Every Tuesday, Heave features editor Dominick Mayer brings you On The Apron, a closer analysis of the latest goings-on in WWE.
You may not know this, in large part because WWE has done everything in its power to draw as little attention to it as possible, but NXT is still a thing. Instead of being a gimmicky reality-style elimination challenge show, though, it’s now the rebranded Florida Championship Wrestling, the developmental territory where future Superstars are groomed in the WWE style. One of the more interesting characters on NXT has been Bray Wyatt (the former Husky Harris), a seductive, terrifying cult leader from the bayou. And last night on Raw, Wyatt and his acolytes (one of whom is Brodie Lee, formerly one of the indie circuit’s best big men) had their first announcement promo aired.
The Wyatt family is getting called up to the main roster, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time.
A lot of dedicated WWE fans get angry about the PG era. It’s decried as the antithesis to wrestling, a watering-down, an assurance that guys can no longer take reckless shots to the head with chairs. And, as far too few have noted, it’s not the PG rating that’s the problem. You can still do compelling storylines within PG, especially with a focus on wrestling. The problem is what WWE things a PG audience wants. Specifically, what they think kids want; the whole “cradle to the grave” marketing strategy fully hinges upon hooking ‘em young. WWE has, for a few years, seemed to be under the impression that kids enjoy: a) their heroes making silly faces at the camera while humiliating those dastardly bad guys, b) their top hero spray-painting “poopy” on a car and c) little to no actual wrestling, because what kids love is an endless stream of melodramatic plot communicated through badly-acted backstage segments with telenovela levels of convolution.
There’s one simple problem with all of this: kids aren’t fucking morons. Sure, there’s stuff that isn’t appropriate, but the whole idea that PG should go away and things like the Taipei Death Match should return is insane. Kids don’t need overexposure to graphic violence any more than they need Jerry Lawler verbally wanking all over the Divas matches every week like a randy 12-year-old. What kids (and by extension the whole damn audience) need is the assumption on WWE’s part that they can handle semi-complex, interesting stories. This is more than a wrestling problem, though. It’s also a pop culture problem. Look at the film industry, and how most movies aimed at kids are loud, garish flashes of light with stunt-cast voice actors that most kids won’t even remember once they hit their teens. Pixar, for a long time, has been the last bastion of intelligent filmmaking made appropriate for kids, but even they’re starting to cede real estate to a battalion of cash-in sequels that follow the same formulas.
But back to wrestling. By dumbing down the shows, all WWE is accomplishing is the alienation of older audiences in the service of creating a show that the kids watching right now will renounce as they get older, eventually able to see it for its pandering. And that’s why the PG era needs someone like Bray Wyatt. He won’t kill goats onscreen or anything, but kids will watch him and feel afraid. And that’s a good thing. Safeguarding kids is important, but teaching them that danger doesn’t exist is reckless. A movie like The Goonies was dangerous, but it also taught kids to prosper and endure even when faced with life-threatening adversity. A hillbilly character on a wrestling show might not impart lessons with the same gravity (and indeed, with WWE penning him, likely won’t), but it’ll teach kids that scary things exist, and that heroes can slay them. And I’ll try to remember this when John Cena beats the entire Wyatt family with a broken leg, or something.