“It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.” (Confucius).
Hate. It’s a funny old thing. I firmly believe you can’t hate someone you don’t know. Have I been wronged in my life? Yes. Do I hate those people? No. In a way, I pity them. I know I’ve done nothing wrong (I’m certainly not a saint, but I also know I’m not a devil). How do we react to these people who ‘gun’ for us? Some people panic. Some cry. Some feel their heart beating hard in their chest. I remember when I was bullied as a child, I thought I ‘hated’ the kid who did it but was too scared to say anything...until I told my older brothers. It was sorted pretty quickly then. Having older brothers is great for that. Then I started wearing bow-ties to school (really) both as a precursor to my predilection for suits but also, well, to antagonise the bullies. I turned into the cocky little git who no-one could touch. In a way, I became a total prick.
The bad guy is one to get these feelings in you. They rile you. They annoy you. You end up hating them because of what they do to things you like. Fancy that girl? Yes! Despise the bloke you hate talking to her? God, yes (please swap and amend as appropriate). Is he doing it on purpose? Well, you have no evidence but, yeah, definitely. Your heart pounds. You sweat. You feel all the things you shouldn’t feel as a good person. You feel hate. Hate for what they’ve done to you in the past and hate to what they could do to you in the future.
This is the role of the bad guy. To rile us and annoy us so we cheer when they’re punished. So we cheer when the bully gets their comeuppance. Ivan Drago? Killed Rocky’s best friend. Did we cheer when he was knocked through the ropes in the final round? Yes. The bad guy got his just deserts (and then I changed, you changed, we ALL changed!). Did we punch the air when Dick Jones got shot out of the window in ‘Robocop’? Did we ever. Name a revenge film (‘Death Sentence’, ‘Death Wish’, etc.). The flaming gasoline of these films is to see the ‘bullies’ (to put it lightly) get what’s coming to them. Do we end smiling? Most of the time. If you’ve seen ‘Death Sentence’, you’ll know what I mean – and if you haven’t make that your weekend ‘Hugh Firth Recommendation’ (who knows, it might catch on!).
So, the bad guy. The villain. Curious coves aren’t they? Wrestling is fuelled by them. Yes, in recent years we’ve had the ‘anti-hero’ (and I’ll get on to these in another column) but the story-telling doesn’t work without the character to hate. The one that makes our blood boil, our heart race, the one that, when beaten, might even bring a tear to our eye – I’m so pleased they’ve been beaten. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, “In the old days, villains had moustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don’t want their villain to be thrown at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings.”
For me, there’s two forms of bad-guy. The one that I hate and can’t wait to get beaten and then the second. The one I hate. The one who ruins the programme for me. Not necessarily because they’re ‘bad performers’ but because they rile me so much. I think there is a differentiation but both serve the same purpose.
JBL. For me, I hated him. He came to prominence around the time of Eddie’s title run and they had a much storied feud which both teetered on the casual racism of Zeb Coulter but also the machinations of the ‘rich man’ punishing the worker (the work horse?). At the time, I loved the story. I detested the character and remember some reviews of the PPV matches weren’t well reviewed but when you look back at the brutality of Judgement Day 2004...miss it? Eddie covered in blood and yet not giving up. Fighting back in the face of the millionaire and holding the belt in the middle of the ring amidst a cheering crowd. The villain had been vanquished (for now). This does remind me of the biggest bully of them all, Brock Lesnar, screaming ‘Die, Eddie, Die’ shortly before Eddie frog-splashed him into the canvas.
JBL was the perfect bad guy. He rubbed his riches in my face. The limousine. The suits (his were better than mine). The patented ‘JBL dollars’. His 280 day title reign drove me mad. I wanted someone to destroy him. The Undertaker couldn’t beat him. Neither could Booker T. Or Kurt Angle. Or Big Show. The bad-guy was beating my favourite heroes/wrestlers. Someone had to stand up and beat the bully.
Now, I knew I’d have to touch on this topic at some point but...I’m not a huge Cena fan. I’m also not a massive Cena-hater. I certainly don’t like his writers, that’s for sure, but every generation has their Hogan, their Stone Cold and, for this current generation, it’s Cena. Okay, so, I wasn’t a massive fan of him beating JBL at Wrestlemania 21. Cena wasn’t my hero. I wanted Angle or Taker to destroy the bully. The story didn’t end how I wanted so I never got closure. To be fair though, the bully was taken down and humiliated. It was good to see.
JBL was ‘the worthy villain’. He wasn’t wracked with guilt. When he went to the Mexican border, he was doing the right thing for his people. He was protecting them. When he held on to the title for nine months, he did it for us. When he used duplicitous methods, it’s because he knew we wanted him to keep hold of the title. He was a worthy man. The self-made millionaire we could aspire to be. As Christopher Vogel says, “From his point of view a villain is the hero of his own myth, and the audience’s hero is his villain.” This was so true of JBL and his title reign, particularly when he encountered the self-styled Doctor of Thug-a-Nomics who’d achieved nothing in his life.
Now, JBL falls into the first category of ‘bully boy’ because I hated him. I wanted to see him lose BUT...I enjoyed watching him. He was a great talker. He was a great villain. He had an interesting combination of ‘staff’, he had a ‘Celebration of Excellence’ as the longest reigning WWE champion in ten years. He went to ‘protect’ us at the Mexican border. For me, I hated him, I wanted to see him lose. My heart pounded when Taker went for a three count. When Angle went for an ‘Angle Slam’. I wanted to see him ‘get got’. And when it didn’t happen? I was infuriated. I had to buy the next PPV to see him get beaten. He was a villain people loved to hate.
The other form of bad-guy is the one who I hate for a very similar reason. I want to see them get beaten because they’re evil but also...because they ruin the episode of the programme for me. I hate them so much I can’t bear to look at them. I want them off my television as soon as possible. This, in itself, is brilliant when done properly. From me, Triple H and Evolution did this. They took up too much television time. They had too many promos. They smirked and winked at the camera. We knew Triple H was married to the boss’ daughter (in real life) and would one day run the company. I hated him. I hated them. This later moved into my initial hatred of Randy Orton (around the time of his feuds with Cena and HHH) before moving onto now where I pity him. He’s not moving forward. He’s not moving backwards. He’s the bully-boy who can’t remember his lines anymore when an audience doesn’t respond how he wants. He might as well wear a bow-tie and become the total prick we know he is.
Evolution, and Triple H in particular, followed Joseph Campbell’s quote from ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ that, “the hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow, unless he crucifies himself today.” This was Triple H. He returned from injury to one of the loudest responses ever at Madison Square Garden before winning the 2002 Royal Rumble and defeating Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania X8. He was the returning hero. He’d done something we admire, coming back from a career threatening injury, and took on all-comers before reaching the top of the mountain. It was almost as if, due to Triple H’s sudden brush with mortality, he was one of us. He was (almost) the underdog. In story terms, he should have crucified himself then because there was no where left for the hero to go...apart from becoming a tyrant.
The attack on Shawn Michaels, being ‘given’ the World Heavyweight Championship and, ahem, Katie Vick. All of these things turned Triple H from the man who defeated evil to evil itself. The unbroken cycle that literature, and wrestling, succeeds in. Then, he brought in the past, the present and the future of wrestling and Triple H didn’t leave our screens for almost twelve months. Title after title. Promo after promo. I hated it. I hated him. He’d turned from the man I cheered On January 7th 2002 to the man who made me want to throw a sledgehammer through my television. In a way, this is what Impact Wrestling is trying to do with Aces & Eights, dominate the product, but there is no clearly defined hero (yet – AJ?).
Yes, he lost the belt to ‘he who shall not be named’. Yes Goldberg seemed like an initial threat but, similar to Cena (although we’re supposed to cheer him) nothing really threatened HHH. Nothing. He was a man who would always rise to the top and, even if he wasn’t champion, both he and Evolution would close out every Raw with a 20 minute promo. This was a villain who would not let go. With JBL I wanted someone to beat him but I secretly wanted to cheer him. Triple H? I wanted someone to hurt him. Someone to, well, Batista Bomb him on some steel steps.
It’s the typical tag team story. The friend who turns. The way the turn was made for Batista was excellent though. Here was the sub-villain who was almost forced into the role because of his association with Triple H. He was part of the turn on Randy Orton. He was the Animal. He was...the weak link that Triple H wanted to control. Batista’s turn from villain to hero came not from a desire for the championship (well, a primary desire at least) but from a desire to right the wrongs he’d committed and to punish the man who’d made him a villain. It was a slow burn and it was what I wanted to see. I hated what Triple H and Evolution had done but I loved it when Batista threw down the Smackdown contract and Batista-bombed Triple H through the table before signing the Raw one. I cheered. I might even have sworn. The man I hated was on borrowed time. The man who’d monopolised the product was going to be destroyed by his own creation. Victor and the Monster would face each other at last.
This is the difference in these two villains who I hate. JBL – I loved to hate him. The arrogance. The smile. The extravagance. Triple H? I hated him. I loathed him. He was just as cocky. He was just as arrogant but his story, since returning from injury, had seen him as the hero. JBL was never a hero. It was the greed of both who had made them villains. Both men were hated and when they met backstage at PPV’s it was hard to know what to do but, well, cheer.
Ironically, when Batista held those two contracts after winning the Royal Rumble, he had to decide who to face. JBL or Triple H. It was a simple decision. He hated Triple H more.
“Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate — and quickly.” (Robert A. Heinlein)
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth (it’s definitely still a bit lonely out there) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.