Performing Inception on the Viewer: Should We Cheer or Boo?


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“The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.” – Arthur, Inception

WWE characters tend to be radical in their behavior and beliefs, with most workers on the roster falling into the categories of either “face” or “heel”. Whether a wrestler performs as a “good guy” or a “villain” is rather easy to distinguish even by casual viewers. From the moment Rey Mysterio grants a lucky kid a piece of his gear, or Damien Sandow comes out and refers to the WWE Universe as “the unwashed masses”, it is very much decided how you should react to what you see. On the other hand, the general perception is that crowd reactions set the direction of a gimmick.

The million dollar question seems to be, should cheers and boos be regarded as the cause for the programming WWE puts on, or is it the opposite?

RybackEven though the creative team’s efforts are said to be aimed at pleasing the WWE Universe and delivering what the fans crave for, the company also has a history of enforcing their own vision of a character despite how over it actually is. That approach was evident last year in Ryback’s massive push, which knew where it was going from the very start. Week after week, The Human Wrecking Ball came out and tore his opponents apart, with even the unknown names, or the local jobbers if you will, working as heels in order to put Ryback over. Big Hungry’s victims would introduce themselves on the mic in an intentionally unimpressive way, thus drawing heat from the audience. WWE neglected the Internet’s complaints about the character’s booking and his push as a babyface powerhouse continued, only to collapse in the upper card and bring about a heel turn.

Now let us look at the more successful rivalries in recent years, the likes of CM Punk vs. John Cena and Triple H vs. Undertaker. WWE did not act as if the entire Universe needed to support a single name. On the contrary, the reason these bouts were as popular as they were was because a split crowd increased the relationship between the fans and the worker. From a sports perspective, a strong support for the Dallas Cowboys would only encourage NY Giants fans to be as passionate as they can. From a storytelling standpoint, no character can be categorized as either “evil” or “a saint” and still be believable. If a heel’s actions are dictated only by the quest for heat, rather than what the character stands for and believes in, then that is a cardboard cut-out of a character.

The more realistic approach would be to build personas with the complexity found in real life. Over the course of the last two weeks, I was fond to discover that when it came to current storylines, WWE had made crucial steps towards discarding the “black and white” booking technique.

Mr. McMahon & Triple H

At the moment, the feud that stands out the most with its realistic feel and credibility is the one between Mr. McMahon and Triple H. In the worst case scenario, Hunter would be “the guy who cares about the fans”, while his father-in-law would be the rather egotistical and stuck-up dictator. That is not the case. WWE has very subtly built Triple H as the guy whom the fans would more likely get behind, but not through blatant distinction of good and bad, but by emphasizing the differences in mentality between the two men, when it comes to both business and personal matters.

This is where the Inception method comes in. In Ryback’s case, the fans were very conscious of the fact that they were being forced to cheer for the character. According to the theory portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s movie, however, an idea is the most powerful when it grows and develops inside the mind of the person manipulated. Enforcing an opinion is never as effective as putting the fans in the position to form their own.

The most recent episode of Raw featured a significant amount of “grey” content. Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, two wrestlers usually working as babyfaces, added heel nuisances to their in-ring behavior that made their bout more exciting simply because both had good reasons to be loved and they also had good reasons to be hated. In addition, the same episode saw Dolph Ziggler sending a message by attacking a face and a heel. Does Ziggler deserve to be cheered or booed? Your call.

And when you do form an opinion, will you be able to trace the genesis of the idea?

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