I write a wrestling column every Monday and Friday for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review which can be found online at Triblive.com.
Today, I reacted to the recent report of Vince McMahon saying WWE no longer has heels or faces. The following is an excerpt:
The company that is afraid to acknowledge and capitalize on its biggest GOOD GUY in Daniel Bryan is now saying it's all a shades of grey. I'm not surprised.
I agree with interpretation of characters, but they still have to be on a side. They're either the good guy or the bad guy. It's a basic storytelling foundation that's been around for centuries. Let's not reinvent the wheel.
This past weekend, I was in Philadelphia at the original ECW arena working with Extreme Rising. At one point, I took a walk among the energetic, blood thirsty audience. As two guys watched the hardcore match, I heard one talk about how great this is because there is no good and bad guy.
This statement stunned me.
Just because it's the wild west, doesn't mean there aren't good and bad guys. Everyone might play by wild west rules, or in this case hardcore rules, but there is still a story to be told with big guys, little guys, old guys, young guys, brawlers, high-flyers and more. They're all using elements of revenge, legacy, pride, jealousy and a want for violence in their particular stories with their opponents.
What WWE has forgotten over the years is there can be good and bad characters who have interpretations of their character. Once upon a time, WWE used to be really good at this.
Mankind and Kane were two great examples.
The Mankind character was clearly a heel when he debuted but had a level of sympathy. We saw him sitting in a basement with a pet rat because he had no friends as he talked about the torment he'd experienced as a child. He would come out to the ring to demonic music but after he won he would exit with a soft piano lullaby track.
Mankind was violent and menacing to the good guys, but in small places people don't like to admit, you could easily feel bad for him. Maybe even relate to a feeling he's expressed. That's a heel character with a shade of grey.
Kane had one of the best debuts in the history of wrestling and one of the best backstories. Burned in a fire. His older brother The Undertaker thought he was dead. Kane returned and wreaked havoc on his brother. The Undertaker at first wouldn't fight his own flesh and blood. He knew Kane had suffered. He was sorry. He wouldn't fight back until he eventually was provoked.
Kane was evil and scary. However, couldn't you understand his anger toward the fact he had been scared and burned in a fire? Another great heel with a shade of grey.
It's all storytelling. It's all fiction, and it all needs a consistent good guy and bad guy. The reason McMahon's statement is so critical is because if you drop the concept of a good guy and bad guy, you're making it very hard on yourself to present a good story.
Kane and Mankind could have their shades of grey, but at the end of the day they were the bad guys up against the recognized hero and the eventual payoff involved the hero's triumph.
Read the full column for how this impact the babyfaces and why WWE's getting so caught up in their own PR. Click here.