It was all plumage. It always is, among men. Birds mate based on whose feathers are the brightest, the most visible and envious to onlookers, so they can't be missed. Humans desire for many of the same reasons. It's always about visibility, about making a statement, about making your place in the hierarchy. Lust is plumage. Hell, life is plumage. And as I said, Rick Rude was all plumage.
That's unfair; Rick Rude was 75% plumage. The rest was a truly gifted technical wrestler, a side of Rude that often goes slighted when describing his legacy; had Rude been worse at playing the villain, fans would have come around to supporting him the way they inevitably came around to Daniel Bryan. But oh, that plumage.
It was maddening, the way Rude would preen as he strutted down to the ring, belittling the fans who were, according to him, fat slobs, beneath him and unworthy to be in the presence of an Adonis. Next would be the "Rude Awakening", not the underrated finisher, but his routine practice of bringing in a "random" fan, kissing her, making her swoon to the floor. Then more gyrating, before the match, during the match, after the match...always gyrating.
This was the peacock's march, and it was bright and beautiful, and people hated it more and more with each parade. Rude created a frenzy in the audience. Watch him start to tear into a crowd at Superbrawl, and you can hardly hear him as they start to tear right back into him. Rude's ability to connect antagonistically with women was great, but it was to be expected given the makeup of the character. And anyway, women appeared to react to Rude with a sort of eye-roll; Rude was a well coifed and even more well oiled version of a bastard that they saw in society on a regular basis; he was villain to them in a way that they was unfortunately repeated elsewhere.
However, the way men responded to Rude was the truly wondrous part of Rude's work as a heel. Rude could have hit a comfortable place as a heel for men in any number of ways. Had he been nothing more than a misogynist, the response would have been tamer; only the unfortunate troglodyte wrestling fan doesn't understand that men being cruel to women is a bad thing, and seeing it played out here would have been a lesser version of what Randy Savage perfected in his relationship with Miss Elizabeth. Had Rude been simply another ego-driven showboat, we might not even remember him at all, as this particular trope has become the heel-du-jour in an era when more risque gimmicks are not allowed. As for Rude as simply obsessed with his looks, well, the diminishing returns on Fandango ought to be evidence that at some point fans move from hating such a heel to simply not caring, as if we see in reality the sort of shallowness of dramatic character they are trying so hard to portray as a deeper moral character trait.
No, to draw the sort of frenzied anger, to hit the notes of disgust and revulsion that Rude hit with men despite (and indeed because of) all of his charisma, Rude needed to connect with our emotions at a cross section of all three of these particular flaws, offending us at a deeper, more raw nerve: Male insecurity. Rude was more than a self-aggrandizing bastard; he was a twisted version of everything that the average man was not. With his power, charm, and, yes, undeniably handsome features, Rude became a swaggering threat to our own masculine worth. Rude was our high school bully made good, our ex's new lover that we envied and found disgusting all at the same time; he was a man whose manliness was never in question but whose fiber as a person was.
He was undeniably less than us in important, character-foundational ways, but undeniably more in so many easily visible others, and while we never (at least hopefully) actually wanted to become Rick Rude, we wanted many of the same ends (respect, women, success), and we certainly feared his implicit threat to where we stood in relation to those things as men. He was him, we were not him, and at least a part of that statement called us to clutch what we had just a bit tighter.
Rude's work against Jake "The Snake" Roberts embodied his work against us all. Swaggering to the ring for his usual "Rude Awakening" of a local lady, Rude attempted to woo Sheryl Roberts, wife of Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and found himself on the receiving end of a slap that would sound as a starter pistol to the feud between the two men. The two would go on to clash as equal but opposite ideals of manhood, with Rude as the dashing villain we discussed above, and Roberts playing our part as quiet defenders of our domain and our families. Rude was, for lack of a better word, brilliantly disgusting.
From the way he took offense at the very idea that Sheryl would choose Jake over him, to the feud highlight of wearing Sheryl's face on a particularly crass region of his long tights, Rude was literally thrusting his piggish claims to male dominance in our faces. Roberts was made a better face for having this sort of perverted neon image of manhood to battle, but it was Rude's work that elevated the feud into the stuff of legend. The story was one that we all knew, one that we all feared somewhere in our lives, and Rude hit every note or passion, repulsiveness, and anger that he was asked to play.
Rick Rude was a beautiful monster, but he was also more than that. He was the thing that we wondered in the dark places of our hearts if maybe, just maybe, we were supposed to become as men. And we knew it was wrong, of course, but there he was, soaking in the riches and achievement and, most importantly, the women that were supposed to be the rewards for "real men". We wanted to be Jake "The Snake" Roberts, of course, defending our domains with dignity and realizing the intrinsic worth of being honorable, but I think we wondered what it must be like to be Rick Rude, to have all of the ugliest parts of our manhood unchained and unrestrained, and while we were disgusted by what that looked like in him, I think we probably were more disgusted in not being more repulsed, at our undeniable fascination with him as a character.
In his stunning disregard for the more nuanced ideals of masculinity, Rick Rude managed to play on our most nuanced questions of our own value as men, and faced with those questions, we could either wrestle with the difficult debate between our dark desires and our ideals, or we could boo that gyrating sonofabitch out of the building because, as every single ex-boyfriend has said about every new boyfriend, screw that guy. We chose the easier path.