoken gimmicks we have are Randy Orton, who’s a viper but not really. Then we have a “Celtic Warrior” in Sheamus, and the Mexican Aristocrat in Alberto Del Rio.

See what I mean?

My point to all this is that WWE fans are damn lucky that the Undertaker debuted when he did. If he were to debut now, the gimmick would seem stupid, out of place and just plain bad. Only through working in the years where his gimmick was acceptable was he able to perform as the Undertaker today.

Now we can all agree that the WWE has gotten, well, kind of bland. The characters aren’t original, and that gives creative teams very little to work with in terms of storyline. Seriously, how many different PG story lines can be run with Dolph Ziggler or John Morrison before the thing gets old?

This is why the WWE should bring back outrageous gimmicks.
Think about it, some of the most successful times in the WWE was when gimmicks ran rampant. Especially when it was a show targeted to kids, as it is now. The WWE was successful in the Attitude Era with normal characters because it wasn’t targeted towards kids. Now it is, as it was back in the 80s. In order to make it a good program again, they need to follow the 80s formula.

Now, that’s if they want to gear it towards kids. If they want to keep the normal characters as they have now, then they need to redirect the show towards teens and young adults. There is no happy medium in which they can have normal characters in which the show is geared towards kids.

The Attitude Era was successful because wrestlers were allowed to be themselves. They didn’t have to worry about “keeping it PG” or watching their language. They were themselves, and the audience relished it.

The “Golden Era” was successful because the wrestlers weren’t themselves, but that’s the point. They weren’t trying to be normal, they were outrageous, obnoxious and outlandish to the point of ridiculousness. But, the thing is, that worked.

They didn’t have to be themselves because they weren’t playing themselves.

Now the WWE is trying to mix the two, and it’s not working. While the show is still good in terms of product sales and merchandise, the quality has gone down. Wrestlers are trying to play themselves, but they can’t be themselves because they are pandering to the kids. The WWE needs to realize that realism and kid-friendly shows cannot be mixed.

So what does the WWE do? There is three options: 1) Keep it the same as it is and continue to flounder in lackluster programming. 2) Follow the 80s formula, bring back the outrageous, kick the realism and target the program to kids. Or 3) Increase the realism but kick the kids. Kick the PG diatribe and let wrestlers be real, essentially themselves.

The Undertaker is the link to all three of the aforementioned eras. He is successful because of his longevity, but would not be successful if he debuted today. Nor would he have been successful if he had debuted in the height of the Attitude Era. He even had to change his gimmick halfway through because it wasn’t working quite as well, but he then changed it back as the eras were in transition. There is no one after the Undertaker to span the bridge between reality and gimmicks after he retires.

He is successful in this era, also, because he is the outrageous in the world of real that is targeted to kids. The kids love him as the do not love the other older Superstars (Kane, Mark Henry etc…). If the WWE wants to keep pandering to kids, they need more outrageous gimmicks like the Undertaker. If they want to be “real” (yes I realize the irony in that statement,) then they need to shift the target audience to the teens and young adults. It’s just that simple.

Ben Gartland

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 15:  The Undertaker (L) pushes Bam Neely into the corner during WWE Smackdown at Acer Arena on June 15, 2008 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Gaye Gerard/Getty Images)
Gaye Gerard/Getty Images