Top-Down Smackdown: Doubling Down on the Duckish Dudes

By Luke Y. Thompson in TV
Monday, January 6, 2014 at 4:30 pm

This is the first installment of what may be a regular wrestling column.

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WWE

WWE likes to pride itself on being hip and aware of what's going on in pop culture at large, a claim that perhaps could have been better made back when they were getting then-current bands like Disturbed to do their theme tunes, or having Jenny McCarthy be at WrestleMania before she became either Chris Hardwick's MTV cohost or an annoying shill for bad fake medicine. Their latest attempt to appropriate what they see as a trend is the Wyatt family, a trio of bearded rednecks clearly inspired by the Duck Dynasty guys.

Now, I don't watch much Duck Dynasty, in large part because I like my fake characters to be acknowledged as fake characters (I'm far more partial to Redneck Island; it's hosted by Steve Austin, after all). And I'm thinking Vince McMahon doesn't either, because thus far he seems to have no idea quite what to do with these characters. Mostly, he has thus far been recycling an old gimmick - that of Waylon Mercy, a character halfway between Forrest Gump and Max Cady designed for Dan Spivey to play. Spivey's recurrent injuries kept that character from going anywhere, but now it's back in the form of Bray Wyatt, a third-generation wrestler who lacks the requisite sculpted physique to land a gimmick centered on his heritage. But fat guys are passable if you make them country hicks.



I'm fond of the Bray Wyatt character, possibly because my own personal style is a mix of Southern and gothic. But like WWE's version of Lost, season 2, there's too much mystery about him and it only confuses things. Why does he slowly and painstakingly light an oil lantern before every entrance, only to immediately blow it out, then walk out to the ring with an electric facsimile? Aside from the fact that Vince probably saw a poster for the movie You're Next one time, what's with the sheep mask? Most importantly - whose side are they on? A feud with the Shield was recently teased, then dropped. They kidnapped Kane, who showed up later as a corporate scumbag, as if brainwashed (this makeover is likely to stoke notions that Kane will soon be running for political office in real life; a vocal Libertarian, he has made speeches and penned op-eds that suggest he might). The Wyatts then targeted the heroic Daniel Bryan, who opposed the corporate forces his ex-partner Kane was now aligned with (and also has a very Phil Robertson-esque beard).

And then last Monday, Raw ended with Bryan asking to join the Wyatt family, seemingly realizing he couldn't go it alone. Photos taken at house shows have depicted Bryan now wearing workman's coveralls, looking like part of the redneck clan, and certainly not corporately made over - the notion that he's making a deal with the devils only works if it positions him as a top contender, and unless the characters of Triple H and Stephanie dramatically change (which they won't, because they never, ever, ever have), they're not going to want that to happen.

The sinking feeling in my stomach says that Vince is going to try to cash in on the Duck Dynasty controversy, and hard. Here are the possible scenarios I see going:

1. Mock religious people in a way they'll accept. This is a similarly strategy as was applied to Brother Love in the '80s - sell a corrupt televangelist character to a crowd who would normally watch Christian TV shows, but just make sure you never actually mention God or religion (i.e. Brother Love's "Good Book" was clearly depicted as something called "The Book of Love" that he himself wrote). The Wyatt family, unlike the Robertsons, have thus far been portrayed as vaguely occultist - an angle in which they insist on their freedom of speech to worship this undefined mumbo jumbo seems entirely likely.

2. Ride the Ducks' popularity. Turn the Wyatt family into good guys with Bryan at the helm, make a ton of merchandise that looks very similar to Duck Dynasty stuff, and see if it sells, because hell, if it doesn't, you can always make them bad guys again.

3. Try to pay the actual Robertsons some huge amount of money to appear at WrestleMania and kick the Wyatts' asses. I imagine this to be the dream scenario, and the one Vince has the least control over. Still, seems like it'd be a win-win for the Robertsons, who'd get good ol' boy cred for being a part of 'rasslin'.

I imagine we'll find out more tonight. In other Raw thoughts: why is it that a T-shirt idea Paul Heyman apparently improvised off the top of his head is better than what Brock Lesnar was actually wearing? What exactly is "Bad News Barrett" supposed to be, character-wise (an impotent V for Vendetta)? And does anybody think "old-school" Raw will feature anyone other than the usual band of ex-wrestlers on the payroll (Duggan, DiBiase, IRS, Flair, et al.)?

Next week: I'm going to try and watch an episode of TNA for the first time in maybe a year.

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