Bray Wyatt Is the Standard Bearer for the WWE in the Trump EraPhoto by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Wrestling Features Bray Wyatt
“I have no followers, I have only brothers and sisters all in the name of cause. People are sheep, you understand me? They can’t lead themselves, they need to be lead. People buy and sell fear. They worship war—they crave war—and I’m not afraid of their wars. I created war. And I think it’s time for the masses to wake up. Wake up, wake up, WAKE UP! WAKE UP AND LOOK AT THIS LIE THEY’RE LIVING IN MAN! The world is deteriorating between their toes and they do nothing about it. They only stand there—they whisper and wonder—but they never do anything about it. And I’ve seen it all in my dreams and in my thoughts and above everything else I understand, this is not the beginning. It’s the end.”
The supernatural charisma bomb known as Bray Wyatt introduced himself to the WWE with this diatribe that serves as something of a thesis for not only his personality, but his popularity. To understand the mass appeal behind his character, his sign off to WWE’s developmental league—NXT—is instructive.
“There are several different types of men in this world. There are men who dream, and never make it off the couch. There are men who dream, and fail. And then, there are men who dream, and change the landscape of this world. People like Bray Wyatt. And what about you man? That’s what I wanna know. Aren’t you tired of feeling unwanted? Aren’t you tired of feeling like an outcast and being stepped upon? Well then today is your day. Because today is the day that Bray Wyatt decided that he was going to change everything. Today is the day that hell froze. Today is the day that pigs fly. Today me and my people looked at fear right in the eye and we said, ‘Mister Fear sir, you, are a liar.’ Today, I want you to go and I want you to tell all these so-called world leaders that they better heed my warning. Take notice to Bray Wyatt. Because today is the day that Bray Wyatt decided to bring down the machine.”
The literal machine that he speaks of is the WWE—whose corporate structure has stifled many wrestling careers that have been endorsed by their consumers, and it is this relationship which serves as a metaphor to the greater sin that he’s really speaking to. “So-called world leaders” is a direct appeal to our populist times. The last three presidential elections have been won by those rebuking the status quo. Barack Obama emerged out of nowhere to topple a 20-year senator from Arizona. Donald Trump left reality television to assume his first role in public office—defeating a woman who is synonymous with Washington D.C. The 2012 election may have cut short the time of our last “so-called world leader” had the Republican Party not nominated the walking embodiment of Wall Street, so the revolt of 2008 continued into another term. Since the Great Recession, voters have demonstrated time and time again that their most desirable trait in a candidate is one who challenges the status quo, and so emerged Bray Wyatt.
WWE’s resident supernatural beings have always inherently opposed our world through the sheer fact that they did not come from it. The Demon Kane wrought hell on Earth along with his brother The Undertaker, and Wyatt is borne out of that same mold. But what separates Wyatt from the traditional storyline of these non-humans is his humanity. Not only was he created by our world, but his power manifests from its sins. He speaks directly to our collective pain, as he has become an embodiment of man’s shared evil.
The pain he represents is pervasive. As we have watched the middle-class economy crumble, the rot inside some of our most hallowed institutions has been exposed. People are angry, and despite turning to things like sports, movies and TV as a momentary reprieve from the anguish, Wyatt reminds us that it never fully recedes, and it is constantly simmering beneath the surface. He is supposed to be a heel, and even though we live in an era where we root for bad guys across all forms of television and movies, he does not come off as a villain we cheer for in the same way that someone like Braun Strowman or Frank Underwood from House of Cards does.
Wyatt does not fit inside the traditional bad guy box—or really a normal one designed for any character—and that is from where he draws his strength. Challenging the WWE’s corporate model is the standard metaphorical line going back at least to the days of Stone Cold Steve Austin, but that battle is small potatoes for Wyatt. Vince McMahon and his ilk have always profited off their image as ruthless capitalists—he is guy who fires your father—but what Wyatt speaks to is so much more than this simplistic and eternal message in the WWE. Vince McMahon is but a minnow swimming in a larger pool of modern day illuminati. And Wyatt is the reaper here to deliver their comeuppance.
Professional wrestling is largely about feuds. About one person playing off another in a dance that takes place in and around the ring, but Wyatt’s feuds extend to those outside the arena. No matter what WWE superstar he finds himself opposing, they are but a secondary character to the larger battle he is waging for our hearts and minds. Like all cult leaders, Wyatt’s prescription for this reality is to follow him into the darkness, but where he differs from the traditional track is a lack of a light at the end of the tunnel. There is no happiness on Wyatt’s path, just a better understanding of the misery surrounding us all. In this sense, he is very much like Donald Trump. He speaks to our grievances and only offers a cult of personality in lieu of any tangible solutions.
“This world has an infection, and the virus is the human race.”
Supernatural characters in WWE have always had a bit of a hokey undertone to them. As much as we still love The Undertaker, he is a relic from another age, and if he debuted today, I’m not sure that he would have the same impact. We are in the Reality Era of WWE—where viewers demand at least an acknowledgement of the existence fourth wall. On one end of this world, ESPN “breaks” the news of Seth Rollins’ “injury” leading up to his “unsanctioned” match with HHH at Wrestlemania. On the other, Bray Wyatt crafts a character wholly dependent on the very real evil of our physical world.
Wrestling is wrongly dismissed as a juvenile endeavor unworthy of its semi-mainstream status. It is typically portrayed as a pseudo-sport designed to trick its audience, when it really is a form of performance art. Professional wrestling holds up a mirror to society, and its reflection is one that children can comprehend while adults understand the larger narratives surrounding the story. We live in an era where pain and misery are pervasive, and we have technology that makes us aware of all of it. Bray Wyatt’s character is proof of this dynamic, and he couldn’t exist without his connection to the outside world, as Wyatt told John Cena:
“Thinking of me as just a man is a mistake. I am not. I am the nagging conscience of a world that has thrown itself away to mortal monsters. I am everywhere and I am everything. And my words, man. My words—they’re not just words, my words are razorblades that cut deep. And. They. Are. Working.”
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.