On a night where Daniel Bryan furthered his bid for Money in the Bank and finally clinched a clean win over his 18-second PTSD nightmare Sheamus, on a night where Mark Henry reminded us “World’s Strongest Man” also means “WWE’s Least Likely to Give A Sh*t,” and on a night where we were treated to quality matches in front of a lively crowd who knew how to appreciate them, one segment stood out among the rest, had us watching with bated breath as we knew weeks of intrigue would finally culminate in a classic moment, had our skin tingling with goosebumps as the lights shut off and a single lantern pierced the veil.
This night was July 8, 2013, Monday Night Raw. This night was the debut of Bray Wyatt.
Follow the buzzards.
Last month, Heather Hickey wrote a great Bray Wyatt feature that’s still worth the read today. In that article, Heather did an exemplary job detailing Windham Rotunda’s metamorphosis from the “Tank with a Ferrari Engine” Husky Harris, to the chilling Southern cult leader Bray Wyatt. She also made a point to explain that, as Bray himself might put it, time is on his side. Watching Raw this week, from the epistolary vignettes throughout the show to when he finally walked down the aisle with a lamp in hand, I realized something else about the timeliness of Bray Wyatt’s debut: he’s a character among people.
In a company rife with generic names and generic gimmicks, wrestlers with interchangeable identities whose in-ring work bares no trademark of their personas, it’s refreshing and provocative for WWE to trumpet the emergence of someone like Bray Wyatt. It’s not only a name, but a fully realized character. Everything from his appearance to his accent to his mannerisms to his in-ring style represent Bray Wyatt and what Bray Wyatt is meant to affect in his audience. He’s there to unsettle and disturb, something he accomplishes through every movement and syllable. Nothing about Bray Wyatt is interchangeable with Generic Wrestler A. He’s a character. A fully realized character.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think every wrestler needs extensive theatrics to be a character. Sometimes it really is those more down-to-earth characters who we relate to best, as we’ve seen both in current-generation WWE Superstars like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, as well as legends such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. However, when I speak to friends who were fans of professional wrestling during the Attitude Era and who have since written off the medium as dull and mindless, what they nostalgically yearn for most is those memorable wrestlers who acted their character in every detail. Punk, Bryan and Austin do this in subtler ways and of course, not every wrestling character can be as elaborate as Bray Wyatt. But when you take someone like Alex Riley, who besides badass entrance music could have been traded with one of a myriad other wrestlers and still wrestled the same style, talked the same way and worked the same rudimentary “disgruntled employee turns on his boss” angle with The Miz, you lose something not just with that particular individual, but in WWE programming as a whole.
There are a lot of products WWE sells, but perhaps the foremost ones are the characters. When a wrestler falls short of so many basic criterion, when he doesn’t have the depth and versatility to treat himself as a puzzle where every piece must fit into place, you’re investing in someone the audience won’t connect with, won’t be captivated by.
Bray Wyatt is that perfect puzzle. Each piece is painstakingly painted to detail an image that is uniquely Bray Wyatt. You can’t substitute anything and achieve the same effect. Other wrestlers have their pros and cons, and to be fair, Bray Wyatt hasn’t proven how he can perform in a program on the main roster. However, it does seem to be in the cards – judging by his work on NXT and the treatment his debut received – that Wyatt is slated for a significant program on the most visible wrestling platform in the world. Hopefully this character, a character among people, will be a constant reminder to the WWE that there’s so much more to look for in prospective Superstars than good looks, good builds and the ability to speak loudly on the mic. They need to communicate something to the audience. They need to be a complete story unto themselves, a universe in microcosm that’s then woven into the macrocosmic WWE Universe. They need to be characters.
Since I’ve already spent a lot of exposition on Bray Wyatt’s character and how it fits into WWE’s typical character-developing methodolodgy, I’ll cover a couple more positives of his Monday night debut in miscellanea:
The Journalist: I’ve always been a big fan of epistolary narratives in just about any medium. I love following sub-plots in Skyrim by picking up journals of other adventurers whose travels had gone dangerously awry. Blair Witch Project is one of my horror movies, perhaps because there’s something so haunting about a horror story that is neatly tied to real world circumstances, that seems so possible were it not for the obvious contradiction of the medium in which it’s presented. That’s probably why I’m a big fan of creepypasta and “The Yellow Wallpaper” too.
On Raw, WWE took an interesting approach to hyping Bray Wyatt’s imminent arrival. A journalist was sent to the backwoods of Snake Bight, Florida to track down Bray Wyatt in his rustic and rundown home that screams “Southern hospitality” about as well as the groan of a gator says, “Come look down my mouth, there’s treasure.” What followed was a flourish of local color that helped to render Bray Wyatt as a true-to-life Southern cult leader. To see the genuine flora of the muggy South and the black-toothed denizens of the bayou gave a visual origin to Bray Wyatt’s character. And when the journalist arrived at The Wyatt Family’s home, saw its disciples going about their rituals, recorded his descent into the house’s fiendish foyer, it gave the cult autonomy. It’s one thing for WWE to tell us how twisted these people are, but to actually see it beyond the four corners of a ring helps us believe their group exists outside the machinations of the WWE. The Wyatt Family is a living, breathing culture rooted in the real world, amidst the cypresses and the swamps, that stands on ceremony from the comfort of their bunker whether the WWE Universe witnesses it or not. The question is, when Erick Rowan’s axe falls in the forest and the WWE isn’t around to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer – yes.
The Disciples: For those who didn’t already know or haven’t read the talented Lonestar’s Tuesday Headlines yet, Luke Harper is far from a greenhorn in the ring. He previously wrestled as Brodie Lee on the independent scene. Although I’ve never watched much indie wrestling, I did see some of his work on ROH when they still aired on HDNet. Suffice it to say, I was thoroughly impressed with the rough-and-tumble brawling style of Brodie Lee. Erick Rowan, on the other hand, I had until just now checking out his Wikipedia page believed to have been one of the members of The Highlanders. While he’s never donned a kilt (at least not in a pro wrestling ring), he did apparently wrestle for Pro Wrestling Noah, which might say something about his talent.
But past experience aside, if you’ve followed them on NXT you’d know these two have embraced their roles as the Sons of the Wyatt Family with the utmost enthusiasm. Not only did they both use mannerisms and wrestling styles befitting the stable’s gimmick, but each Son had a unique personality. Erick Rowan seemed the more introverted one, almost mentally subjugated. Luke Harper, who is, after all, the first Son, was the more domineering of the two. It’s in the air whether we’ll see this dynamic resume on the main roster, but we can rest assured that these are two men who are competent in the ring and talented enough actors to both express a general gimmick and adopt it into something unique to each of them, fleshing out another layer of story within their ranks.
Suffice it to say, Bray Wyatt’s got some sturdy shoulders to lean on.
This section will be shorter because I thought the debut was all-around great. What I found bad wasn’t necessarily in the debut itself, but in how some of my usual wrestling buddies received it. A few of my friends made the point that although the theatrics were spectacular, it’s no longer newsworthy to beat up Kane. While I can’t disagree, he’s still a legend in the company who could put on a headlining program with The Wyatt Family, with or without The Undertaker. (Though I’d certainly prefer with.) My friends also said that no matter how good a program with Kane could be, they wanted something, well … bigger. While it’s everyone’s dream that their favorite superstar debuts in the main event scene, WWE reportedly has plans in place for the WWE Championship scene already, whereas other prominent names like Randy Orton, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are busy with their own storylines. I wouldn’t even point to The Shield as a good counterpart for their first program, considering that they’re both heel groups and that The Shield is itself still in development, and thus it would be counterproductive to put them against a debuting group, invariably taking some of the focus off The Shield’s progression.
I wouldn’t be so bold as to say we should give our unquestioning trust to WWE’s creative team. They’ve done some out-there things in the past. However, considering how much production value they’ve put into hyping their debut and the reception The Wyatt Family received on Raw, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. For now, I’m content to sit back with a Peach Fresca and see how the story unfolds. Probably the most cynical I’ve recently been about a Superstar’s chances was with Daniel Bryan. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Oh, and a lot of fans on the Internet didn’t take kindly to the live audience’s “Husky Harris!” chant. I thought the chant was meant to be positive or at least a nudge and a knowing wink, but I can see how it might dispel the mystique of Bray Wyatt’s debut for those who wanted to be immersed in it. Hopefully it doesn’t become a trend, though I don’t see why it would. People chant “Goldberg!” at Ryback because they don’t like him. Wyatt seems clear of the smart fans’ hatred, so I doubt the chants persist long-term.
The easy thing would be to make jokes about The Wyatt Family’s looks, but I’m going to take the high road. Besides, I kind of think Luke Harper looks like a quirky-fun (though slightly out-there) uncle, whereas Wyatt seemed like a pretty trendy dude when he was still Husky Harris. Instead, let’s revisit that moment that didn’t have any legitimately ugly results, but certainly had me thinking for a moment, “Oh my god, that could have gone so wrong, please don’t smash in Glenn Jacobs’ handsome mug.”
Rowan and Harper are big strong men, so I’m sure they had enough control to do the spot safely. Still, big heavy metal steps thrust by big strong men can be face-smashingly deadly. Don’t try it at home, kids.
That’ll do it for this week. Thanks a bunch for reading. As always, I appreciate any and all criticism. Until next week, feel free to follow me on Twitter (I’m actually starting to use it now, huzzah) or shoot me a friendly email.