Every week, I make sure to watch only one program on TV. It isn’t a regular serialized show, but it’s actually WWE Monday Night RAW. Many people consider it a lesser form of entertainment without much depth, but I have to disagree completely. There is much to be said about the story telling elements involved in their storylines (often referred to as male soap operas) and the matches themselves. The people who go out there every week are performers, and they work to improve their craft of wrestling and entertain through a narrative performance. The main draw for WWE is the storyline aspect, and that is usually what the company focuses. There are good guys (known as faces) and bad guys (known as heels), and they general compete against each other in the story. However, fans treat some of the heels as if they are the good guys by cheering them. And that’s something I feel is worth talking about, even if WWE tries to ignore it.
WWE is so transparently black and white for the most part with their storylines, so when they pit a good guy against a bad guy, it is so obvious which is which. This is fine since they target their demographic for a younger audience a lot of the time. They use storylines, mannerisms in the ring, and the announcers to make it very clear who is good and who is bad. This way, the fans in the audience know who to cheer and who to boo during the course of the night. However, sometimes the fans cheer or boo for other people instead. John Cena, the company’s biggest star and resident good guy, gets booed on a regular basis simply because he’s been overexposed and people don’t enjoy the stereotypical good guy schtick he has and the fact that he seems to win almost all of the time. Instead of doing something to rectify this, they simply accept it since he does often get cheered more than booed.
More importantly, many of the bad guys get cheered, and some people consider this a bad thing. In the scheme of storytelling, with the crowd being a key player in it, this makes the story lose a bit of value. Still, people love to cheer the wrestlers they love. I’m guilty of doing it. When WWE came to Pittsburgh, I cheered the hell out of Chris Jericho even though he thinks we’re all mouth-breathing parasites simply because he is my favorite performer of all time. When CM Punk was in Pittsburgh, he called the Steelers a bunch of losers and said we were idiots for cheering them. And you know what? I have on my CM Punk T-shirt on and laughed at it because I love that obnoxious bastard. Whenever the team of 3MB, three perennial losers who claim to be rock stars who can only air guitar, comes out to the ring I have to cheer for them too. Was I playing along with what WWE wanted? Not exactly. I’m having my own kind of fun, after all.
People go to these wrestling events entirely to have fun. And that means cheering for whoever the hell they want, WWE’s writing be damned. Most times, I’ll play along with what WWE wants me to do though. Dolph Ziggler comes out and talks about how awesome he is and how his opponent sucks and yeah, I’ll boo him because that good guy doesn’t suck, Dolph Ziggler! You suck and he’s going to beat you! It’s fun to play along as much as it is to cheer for people you like. However, Dolph Ziggler used to be one of those heels who would always get cheered. It didn’t matter what he did, he had the arrogance and cheating that made him a complete jerk that nobody in their right mind would like in their real life. And yet, we all cheered for him.
That brings me to my first reason why the heels get cheered: they’re too talented and being overlooked too much. In wrestling, many of the older fans who watch religiously want to see the talented guys get pushed. They work hard and are impressive all of the time. They deserve to get rewarded, especially since the goal of most of those guys who come into the WWE is to be World Heavyweight Champion. So when we see a guy like Dolph Ziggler who works hard despite his character being a jerk, we cheer for him so he can get recognized and appreciated with a title run. We want WWE to see we support the dude and want them to support him too. When he finally won the World Heavyweight Championship, the crowd went absolutely ballistic. He was still a jerk, but the crowd loved him that night. It was magical to witness in all honesty. So basically, we cheer for the overlooked guys because they are like the underdog.
Another reason people cheer for the bad guys is because they are just so entertaining. CM Punk is one of these guys who, while being a bad guy, still made us laugh our asses off on a weekly basis. He’s a genuinely creative and hilarious guy, and when he has a microphone in his hand he is pure gold. And when he gets in that ring, he’s putting on some of the best matches. CM Punk is one of the most talented wrestlers in WWE, so if we are so entertained by him more than everybody else, we want to cheer for him. It doesn’t matter that he thinks we’re all a bunch of morons and hates us, he still entertains us to a point that we overlook how much of selfish jerk he is. Therefore, we show our appreciation by lavishing him with cheers.
Another reason that is largely unavoidable is when we cheer for guys who have done so much and continue to give us quality mic promos and matches. People like Chris Jericho tried so hard to get booed, but we continued to cheer for him. In fact, he did absolutely nothing for a month straight and we kept cheering for him like a bunch of idiots. When I say he did nothing, he quite literally did nothing. He came out to the ring, smiled, waved, and just watched us for about ten minutes before leaving. He did this every week until he had to spell it out for us by saying he was screwing with us and that we were too dumb to realize it. And you know what? We still kept cheering for him despite that. He’s been around for so long that we appreciate his contributions to wrestling and how he keeps entertaining us. Eventually, it got so bad that WWE just relented and made him a good guy.
But there are some fan favorite wrestlers who are bad guys that still get booed. Performers like Damien Sandow and Antonio Cesaro are bad guys through and through, but they get booed all the time despite how much everyone loves them. So what sets them apart from the other heels that get cheered? I think that they are so good at being bad guys that they don’t get booed.
Let’s take Damien Sandow for instance. Everything that Damien Sandow does just screams villain. His gimmick is that he is an evil sophistic who gets his rocks off on telling us how he will show us, the unwashed masses, how to be intelligent like him. He talks superior to us and everybody else and that makes us mad! He doesn’t attempt to be cute like CM Punk does; he’s just there to be the villain. And he does such a good job of it that you can’t help but want to boo him too. How do you cheer for a guy who is such a jerk of that magnitude? You can’t; you’re just compelled to boo that man every time you hear him come out to the ring.
And then there’s Antonio Cesaro who is so involved in his gimmick as the evil Swiss foreigner that he makes it very clear that he’s not here to amuse anybody. His style is brutal, he throws around people like they’re nothing, and he is absolutely arrogant about it all. He has impressive moves, but he’s too busy being all business to allow himself to be cheered for it. So when he’s lifting up people like the 7 foot high The Great Khali, he’ll get everybody gasping in awe, but then he arrogant stands over us all like we’re common people. He’s all business. He only wants to rile up the crowd, hurt his opponents, and show he’s superior in a smug fashion. And he’s foreign, so that means we have to hate him.
Does that mean that people like CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler, and Chris Jericho are bad heels? I wouldn’t say that much. However, I would say that they aren’t as perfect heels like Damien Sandow and Antonio Cesaro. CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler have that rebellious too cool for school attitude that people can get behind, but Damien Sandow and Antonio Cesaro just tell their end of the story so perfectly that it makes sure that people play along, which I find more important in the end. When they’re telling their promos, they make sure you feel bad for the faces they insult, or you grow to hate them because of their arrogance. In the matches, they build up the odds in their favor and harm the good guy enough that we want to cheer the good guys on and have them overcome these gigantic jerks.
I will say that getting people to play along benefits the product in the long run. Because whoever goes against Damien Sandow is sure to get cheered every time since he gets booed. So when you have a guy who is trying to get a reaction out of the crowd, something that is typically difficult to do unless your name is John Cena, it is beneficial to have more guys who are so polarizing that you have to give the right reaction by default. It helps make those guys more popular which helps business. If you have a good guy who is up against CM Punk and CM Punk is getting cheered all the time, then why do you bother cheering for the other guy? He’s not nearly as popular yet.
All of the wrestlers I mentioned here are great performers though, and they each have their place in the company. Because they might get cheered as heels doesn’t mean they’re bad or anything. And if you cheer them, you aren’t bad fans or anything either. You’re just having fun in your own way, and that’s fine. Wrestling is all about finding your own enjoyment out of it. And so long as you’re entertained by the product, who cares how the fans act or how bad the bad guys are? In the end, these guys make the crowd react in any way they can, and that is probably the most important part.