Culture

On The Apron: Husky Harris, Bray Wyatt and obnoxious wrestling fans

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Every Tuesday inside On The Apron, features editor Dominick Mayer digs into the latest developments in WWE.

Three quick things about last night’s Raw before I get to the meat of today’s column.

1) THE WYATT FAMILY IS HERE. I’m going to be something of a bummer about this in a minute, but Goddammit if that entrance wasn’t everything I wanted it to be.
2) I’m a big, big proponent of WWE’s solution to the problem of three hours of live content per week being a major, major uptick in actual wrestling.
3) Empathetic Ryback is his best possible form. Also, if this means Vickie returning as Ryback’s Paul Heyman, that could be the thing that poor man needs to finally get back on track.

Now, on to my big grievance with Raw, and a big one with wrestling culture in general right now. During the live debut of the Wyatt Family (after some thoroughly terrifying found-footage vignettes throughout the show), the mood was dampened slightly by people chanting “Hus-ky Har-ris!” while Erick Rowan and Luke Harper attacked Kane with the ring steps. Now, if you don’t remember the promising but horribly mishandled Nexus angle from a few years ago, Bray Wyatt was first known as Husky Harris, a bigger-built gentleman with little identity beyond being part of the group. He got hurt, Randy Orton punted him so hard he disappeared from WWE television and at some point, some brilliant mind behind NXT decided to rebrand him as the charismatic, fedora-wearing leader of a swamp cult. I’ve already written about how amazing this trio could become if handled well, but many on the internet feared that his previous rollout for the audience could lead to people trying to ruin the angle to prove how “in on it” they are.

There are two reasons this is bad, and one of them was covered by Brandon Stroud in his writing on last night’s show. If you’re not reading Mr. Stroud, by the way, you’re missing out on one of the funniest, most engaging and most well-versed pro wrestling writers on the internet right now. I want to quote briefly from his piece on why referencing a past character sucks:

“Bray Wyatt is played by the same guy who played Husky Harris. It’s true, and I’m happy you pay enough attention to wrestling to know that. But when you chant “Husky Harris” during Bray Wyatt’s debut, what you’re doing is invalidating Bray Wyatt’s existence. You’re saying “this isn’t a real guy, this is a guy I remember from before.” You’re forcing Husky Harris’s narrative onto Bray Wyatt. What THAT does is cheat YOU out of the experience of a new, dynamic and much, much, MUCH better character and wrestler. A joke nobody laughs at expressing a basic knowledge of wrestling ruins an experience for you, everyone around you, and possibly, because WWE audiences take cues from other WWE audiences, everyone everywhere else.”

I highly encourage you to check out his column in general, but especially this, because it makes the point that from a basic standpoint of narrative storytelling, interrupting a new character to champion that you remember when he was an old one interrupts the basic premise of pro wrestling (kayfabe, in so many words), in which you accept that this thing is generally real. You wouldn’t go to Fast & Furious 6, point at the screen and yell “Hey, it’s XXX!,” so why would you do the same thing to a show that creates its own self-contained universe with history and lineage and allows you to watch it play around within itself?

The other thing that bothers me is that these reactions were sort of inevitable, and speak to larger issues within WWE and in mainstream culture at large. For a few years now, WWE has been fostering the notion that anything current that is not named John Cena is inferior to anything they’ve done in the past. Between the constant re-releasing of old tape libraries (which is an important thing, but is bordering on a crutch at this point) and the continual pushing of part-time and nostalgia acts over current stars, WWE has defined the past as a litmus test that’s nearly impossible to pass. When this year’s biggest pay-per-view features The Rock (barely there at all), Triple H (in his autumn years at best), Brock Lesnar (hired gun only), Chris Jericho (hardly credible these days) and The Undertaker, who can’t wrestle more than 2-3 matches a year, what’s that say about your current roster? That the guys we’re supposed to invest in year-round are all well and good until the real stars come back?

That’s fine for now, but what happens when those guys literally can’t wrestle anymore, like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and his robot body. What then? People are supposed to invest in wrestlers that have been defined as comparable scrubs. To cycle back to the initial point, this attitude at the creative level defines how fans absorb the product. Ryback, who’s been getting better and better over the past few months both inside the ring and out, still gets “Goldberg!” chants, because a) smarky people love proving how much they know about the behind-the-scenes stuff and b) as the above quote mentioned, crowds then internalize this behavior as how they should engage with new talent. So you get people hollering “What?” during every promo as though SCSA is still relevant and diminishing new talent because it’s not the guys they know, despite the fact that the only way for them to get to know anybody new is to stop doing this.

But then, American culture fosters this idea at large. We’re in a time of instant nostalgia, a time where Hollywood has defined the best and most valuable movies as the ones that you’ve sort of seen before. (Note how most marketing doesn’t even tie into the originality of new properties; Inception was sold as being made by the Batman guy.) Television endlessly trades on the popularity of old TV properties and the instant nostalgia of talking-head comedy shows that turn current events into “remember when” tidbits. The thing we have now is inherently never as good as the thing that came before it, and this rhetoric only leads to a singularity in which innovation no longer exists and all popular culture is composed of facsimiles of other things that already happened. I’m not saying that laughing at early-90s hairstyles is going to lead to an intellectual apocalypse per se, but I’m saying that you can only look back if you’re also looking forward, and that’s happening less and less. And if we can’t appreciate Bray Wyatt in all his glory without immediately drawing attention to the other stuff he did, what’s to stop WWE from saying “Hey, let’s call Darren Young Son of The Rock! People still love that guy!”

  • David

    I have to defend the fans here. First of all, people have the right to chant whatever they want b/c they paid their money. Second of all, blaming the fans for an angle being ruined for you is horseshit. Now, this is purely on WWE. They honestly have proven time and time again they have no problem insulting the fans intelligence. This is why you get chants like these at the shows b/c WWE feels their fans are morons and suffer from short-term memory loss. Husky Harris was on WWE tv not that long ago, maybe 3 years ago? Do they really expect people to forget that? Michael Cole and the commentary team are like “who are these people, where did they come from??!!” It sounds ridiculous, we know who he is it’s Husky Harris. WWE pride themselves so much as an entertainment company rather than a wrestling promotion. They could’ve cast any Tom, Dick, or Harry as Bray Wyatt, a fresh new face, and the angle would’ve went over fine without any Husky Harris chants. And not only that, WWE should’ve stuck with his initial push as Husky Harris and he probably would be more over now than he was Monday night. Nobody is to blame here but WWE with these “start, stop, repackage” pushes they keep giving these kids. But thats what happens when you think youre a drama series, or a sitcom and not a professional wrestling promotion. Of course chants like this will continue until they get their shit together.

    • DDragon7

      Oh, so what you are saying is these kids get one shot, and after that, GTFO. You are saying that anyone could run with this angle and do just as well. You are saying that Steve Austin should never have been Stone Cold, he should have just stayed the Ringmaster. Damien Sandow should go back to Idol Stevens, Curtis Axel should be Mike McGuillicutty, Tensai should go back to Albert, Ryabck should go back to yokel Skip Sheffield, Kane should be a dentist again, and Triple H should still be a sneering little british wannabe. That makes sense.

      • cj coleman

        This is different. The Ring Master came out and publicly changed his name to SCSA on live TV. He evolved. With Kane it was back in 1997 when internet was not as big and also he wore a mask so not many people even knew. Everyone else you mentioned, the wwe acknowledged they were there before. With Bray Wyatt they are pretending that no one has ever seen the man before when we all recognize him as Husky Harris. They are trying to suggest that this is a different person entirely! That is a huge insult to our intelligence.

        • Eric Givens

          I personally don’t care to remember Husky Harris.
          Give me more Wyatt family and I will choose to enjoy
          It. It isn’t insulting anyone’s intelligence to give
          fans an opportunity to enjoy a dynamic new angle.

      • cj coleman

        Also Triple H. HHH. Hunter Hearst Helmsley. His character evolved but he was still the same man. He evolved. wwe never said “who’s this guy?” They never tried to act like he was a different person.

      • David

        No. You GTFO. Steve Austin as Stone Cold was a gimmick that was built around Austin’s REAL LIFE personality. Plus, WWF at the time explained he has went from The Ringmaster to Stone Cold. Austin reiterated that in a promo when he debuted the Stone Cold gimmick. It’s on youtube. Look it up. Is Windham Rotunda really an evil cult leader? No. That’s why I said pick any Tom, Dick, or Harry from FCW, NXT or wherever and the angle would’ve been pulled off just fine, b/c WWE was casting a role. Remember they’re Hollywood now, not wrestling. You’re a typical wrestling fan in 2013, no perspective. Damien Sandow didn’t spend some time on Raw as Idol Stevens. Bad example. Paul Heyman clearly offered an explanation why Curtis Axel changed his name. Another bad example you presented. Kane wore a mask at a time when the Internet wasn’t a major influence on the business and nobody knew he was Isaac Yankem. Yet another terrible example. HHH’s name wasn’t really changed, it was just abbreviated plus his character evolved while he was still on Raw. He wasn’t taken off TV, then had vignettes shown of him re-debuting on Raw. You have somewhat of a point with Ryback/Skip Sheffield, the whole undefeated thing was getting over, the feed more chants and the Goldberg chants all distracted the fans from trolling him as Skip Sheffield, but other than that, you’d fit in real nice with WWE’s or TNA’s creative team b/c you clearly believe nothing has to make sense anymore.

    • Berbalerbs

      I think a lot of it is WWE refusing to adapt to the times. They’ve been doing this repackage thing since forever, and it always worked before the internet. That being said, the entire idea of kayfabe is to suspend disbelief for personal enjoyment, and, I guess if you don’t find the Wyatts entertaining that’s one thing, but if you do enjoy what they’re doing, you’re essentially ruining your own experience to make a joke or reference that’s not particularly funny or cool.

    • Berbalerbs

      Oh! One last thing: If you really think anyone could be cutting the quality of promos Bray/Husky/Wyndham has been cutting, you are objectively wrong.

  • cj coleman

    Let me tell you something my friend. We as wrestling fans are willing to suspend our disbelief only to the point of the actual in ring action being scripted and choreographed. We love it and buy into it, and we forget that it is scripted. Just because of this, please do not mistake us for complete morons OK? When WWE brings in a character who has the same face and body of a character we remember from two years ago and then tries to pretend that they are not the same person, what the hell do you want us to do? Of course we are going to call BS. Of course we are going to chant “Husky Harris.” One can only suspend disbelief to a point. I don’t care if this is the best gimmick in history, I can’t buy into Bray Wyatt because I know he is Husky Harris!

    • Laura

      “Of course we are going to chant “Husky Harris.”

      Why? Are you one of those idiots who yells, “What?” all the time when the characters are talking, too?

    • Berbalerbs

      So I’m guessing you think “oh great, here comes Prototype ” every time your hear John Cena’s theme? And if you seriously can’t pretend “Bray Wyatt” isn’t “Husky Harris” (and in case you didn’t know, “Husky Harris” is actually “Wyndham Routunda” in real, real life) on a program where a leprechaun, a professional ballroom dancer, and a pair of funk-based dinosaurs professionally wrestle, I don’t know what to do for ya.

  • kauer426

    Little tired of the family oriented wwe…Get back to strap matches,barbed wire matches that’s what made wrestling.BEFORE all the merchandising come on how many s-shirts can you have back in the day dusty rhodes had 1,you ever see a stan the man lariat t-shirt.

  • c

    If the character was genuine enough people wouldn’t feel the need to chant some one else.
    Maybe the problem isn’t the fans. Maybe the problem is Husky Harris and his forced acting skills.

  • Brandon Roberts

    it’s a good gimmick and brays pretty believable