The WWE has built itself to become the most popular form of sports entertainment over the decades. During these years many changes took place, from the introduction of entrance music to the flashy pyrotechnics announcing a show or superstar.
One thing that remained throughout the eras, though, was the gimmick. This was what separated each superstar from the next and kept the product interesting. However, in recent years the product seems to have replaced characters and gimmicks with ego and arrogance. WWE has changed, and change is usually good. The organization needs to evolve with the times to remain the dominant wrestling brand in the world, but it was after watching RAW this past week that it struck me just how few gimmicks are part of WWE programming, and the worse thing, that gimmicks now seem to be used for comedy elements or squash matches.
With WWE reportedly in creative turmoil, its fluctuating ratings that dwindle whenever The Rock leaves, is it fair to say that this may be because most of the top talents performing on the card are boring and stale?
Let’s look at when WWE was pioneering the entertainment industry; the Attitude Era. First, dismiss any argument that WWE is restricted for creativity due to the PG Era. The product does not have to be R-rated to create interest. WCW’s dominance prior to the birth of the Attitude Era is a prime example of this. With its small arena and limited production value, WCW rallied ahead of WWE in the ratings due to its characters and storylines. To put it simply, WCW was more entertaining at that time.
So, is it any surprise that WWE then became more popular when the likes of Steve Austin became the hell-raising, boss-beating Texas Rattle Snake? Or when The Rock became the Corporate / People’s Champion with loud shirts and witty insults? During this time Triple H became the cold and calculating cerebral assassin. Mankind evolved into the three faces of Mick Foley and The Undertaker debuted as the American Badass. Each one of the gimmicks was different. Each persona could thrust in to a feud with any other superstar and the result was entertaining. It wasn’t just the performing excellence of these talents and their counterparts; it was also the clash of character and personality that kept the audience tuning in week after week. As an 18 year old kid I often hated RAW finishing because I was enthralled and hooked on what was playing out. The Attitude Era was successful (in my opinion) because each character and gimmick was different. How often did you see a superstar pulled from air and repackaged a few months later? In today’s WWE it happens with more regularity, the most recent being Fandango and Curtis Axel.
Today, the gimmick is hardly utilized in WWE. Zack Ryder, Santino Marella, 3MB, these talents are nothing more than squash opponents or enhancement jobbers. Even when a gimmick appears to be doing well (check my article on The Nexus) it is often withdrawn. The only new gimmick sweeping the WWE Universe successfully at present is The Shield.
To prove my point, let’s look at Randy Orton, Wade Barrett and Sheamus. As a fan of the WWE Universe or a casual viewer, what exactly is it that separates these three talents from one another? An accent and hairstyle, agreed, but what else? What can we grasp that says these three guys are different? All wear similar attire. All preach that they are the better athlete and all say similar things during a promo. As characters, it can be difficult to differentiate between the three of them.
In an environment such as WWE, each superstar should be clearly established from the other. Each performer brings something different to the organisation which should be considered when creating a persona or character. Look at good-guy Randy Orton. He far excels as The Apex Predator instead of the confusing face he’s currently working. you can see in his promo delivery that Orton is uncomfortable in this role. His talent is best portrayed as a heel which he displayed during his feuds with John Cena. He was truly despicable and able to draw heat very successfully, a sign that his then character was working and over with the crowds. CM Punk created his own character with the pipe-bomb promo’s and look at him now, riding the crest of the WWE wave and regarded by most as the top talent of the organization.
My argument for gimmicks is this; different characters make stories interesting.Trust me; I’m an award winning, international author. Characters are good. This is why I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Bray Wyatt and The Family. The vignettes for their arrival have been powerful and already portray a strong idea.
If you’re in the entertainment industry, whether its in movies, television or in any other storytelling environment, characters are the vessel that propel your story onward. Without characters, would there be a story to tell?
The fact is that WWE needs gimmicks to continue successfully. The return of Rob Van Dam and the debut of The Wyatt Family will be welcomed by the WWE Universe, but aside from John Cena, CM Punk, Brock Lesnar and Dolph Ziggler, most of the talent don’t have a great deal of interest outside of their in-ring ability.
If gimmicks became more prominent, would WWE be more entertaining? My opinion, yes.
What do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let’s discuss it further!