By Ryan K Boman, Editor in Chief
“Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity. Without creativity, there is no life.”
— Benjamin Spock
In this era of political discourse, we hear a lot about our freedoms as Americans. Whether its hot-button issues like the right to bear arms, abortion, or civil disobedience, it’s a term that gets thrown around a lot today… from people on all sides of the political spectrum.
One place where freedom has never been in abundance – however – is Stamford, Connecticut, home of World Wrestling Entertainment. The McMahon Family has had a stranglehold on the sports entertainment industry for nearly 20 years, and in that time, have locked their performers down in a number of ways.
Other than the outlandish labor situation they’ve monopolized, the biggest straight jacket that WWE has applied has involved their on-air product. And more specifically, the careers of their wholly-owned properties (i.e. the ‘characters’)
Since becoming a publicly-traded company, the promotion has kept a close eye on anything that they feel could hurt their carefully cultivated image, or stray too far from their core vision.
One of the more frustrating side effects of this has been the stifling of individual creativity. With few, viable outside options, a large portion of the roster have spent their entire careers being spoon fed every motion and every line in front of the camera. Unable or unwilling to speak up, many a wrestler has seen opportunities go by the wayside due to bad booking and even worse foresight on management’s part.
Obsessively concerned with having total control over everything, WWE’s leadership has been an albatross to their own television product.
The repetition of this process – while once highly successful – became stale, and ratings have steadily fallen as a result. Complaints that WWE was basically killing off its own have been heard in abundance, all the way from the people in the locker room, to former members of the writing staff and (of course) online observers and fans.
That all changed recently, however, when Bray Wyatt introduced the Firefly Fun House and its menagerie of characters.
Posing as a dark, children’s show host, Wyatt unleashed a mind-blowing array of visual and audio effects that were totally different from the rest of the show. He was like a pumped-up, Pee Wee Herman on LSD, and he left many fans scratching their heads at what they had just seen.
It was bizarre, it looked totally out of place. But, what stuck out most of all – it was different.
As the weeks went by, Wyatt continued to mesmerize the audience with his newfound turn… eventually leading up to what has become WWE’s most talked-about character in recent memory, The Fiend.
This mix of cornball and macabre, all under the umbrella of Wyatt’s genius, is a refreshing breath of fresh air for not only him, but WWE as well. According to all reports, it was Bray himself who came up with the entire concept, and has largely been left to his own devices in developing the aspects of the angle. In an era where very few (if any) young wrestlers in the company are given creative power whatsoever, Bray is quickly proving that the performers know their onscreen personas better than the writers or producers do.
And even people who were initially critical of the segment (including me) had to admit one thing: It was so original and unusual, that you couldn’t look away. Wyatt kept the audience guessing on what he would do next. And after years of spoilers and setbacks to the company’s storylines, that element of surprise is sorely missing in WWE today.
So is that rare level of creativity, and it’s something we likely wouldn’t have seen if WWE hadn’t allowed him the freedom to pursue the character.
Perhaps this will lead to a new way of thinking in WWE. Maybe they will see Wyatt’s performance, and stop trying to micro-manage their performers. Maybe they will let their wrestlers blossom like Bray, instead of overbooking them in to oblivion like they once did with Roman Reigns.
We can only hope that in the future, we look back at the crowd’s reaction to The Fiend as not groundbreaking for Bray Wyatt, but as a turning point in the WWE process: An era where they finally realize they should take off the artistic chains, and give their stars the freedom to control their own creative destinies.
Hopefully, Wyatt’s success will allow some of his fellow employees to knock on Mr. McMahon’s door and make suggestions of their own.
And if the do happen to knock? Do yourself a favor, Vince…
LET THEM IN.