As a late twenty-something, I’ve become that thing we all fear, but we all expect, the ultimate cynic. I hate almost everything. The love that remains in my heart is reserved for my dog, getting my hands on the last chocolate hob nob, and professional wrestling. Being the ultra cynic, one thing struck me today which I can’t believe I hadn’t really thought of sooner, why the hell are heels in wrestling so much more entertaining?
Braving the outside world yet again, this question was inspired by my most recent trip to a British wrestling show, namely, Futureshock 71. I found myself getting more enjoyment out of the actions of those I really should hate and, in fact, convention demands that I do at least look at them unfavourably, but I just love the heels. The actions of Xander Cooper in pursuit of the Futureshock trophy and just the general antics of Alex Cyanide with manager, Chris Eagan were some of the most entertaining parts of the night.
But why is this? Why is it that the heels of the business are generally enjoyed more than the babyfaces in wrestling? Let’s consider some examples from the good ol’ USA. The nWo was one of the most popular factions in WCW before its downfall, yet this was a faction of bad guys. We, as fans, are supposed to hate these people, yet back in the day, these were the top selling point of WCW and it was because of the n.W.o. that WCW nearly beat the WWE in the ‘Monday Night Wars’.
In today’s wrestling world, the biggest babyface in the industry (John Cena) is also one of the most divisive figures in the industry, but he is, as they say, the ultimate good guy. He is (at least on screen) squeaky clean. He is the type of man I think most mothers would like their sons to grow up to emulate, yet most older male fans will actively cheer any individual who seeks to challenge Cena. Of course, two of the company’s biggest babyfaces, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, are loved by fans young and old, so I am of course not suggesting that all older fans will only root for the villain, I am suggesting, however, we find villainy much more entertaining and easier to relate to.
But why is this? Why do we get so much enjoyment out of watching the villainous scumbags succeed with their treachery and deceit? The villains lie and cheat their way to success, so we should hate them as the frauds they are, yet the reason I believe more older fans can generally find themselves getting behind the villain, is because the heel represents the person we would all be if we had, as Vince McMahon would say, the testicular fortitude.
As the old saying goes ‘nice guys finish last’. In reality, we have to behave ourselves if we want to get on in life, make friends and just have a generally pleasant existence. In the wonderful world of wrestling, however, the general conventions of life do not apply. The bad guys cheat their way to the top and this appeals to the thinking we have when we grow older.
How many of us would love to have the bravery to mouth off to people like The Rock does, or knock the crap out of your boss like Stone Cold did on an almost weekly basis? These men were two of the biggest babyfaces in the business during their time, but the reason they were such popular babyfaces is that they exhibited the traits of the bad guy. Even Eddie Guerrero during his most popular run in the WWE was during his time with a very heel-like gimmick (Lie, Cheat and Steal), yet at the same time, he was the company’s biggest babyface.
Through most forms of media we find ourselves more drawn toward, or entertained by, the bad guy. From Heisenberg to Dr. Lecter, we all love a bad guy because they represent the person, deep down, we all know we either are, or would like to be. This is represented in no better format than in professional wrestling where the nice guy doesn’t always win in the end, and there is not always a happy ending.
Younger fans will still cheer for the cookie cut hero because they still have the wide-eyed optimism that the world is just wonderful. They haven’t yet come to the realisation that taking your vitamins and drinking your milk isn’t the true nature of the world we live in. The actions of the bad guy are the closest professional wrestling comes to depicting some of our deepest desires, to be the best and to succeed in the modern world, we have to be those we secretly root for; we have to be the heel.
– By Steven Stewart