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Did Bray Wyatt kick your dog?

Or, trying to figure out why all things Wyatt get a strong reaction by examining some of the most frequent criticisms of the Uncle Howdy angle.

I know it’s not the case, and it’s a good reminder that the people who are vocal about pro wrestling online are only a fraction of the overall — and especially WWE’s — audience. But it feels these days like I’m the only person at Cageside Seats dot com who doesn’t hate Bray Wyatt.

His delivery of supernaturally-tinged psychological horror in a pro wrestling package obviously isn’t for everyone. Hell, I appreciate what the man does and about half of it doesn’t work for me.

There’s several plausible explanations for why Wyatt is such a hot take magnet, among them that some just don’t like what he’s doing or think he’s good at doing it — and that’s cool! But I am curious why, when it comes to Bray, some don’t seem to be able to say, “that’s not my cup of tea” and keep it moving to the things that make up the other 90-95% of WWE’s weekly main roster television time.

A few arguments repeatedly come up. Each of them brings a thought or two into the old duder’s head, and since this is a wrestling blog, I figured I’d think out loud about them as I try to figure out why this man generates such strong negative reactions — and if they’re even a bad thing.

“This $#!+ is so hokey/goofy/dumb”

An easy response here is to point to past angles like the Dungeon of Doom or The Ministry as a reminder that wrestling’s long incorporated elements even proponents of those elements admit are campy and/or schlocky. For some, they’re an essential part of the variety show that is pro wrestling.

A subset of those folks believe Bray is elevating that type of material by incorporating real issues like trauma instead of having lackeys who stir boiling cauldrons behind him while he cuts promos. Others agree with critics that it’s dumb, but revel in the chance to MST3K segments like Wyatt’s.

WWE and Bray do seem to have learned from past mistakes in presenting his newest brainchild. Wyatt himself has been isolated in a prominent-but-midcard story on SmackDown, and both LA Knight & Alexa Bliss have played it straight in their reactions to all things Bray. They’re small steps, but essential ones when telling a fantastical story in a more “real world” setting.

None of which helps if you just really aren’t into this flavor of pro wrestling ice cream. But useful to keep in mind when encountering fans who think Wyatt or any angle of this type is ruining a show or pro wrestling at large.

“All this program’s done is tell me LA Knight is a star/prove Alexa Bliss is a good actress”

The confusing thing about this one is how it’s often presented as a knock on Wyatt. Seems to me like shining a spotlight on his scene partners is kinda the point?

We know the Wyatt/Bliss collaboration is a considered one, and I imagine all involved knew Knight had the mic skills & charisma to not be eclipsed by the larger Uncle Howdy story. Even if you think they’re being “wasted” right now, it’s good that more people are seeing that Alexa’s got the chops for Hollywood and that LA’s blend of Ric Flair & Stone Cold Steve Austin is great stuff. Right?

“How is Bray the face in this?”

Maybe he’s not? I’m not generally a member of Team “Let it play out”, especially when we’ve been burned before by something similar — like a program that features Bray, a seemingly possessed Alexa, and a possible alter-ego of Wyatt’s. But from the jump this program’s made it clear we shouldn’t just take baby Bray at face value. Even the traditional good guy promos he’s delivered can be reinterpreted based on who you think he’s delivering them to.

My guess is we’re heading into serious “shades of gray” territory with everyone involved here. That’s usually not my thing (partly because I like that pro wrestling is a modern day morality play, and partly because I think it’s really hard to pull off a story with a bunch of tweener types). But I’m intrigued here. I want to see where Wyatt, Knight & Bliss end up, and I don’t want to dismiss part of how we get there just because a dirt sheet says Bray’s listed internally as a good guy.

“This story is moving too slow” (“at a snail’s pace” seems to be the favorite idiom of those issuing this complaint)

Hard to tackle this one without going full “get off my lawn” about attention spans these days, so I’ll spare you the rants about how in my youth we went months without seeing big stars do anything other than beat jobbers and talk to Mean Gene.

If I may present a counter-argument though... the way things have progressed since Extreme Rules hasn’t given us a lot of answers, but it has given Bliss and especially Knight more time to shine. So whether it’s a goal of this program or just a personal silver-lining to an otherwise dreadful experience, giving the former Eli Drake more opportunities to sell himself to the dummies (yeah) who didn’t watch Impact to experience his greatness? Seems like a win.

Also, to the — again, completely cool — extent that we watch pro wrestling so we have something to talk/argue about with our fellow fans? The Uncle Howdy business is giving us that every week, and some seem to really like telling us how much they think it sucks.

Did this little exercise help me arrive at any answers?

Is the strong reaction to Wyatt a testament to his star power? As with Roman Reigns and Sasha Banks, it’s hard to argue that it’s not. In an era when #engagement is key, employers like it when everyone has an opinion about you.

Perhaps it’s because during Windham Rotunda’s year away from WWE, there was a fair amount of discussion about whether issues with his past programs were due to his flawed vision or the company’s inability/unwillingness to execute it. As with most things in the pro wrestling space the last couple years, this one is inflamed by tribalism, leaving Bray caught in between those who will condemn or defend WWE’s every move.

Or maybe Bray is just a prominent focal point for the debate about what pro wrestling should or shouldn’t be? He’s a topic we can move on to when we get tired of arguing about choreographed matches from The Young Bucks or Will Ospreay.

Any/all of those possible explanations can also be mixed up with various levels of “I just don’t like this.” Which, just to reiterate again because I want to be crystal clear I’m not saying people don’t have a right to their reactions and reasons for them, is totally fair.

So no. I don’t feel any closer to an explanation for the booming Bray Wyatt take economy. I guess thinking about it just helps me pass the time in a world full of real life horrors. Hopefully, whatever your feelings are about the performer, character, and stories, sharing them helps you do the same.

Man, I sound like a cryptic Bray Wyatt promo. No wonder I like the guy.

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