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Textual Chocolate: The Third Man

The year is 1996. A wide-eyed, sparkly-teethed Samoan first emerges to an overproduced, oversynthesized piece of music that feels right at home in the mid-1980s instead of ten years later. The Samoan takes the first name of his father—the name that made him famous a generation before—and the family name of his grandfather, royalty in his homeland. This effectively charts his course for the pantheon of pro wrestling. But not long after this, the people will reject him, because they do not like being told who to revere. This goes on for two years. Eventually, Rocky Maivia steps out of the spotlight and returns as a new man. The people—nay, the People—embrace The Rock, and the rest is history.

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The year is 2006. The Champion is reigning strong, propelled to the top by riding a wave of popularity. He has dispatched the peers who have come hunting for what is around his waist in quick succession. He is now going up against a veteran, a reviled living legend who is expected to pass the torch. Tonight, however, the people hate the Champion and love the infamous legend. It is unexplainable. From this point on, he will further divide the people: some of them will remain loyal, but a lot of them will go on to hate him with a burning passion. John Cena is unwavering, however. He endures as a hero, even when relatively few want him to be.

* * * * *

Often, in my interactions with fellow wrestling fans on the Internet, I’ll see a person argue that someone is of a certain alignment because of how the crowd reacts to them. Some people would claim that someone who gets booed is automatically a heel, just because they’re getting booed. Their logic goes: since a heel’s job is to be the villain people hate, surely anyone the crowd hates is pretty much a heel. And if a face’s job is to be the guy people like, surely anyone who gets cheered is a face.

These would usually be the same people who call for John Cena to turn heel. Not everyone. Just some of them.

I still see this argument come up from time to time, especially when the topic of discussion is characters who blur the line between face and heel—not because they’re intentionally gray, but because they’re underdeveloped and senselessly shuffled from one alignment to another. It’s logic that comes around when there’s nothing left to say to defend a sudden yet problematic turn. It’s also logic that’s dangerous, because the more the audience accepts it, the more writers can get away with it.

The truth is both simple and complex at the same time. Moral alignments are not centered on audience reception, but—guess what!—a character’s personality and behavior. How he or she thinks and acts within the environment in which he or she lives. The world around him or her, despite popular opinion and perception, does not dictate whether a person is good or evil. They can only influence, but until a character is influenced enough to change his or her behavior, perception dictates nothing. Until someone like John Cena exhibits evil tendencies, he is not a heel.

(Ironically, Cena has exhibited evil behavior which the crowd has cheered for. Look up #ScumbagCena on Twitter. In the twist of all twists, Cena isn’t a hero, especially in the early stages of his feud against Rusev, just because American crowds cheer for him.)

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Pro wrestling, however, is a unique form of fiction. It’s fiction presented as non-fiction, but everyone knows that. The world around the wrestlers include not only their peers, but the audience, both live and virtual. The audience technically isn’t in on the show, so they’re the non-fiction part.

How do they fit, exactly, into this framework of what determines character? They’re free to act however they want, and their purchasing power is what sustains the art form. Shouldn’t they be above this? Shouldn’t they get the final, definitive say, because they pay the booker and his boys and girls?

What if I told you that the fans are part of the show? Unwitting characters in this drama? The unseen third man in every act?

It makes more sense when you think about it. A crowd that cheers the Rock when he goes into one of his juvenile tirades, dressing down an opponent does not make the Rock a face, or an anti-hero even—it makes the crowd heels for doing so. A crowd that cheers Sami Zayn when he perseveres and does the right thing is a face crowd. A crowd that hates Rusev simply for being Russian, that cheers Cena on when he imposes his physical will and turns back on his personal principles to uphold a twisted sense of patriotism are villains of a crowd.

A crowd that feels entitled to everything—now that’s a heel crowd.

The ironic kicker is that crowds are free to act and chant and express whatever and however they want, but just like their fellow characters to whom they are an audience, perception and opinion don’t make them right, good, or even evil; behavior does. Character always does.

* * * * *

The year is 2015. A trio of overlooked African-Americans band together, discovering that unity has always been a formula for success. They begin with an edge, but circumstances force them to rethink their strategy. They return, singing and dancing and preaching positivity. But the year is 2015, and audiences want something grittier and more realistic. Not to mention their positivity does not lie on a strong foundation.

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And one night in April, they finally share that their positivity masks a greater pain in their lives. They learn that the right way isn’t always the best way, and the negativity of the world is something you must fight back against. They are ironically turning into the people they never wanted to be in the process. And just like the Rock, the people are beginning to embrace, if not tolerate the New Day.

One could say that the hatred of the people pushed them toward that direction. But had they never taken that step at all, they would never be the villains you’d think they are now.


Romeo Moran is the Editor in Chief of Smark Henry and one of the three hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He gets by in this hard knock life through working in publishing. Smark Henry was his and Stan Sy's original vision of a watering hole for local wrestling fans. He roots for the undersized guys who hit hard, but really hates Davey Richards with his entire soul.


  1. What a good read. Fans are such dicks nowadays. They make or break a star and they even cracked into the monopolistic WWE decision making body. Runts as they are and perhaps we all are, we're the reason prowrestling is still alive [not to be self-entitled though], any public entity relies on that so it's not just this industry

    1. I think it's such a blessing and a curse. Wrestling is probably the most interactive form of live entertainment based on how audiences react or don't react to the storylines and personas being presented, which is great. Nothing beats a crowd of 80,000 chanting "YES!" in one voice.

      But can you imagine, say, Tyrion or Jaime all of a sudden pulling face turns in "Game of Thrones" just because fans start declaring their love for their characters?

      Writers, producers, and talents alike have to have a strong sense of commitment to their gimmick and their storylines regardless of how the crowd reacts. But then again, that presumes that characters and angles have been well plotted, to begin with.

      Thank you for reading!


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