Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Antihero In Wrestling

By William G. Muir

The other day I was clicking around Youtube, as I do several times during the day, when I come across several shoot interviews of form WWE Superstar Ted DiBiase (The Million Dollar Man). DiBiase wrestled in the WWF, as it was known at the time, from 1987-1996. (He also had a brief run in the company in 1979.) His gimmick was what his name implied it was, he was a wrestle who was worth a million dollars. Naturally that kind of character in any age would be a heel. Would you cheer for a guy who looked down on you because he had more money than you, thought he could buy and sell anybody, and would shove a one hundred dollar bill into your mouth when you where passed out?

He wasn't a very nice individual, or at least his character wasn't.

When DiBiase returned for his second run in the WWF I was in middle school at the time. Back then I always rooted for the babyface characters and despised the heels. Or as my friends and I thought of them, the good guys and the bad guys. We all cheered on the Hulk Hogans, Ultimate Warriors, and Macho Mans. Guys like DiBiase and Mr. Perfect we hated. Of course this was back in the days before the internet, weall assumed that wrestlers were just like their characters outside the ring. 

The Million Dollar man was one of the wrestlers I hated the most back then.

So why am I writing this post, and what does it have to do with Ted Dibiase? Like I said I was flipping through Youtube when I come across an interview with Mr. Dibiase, well several actually. Today I am well aware that wrestling is predetermined and that the wrestlers are playing characters on the tv screen. So I no longer have the hate I once felt for DiBiase. I did find him to be a quite agreeable fellow in a couple of the clips. Then I click on one entitled Ted DiBiase on Attitude Era.

I had a feeling that Mr. DiBiase wasn't going to look to favorable on the product as it was during the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era. As we all know, or should know, we do have the internet these days, Mr. DiBiase is an ordained ministers. Not to many of them are all that fond of the behavior of the Superstars during that period. But I decided to give Ted DiBiase the benefit of the doubt. After all he was a wrestler, a heel at that, he might just stick up for his old profession. Stranger things have happened.

But DiBiase didn't fail to disappoint me. He wanted to talk about what he saw as being what was wrong with the wrestling business today. But first he started off the interview by saying how grateful he will always be to Vince McMahon and the WWE, that Vince gave him his big break and how Vince treated him better than any other wrestling promoter had ever done so. How nice of him to pay Vince a compliment, just before he set into the man and his company.

The problem with the wrestling business today, as Ted sees it, is not the sub-par writing, or the failing to utelise or push the talent that is out there. Or even all the back stage politics. No, the problem as DiBaise sees it is that the business has evolved. And he blames Vince for the direction it has gone. As DiBiase puts it, the business use to be about the struggle between good and evil. That it had always been so. Today however you do not have that, the business today is pushing the Antihero instead.

Sure there are gray area when it comes to wrestling today, but I am not so sure we should look back on the black and white world of good and evil as fondly as it seems DiBiase is. Back in those days the business, like the country, was racially and ethnically insensitive. To his credit he does mention how the bad guys were based on ethnicity in the past. But it is very brief and he does nothing to condemn the practice. Some could even argue that his character, The Million Dollar Man, treatment of his bodyguard Virgil was racist. And we all know that the problem of racism is not fully gone from the wrestling business. Not one major promotion in the United States has a minority as the face of the company. And very few titles are currently held by any minorities.

The problem, as I see it, is that Ted doesn't get that all things evolve. It is not only the wrestling business that has changed, but the world outside the wrestling business has changed as well. And so has the wrestlers themselves. We no longer live in a black and white world. There are shade of gray were ever you look. No longer is it acceptable to cast people as villains simple because they are not white. When someone like the
Rock can become the people's champion, you know that you are no longer living in the post-WWII world. 

Since our outlook on the world has changed, since we no longer see things as just plain good and evil the business had to evolve to keep up with it. The WWE universe was no longer going to cheer the squeaky clean good guys anymore. We didn't trust them. We had seen too many of them fall in real life due to secret that they kept (Grey Hart, Jim Baker, Oliver North). We became suspicious of such people in real life, and the wrestling fans carried that attitude into the arenas.

The nWo destroyed the model of the good guy versus bad guy forever. Here were a group pf guys that were out for themselves, wanted to make as much money as they could, replace the old guys, break all the rules, and have fun as well. No longer were the bad guys despicable characters that you could rightly hate for how awful they were. These guys were cool. These were the kind of guys that showed up at the party, cracked jokes on everybody, drank up the beer, took the ladies home and everybody wanted them to come around the next weekend to do it again. If you were young during the mid to late '90s the nWo were what they said they were, Too Sweet!.

Naturally like any good company, the WWE copied what WCW was doing and introduced its own brand of rabble-rousers, Degeneration X.

Now I must admit I know very little of what was going on in the WWE at this time. As the '90s started I was in high school. I was on the track and football teams, as well as working a part-time job. I had no time to watch wrestling, and besides that my father had started watching WCW at that time. So when I did have time to watch wrestling it wasn't WWE that was on the tv. I started getting back into wrestling right before Scott Hall made his first appearance on Monday Night Nitro. The story line had me so drawn in that I was hooked and made sure to be in front of the tv every Monday night. And when Hulk Hogan turned at Bash at the Beach I felt so betrayed. Not that saw it live. I didn't find out till the next night on Nitro. Here was my childhood hero, and he had turned his back on everything he stood for. I so wanted someone to come out and kick his ass.

When Roddy Piper, Sting and Goldberg all beat Hollywood Hogan I got a feeling like everything was right in the world.

Now Ted DiBiase said that all the business does today is push the Antihero, the pimps and the thugs. I think that he is wrong in that regards. From what I have seen is the crowds want to cheer for the guys that would have been heels back in the day. All you have to do is look to the internet, you will find no shortage of people who cannot stand John Cena. They have grown tired of his squeaky clean boy scout persona. The male fans that are over the age of twenty see him as being a character directed at the children. There are fans that had grown fed up with Randy Orton and Sheamus being babyfaces, all over the Internet you hear talk about when are they going back to being heels. 

On the other hand, if the heel is charismatic enough the crowds wants to cheer them. It may be too early to tell if Dolph Ziggler or CM Punk have been turned face, but when they were definite heels the crowds loved them. (By the crowd I am talking about the adult males that make up the majority of the audience in the arenas.) I think we can all see what is obvious here, the crowds think the babyfaces are boring.

The Internet fans will tell you the problem is the PG era and that the company needs to return to the Attitude era. I don't think the problem is the PG era. In the comic book character driven 1980s the produce was PG, and they managed to have exciting babyface wrestlers. The problem is with the writers and what they think the fans want from their heroes. I wonder if returning to comic book characters wouldn't be such a bad thing to do.

The Attitude era worked in the '90s because the product had very few limits back then, the same with the real world in general. When the wrestler where allowed to be themselves the realism and grit was much more believable. But today there are boundaries the WWE wrestlers must work in. Any good writer should be able to come up with interesting, realistic seeming story lines. If they cannot maybe it is time to return to the cartoonish good guy/bad guy characters of the 1980s.

It seems to me Ted Dibiase whats the world to be like it was when he was younger. It think he sees what he believes to be wrong with the world we live in today and thinks fondly on the things that were right when he was younger. But he fails to remember the past properly. If you were not a white male, like Dibiase, the world wasn't such a welcoming place for you. While today's world is not perfect for anyone who is a minority, it is far better than it use to be.

The world around us is constantly evolving. We are on a slow and steady march to a more multicultural society. One that doesn't limit a person because of the color of their skin, where they where born, or what they believe. Wrestling fan are a  part of this world and they will be bringing those same expectations with them when they buy a wrestling ticket. So the business is not going to be the same as it was when Ted DiBiase was coming up. Heck it's not the same as it was ten years ago. Time marches on.

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