LaBar: Being a star in WWE depends on the times
For any star, it's about who and what you have to follow.
Daniel Bryan is the right star for right now. If he would have came along at a different time, society might have not cared.
I say society because for all the changes WWE and the genre have had which might turn some viewers away, WWE is still very relevant in pop culture.
This has been relevant for over 20 years with WWE: Austin 3:16 shirts, a DX crotch chop with two words, John Cena's hand gesture saying “you can't see me” or hearing the “YES” chants in mass crowds at sporting events. WWE, despite all of its critics, plays a significant role in our culture.
Bruno Sammartino was king in the 1960s and 1970s, a mountain of a man with great strength and pride.
This was the perfect setup for the flamboyant 1980s when wrestling needed someone larger than life. Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair fit the bill.
After saying your prayers and eating vitamins died down, there was an odd transition where the business was trying to evolve with more production value, more programming and different in-ring styles. This made way for a transition period with guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Both could compete with anyone of any style in the ring.
Once wrestling began to find its new identity of monthly pay-per-views, weekly live cable ratings wars and more reality-based television — it was time for a reality-based star. This welcomed Stone Cold Steve Austin. Flipping the middle finger, drinking beer and beating up his boss. It represented where society was in the late 1990s with South Park, Eminem music and Jerry Springer as other major brands in pop culture at the time.
We then moved into the 2000s when WWE had their entertainment machine in place. Every year, more of the names that got the business to this point were ready to cash in their chips and move on. It was time for someone fresh with a dedicated work ethic, who had the face for this company which was growing to its highest levels.
At this point, a generation grew up with WWE. That generation grew to be adults and had WWE catered to them their whole life. When they were kids, Hogan ruled. When they became teenagers, the attitude era quenched their new thirst.
WWE then decided to start moving back toward a new generation of kids to groom as new fans. John Cena fit right in as being the poster boy hero for the demographic.
After a decade of Cena, it's made way for the most appropriate time for Daniel Bryan.
John Cena was the all-american guy. The kids want to be him, the girls want to be with him, some guys want to have a beer with him and some guys want to beat him up. He had something for everyone and his clean-cut look took WWE into the most mainstream crossover period of time it has ever enjoyed.
Bryan is a great follow up because he captures some of the same positive qualities Cena had, and he presents some qualities that were ready for a change. He's liked by everyone because everyone can relate in some way to him. He's a normal guy who is really good at his job but doesn't get respect because he's not the perfect size or look.
It's an easy story, but not done in an “aw, shucks” kinda way. It doesn't demean him to the point where you ever doubt his legitimacy. He is held down, but make no mistake, he doesn't need your sympathy in order to dig down deep and triumph over the antagonist. He just needs a fair one-on-one fight.
If Bryan had developed in the 1980s, he would have been enhancement talent strictly based on size and uniqueness to his personality.
If Bryan had developed in the early 1990s, he would have been one of many. Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were able to capture the same magic already with fulfilling their boyhood or family dreams.
If Bryan had come along in the late 1990s, it would have been unfortunate. He would have had to grow the beard out and be a psycho killer just to get some shock value television segments. Remember Brian Pillman and Steve Austin on RAW at Pillman's house?
For all of Bryan's fans, many of whom probably dislike Cena because that's the way it goes, realize that if Cena hadn't come along first, Bryan's talents wouldn't be as appreciated as they are. His talents wouldn't be treated as a breath of fresh air and a new era.
Bryan is talented. But rightly or wrongly, talent is sometimes only fully recognized if the consumer wants it. The consumer wants it. It seems management has finally thrown its hands in the air and want it or not, the consumer is going to get it.
Justin LaBar is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7949 or firstname.lastname@example.org.