Should Wrestling Fans Play Along?

I was going to do my first few posts reviewing wrestling websites and memberships (I am a member of wrestlingobserver.com, pwtorch and Prowrestling.net), but something is bothering me about some wrestling journalists and fans. That is this idea that fans at the arena have an obligation to “play along” with the storylines and/or characters. I heard Wade Keller say multiple times that the new smart fan is one that plays along, which means cheering the babyfaces and especially booing the heels even if you like them. I read Zack Zimmerman’s NXT report one week in which he for all intents and purposes called the fans that were cheering Kevin Owens idiots for not giving Owens the heel heat that he wanted. Moreover, I read all of the time people who hate the “this is awesome fans.” Before going any further-I should make a few things clear.

  1. I think that crowd reaction is very important, but it can be overrated to a degree. I enjoy fans going crazy as much as anyone else. Crowd reaction is a key to making things better or worse than they really are, but the key is drawing interest. For instance, it would be silly to say that John Cena isn’t doing his job because he gets booed by a certain percentage of the fans when Cena has drawn so much money.
  2. I wish that the promotions would create storylines and characters that would get live crowds invested more than “this is awesome” suggests that they are. At the same time, if “this is awesome” the best we can do as a result of the inconsistency of the writing and booking of the promotions in the last decade and a half-then I will take “this is awesome” and I certainly don’t blame the fans. If someone is upset that a promotion can’t get people engaged in who wins and loses-then that’s on the promotion.
  3. There are five levels of reaction that wrestlers can get. I will use Kevin Owens an example.
  1. “Hey, Kevin Owens. I don’t like him. He is a liar and a psychopath that uses his family to do bad things. He also turned on his friend Sami Zayn, I like Sami. Boo this man.
  2. “Hey, Kevin Owens. I like him. I know his history in other promotions and I respect what he has done. I know he is playing a bad guy, but I appreciate him-so I am going to cheer him. Or, I know he is playing a role, but I actually like that role. I like Owens because I like bad guys. Or, I like Owens because he is a bad a$$. Cheer this man.
  3. “Hey, Kevin Owens. I like him, but I know he is trying to get booed so…boo this man.”
  4. “Hey, Kevin Owens. I like him, but more importantly than that-most of these people are cheering John Cena (or Sami Zayn or Finn Balor). I am going to cheer Owens just to be different.”
  5. “Hey, Kevin Owens. Who cares?”

There are those that believe 1 and 3 are the best reactions for a heel. I think that 1 and 2 are the best reactions that a heel can get because they come from investment in the character and/or storyline and not from thinking too hard about giving a reaction. It is “I see, I react” and that to me is the best reaction. There are those that believe 3 is better than 4. The only difference between 3 and 4 is that no one can poll the crowd and ask why they are booing the heel so the heel can assume that he is doing a great job getting heat-when all the crowd is doing is playing along.

I want to make it known that I am not saying that 3 and 4 are “bad reactions”, the entire point of this post is that the fans can do whatever they want (when it comes to cheering and booing), but ultimately someone in a prominent position has a job that goes beyond getting booed. Kevin Owens secondary job is to get booed. His main job is to draw interest and even though today’s wrestling is more about the brand than any one wrestler-an effective main event wrestler can still move numbers positively. 1 and 2 is a better indicator of future business than 3 and 4. If fans played along we may not have Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, The Rock and many more wrestlers that were getting cheered as heels.

The heel should try to get booed, but there is also something to be said for getting booed for what he or she did last week, last month and for the last six months. I wrote on Twitter once that the best heel reactions are the ones that don’t have to be worked for during the show. In other words, it is a reaction that is based on the heel character drawing a visceral, organic and emotional response. I certainly disagree with any idea that fans should react a certain way. Wrestling should be a fun distraction, but sports are a fun distraction that can also elicit an emotional response. The best responses are the ones that come without thinking about playing a role-whether that role is trying to be different from the rank and file fans or playing along.

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