The Anti-Antagonist: Can’t See the Stars

Adam Gorzelsky

WWE RawRaw was awful this week.

If you thoroughly enjoyed it, I certainly respect your point of view, but have to believe that you’re in the minority. In my mind, a few moments shined and served to further storylines in a positive direction….Unfortunately, this is a three hour show…A few moments sprinkled in throughout such a long show tend to get lost in the general malaise.

When the WWE’s product becomes stagnant, the simplest and most justifiable explanation is a current lack of star power in the company. It’s a difficult point to contest as part-timers from yesteryear consistently are relied upon to generate paydays during the most significant portions of the wrestling calendar.

The more difficult question is why? Wrestling is as widespread as it’s ever been from a talent standpoint. Furthermore, between social media, television deals for the “big 3,” and the advent of iPPVs, this talent is fully accessible to the masses. Are we to believe that the next Rock or Steve Austin has not or cannot be discovered by WWE or that such a talent simply doesn’t exist?

Let’s not kid ourselves…like every business, sport, or form of entertainment, time passes and names change. When this occurs, a new generation of leaders emerges to replace and improve upon the trailblazers that once defined an era. Professional wrestling is no different…The talent is there, why does it continue to lurk in the shadows?

The common culprit identified for this unfortunate reality is the PG era. This argument often is met with harsh criticism by fans and industry insiders alike who feel that solid writing can create stars and provide compelling television regardless of the rating assigned to the programming.

While I can agree that WWE has problems that can be cured without expanding the scope of permissible on-screen activity, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that the PG era has deprived us of one important aspect that is critical to the success of both the business and the individuals who make up the business….genuine, organic character development.

I am of the firm belief that excellent writing, while important to maintaining coherency in the product, simply does not make a star…Individuals make themselves stars when given the creative freedom to unleash their true personalities within the construct of the kayfabe world.

No better example exists than Stone Cold Steve Austin. Regardless of how you feel about the pure concept of the “Ring Master” character, the simple fact of the matter is that an immensely talented individual floundered upon his debut because he was asked to play a character that bore little to no resemblance to his actual personality. Steve didn’t make the leap toward superstardom until he was given the freedom to establish his on-screen persona as the ultimate extension of himself.

His success was not a product of engaging in edgy behavior simply for the purpose of being edgy. It was the product of being believable. I’ve said it over and over again…these guys are not actors, they’re entertainers. An entertainer is most effective when he or she is comfortable as a performer…When an entertainer recognizes, embraces, and harnesses his or her true personality, no better comfort level exists. In Steve Austin’s case, he happens to be a redneck with a fondness for drinking beer and cussing up a storm…

Could Steve Austin get over in a similar fashion in today’s PG environment? How about the Rock? Did any of his promos leading up to last year’s Wrestlemania come anywhere close to matching his work during the height of his career? If your answer is no, was there any doubt in your mind that the natural flow of his personality was dampened by the confines of family programming?

Don’t get me wrong…the forced nature of the attitude era is not what I’m asking for at this time. Wrestling doesn’t need the over-the-top shock value of pimps, crucifixion, mannequin sex, and diva bikini contests to raise its level of popularity. In fact, despite my love for that era, it was these types of displays that left a bad taste in my mouth and made it more likely that I would change the channel rather than continue my support (Ok, maybe not the bikini contests).

I simply believe that the current startling lack of star power is a direct result of requiring talent to curb their natural personalities in order to remain within an artificially constructed standard. When you force adults to cater to children, they’re acting…Some act better than others in that regard, but the fact remains that the vast majority of what we see on a weekly basis comes nowhere near resembling a legitimate and believable adult interaction.

Do we need profanity laced tirades and overt sexual innuendo every other segment? No…But when the passion of the moment calls for the character to reach within his or herself and unleash the same personality that exists behind the curtain, the required freedom is hampered severely by the need to maintain a level of civility normally reserved for an after-school special.

Ultimately, PG shouldn’t be dropped out of a desperate attempt to force-feed a product characterized by shock and awe. Instead it should be dropped as a means of providing the freedom necessary to create depth of character…to permit the natural intricacies of each wrestler’s personality to shine through the tightly wound box that currently houses the permissible avenues for character development.

Should such a shift in philosophy occur, I guarantee that we’ll begin to see that this is a roster rich with individuals capable of telling a captivating story. Unless and until it does occur, I expect more of the same with regard to a lack of star power.

Even the most vibrant stars aren’t visible on a cloudy night. Until the haze of the PG era fades, I’m not sure that we’ll realize how bright the WWE night sky can be.

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