Monday, April 23, 2012

The Decline of the Authority Figure

As wrestling fans, it is our due diligence to always complain about wanting to go back to the Attitude Era. It was a great time to be fan. Wrestling was the most popular it had been since the 1980s. Wrestling was also considered cool at that point in time. You weren't made fun of for being a wrestling fan. Today people look at you with blank stares when you say you're a wrestling fan. During the Attitude Era, you could almost say it was uncool to NOT be a wrestling fan. Wresting was very racy, raunchy, violent and full of foul language. How could you not love Stone Cold flipping off his boss and drinking beer, and The Rock coming up with a new catch phrase to insult someone every week. It was definitely a fun time.

But that was 1999. It is now 2012. Wrestling isn't as main stream. I highly doubt we will ever go back to the Attitude Era of wrestling. That time frame had a lot of successful things happen during it. The most successful in many people's eyes was the Steve Austin/Vince McMahon feud. The two were practically made for each other and played great opposite of each other. It showed that if booked properly, a heel GM vs anti-authority figure storyline can work. The Austin/McMahon program launched the Attitude Era and made Austin the most liked face and McMahon the most hated villain in the company. It also made the WWE a ton of money.

The problem with starting off with something as successful as Austin/McMahon is that in the years to come, you will try to copy off the success of it. And as the WWE has proven, that has not worked. Austin/McMahon was great because it fit the mold of the Attitude Era. Both characters were tailor made for it. Austin was the beer swilling, ass kicking, take no shit from anyone anti authority figure. Fans got behind him because Austin was doing what they dreamed of: telling off his boss in the most creative ways possible. Vince McMahon was the corporate snob who used his power to get his way whenever he wanted. All of those elements combined plus the Attitude Era made it a great time to be a wrestling fan.

All of the success of the Austin/McMahon program is what has made all other Authority/Anti-Authority figure storylines fail. Steve Austin is the greatest anti-authority figure ever, while Vince McMahon might be the best authority figure ever. Anything the WWE has tried to done since then has seemed second rate. The best example of all of this might be the Eric Bischoff/John Cena storyline. You could tell throughout the entire angle that they were trying to re-hash Austin/McMahon. But guess what? It didn't work. That is not a knock against either performer. Eric Bischoff was very good in his role as RAW GM. He's probably the best authority figure the WWE has had since McMahon. But he wasn't an all powerful GM like Vince McMahon was. McMahon was the Owner of the WWE whereas Bischoff still had Vince lurking behind him, and he had rival GM Paul Heyman on Smackdown. And there's also the problem of John Cena being no Steve Austin. Part of me thinks the only reason the WWE did a Bischoff/Cena program was to try and get people to cheer John Cena. This was all done at the beginning of the Cena being booed era. You can't have an anti-authority figure who the fans aren't 100% of the time.

We've gone through a handful of GMs since then. We've had GM William Regal. There was a laptop running RAW at one point. Teddy Long had been in charge of Smackdown for years. I guess now that he couldn't make one-on-one matches with THE UNDERTAKAH, he decided it was time to step down. Now we have the great John Laurinaitis leading both shows. Now I like John Laurinaitis. But his character isn't a serious authority figure. He has the power, but he's more of a joke than a serious leader. But it appears we are staring at the long road to another GM/Wrestler storyline. This time it looks like John Laurinaitis vs John Cena. My question is: WHY??? You have already tried doing this before with John Cena and it didn't work. And John Laurinaitis is a much worse GM than Eric Bischoff. Cena might be hated more now than he was when he took on Eric Bischoff.

The WWE needs to realize that they will never top the Austin/McMahon storyline in terms of authority/anti-authority figure, and they need to stop trying to do so. The quicker they realize that, the less time we have to suffer through watching it on TV. It gets boring quick and it just copies off of all the other failed storyline attempts. Authority figures have become so useless nowadays that you have to wonder if it is even worth keeping them on TV anymore. Remember when we didn't worry about people making matches, and it was just decided that two wrestlers would fight each other. We didn't have to worry about if someone with power had an agenda or not. Wrestling nowadays, however, is almost geared to needing an authority figure. We've become so accustomed to it that not having one would take quite awhile to get used to.

But think about it for a second. How much better would wrestling be if we didn't have to worry about a heel GM coming out and interrupting each segment and making the babyface "overcome the odds." Or watching the GM put a face through a serious of opponents in order to get a match that he wants. It just gets tiring seeing the same things happen over and over again. Or do we really want to go through another horrible GM vs GM storyline? An off-screen authority figure might be the best thing for wrestling. Have a "Board of Directors" type group. You don't even have need to have them as an important part of the storyline. Its simple math: Wrestler A challenges Wrestler B. Wrestler B accepts. Then the announcers make a passing comment about how the Board of Directors has approved the match between Wrestler A and Wrestler B for that RAW or Smackdown, or a PPV. It takes us away from GM's having hidden agendas or not wanting Wrestler X to win.

Unless something is done quickly, most viewers will probably start to get sick of John Laurinaitis, if they aren't already. The authority figure in pro wrestling has become a recyclable, re-used storyline that never changes and gets worse with age. Despite the WWE's attempts, nothing will ever compare to Austin/McMahon. So they need to stop trying and realize that changes need to be made. The WWE's product has gotten old and stale at times, and even though we may not recognize it, the recurring heel GM is just as big a part of it. If we want more focus on the wrestlers, then maybe its time to take away the authority figure and let wrestlers settle things by themselves, and not at the orders of a GM.

Until Next Time,
Justin C
Follow Me On Twitter @JCWonka

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