Originally my intention in writing about heels at this time was… it’s my first real content and heels are my favorite thing. I wasn’t trying to be topical at all. But Chris Jericho (or Y2Jackass as he is coming to be known) is just going out there every week and doing everything that makes me appreciate the value of a good bad guy. He’s being unreasonable and childish, he’s losing way more frequently than ever before, he’s denying us stuff we want (a match starring AJ Styles and, let’s face it, anyone at Wrestlemania) and at the same time we still get those things. It’s all win for the fans and Mr. Jericho takes it on the chin like the team player that he is.
In any event, I promised two more points and I aim to deliver since I’m not a heel, or at least not yet.
A Heel is Not Entertaining
This is tough to explain. Heels adds to the entertainment but on their own aren’t fun to watch. A heel can almost never be a high flyer, nor can they deliver receive a Hot Tag or a High Spot. The most we can get from them is a good body slam or suplex and even then moderation is the watchword
Let’s continue that “example from pop-culture” trend. The Joker, especially in the Nolan-verse, is a bad heel. He’s just too fun to watch. The chaos, the clever quips and even more clever plans make you want to see him succeed. And that takes away from how much you root for Batman. Luckily Batman is the greatest so it’s fun to watch him succeed but put The Clown Prince of Crime against a lesser hero and suddenly your torn. And that doesn’t make for entertaining reading/watching.
Modern example in wrestling? Check out the Dudley Boys and their “we don’t want to be defined by a piece of furniture” angle. Whatever their stated motivation the main goal is that the fans loved it when they put people through tables so they had to stop if they wanted to be a bad guy team. And with the sky-rocketing support for The New Day there was a desperate need for a heel tag-team who were believable champions
Less modern example, if you want to go real deep into your heel-lore, check out the Cactus Jack heel run in ECW. Mick had to remove everything even remotely hardcore from his style in order to get the fans to turn on him. He was even cheering for the hated WCW and getting nowhere until he started with the rest holds and removed the clotheslines over the top rope. Heels have to be boring. It makes it tougher to perform but that doesn’t stop it from being true.
Bonus Points For Being The Best Heel: A Heel Must Believe They’re Right.
This one goes beyond behavior in and around the ring so it’s really only necessary for those performers who get into the psychology of their persona. But, as any good performer will assert, that is in fact what you need to do to make a believable character. And inside that character the heel, and for the matter a villain or any bad guy in fiction and in the real world, believes they’re doing good. Not doing well, doing good.
Not to get all philosophical here in the middle of a wrestling article but 99% (criminal psychopaths are a thing and they’re terrifying) of the population is either trying to do good or actually doing good. So it stands to reason that the vast majority of heels should do the same. Chris Jericho believes, in his heart, that AJ doesn’t deserve to be in the same ring as him and that he doesn’t deserve a Wrestlemania moment so it wouldn’t be fair to give him one. Heel Cactus Jack believed that he was helping Tommy Dreamer by beating him so badly that he couldn’t wrestle in ECW and had to take the WCW job. Triple H believes that the people he “buries” are, in fact, B-plus players and doesn’t give them shots at the title as that would make for a less entertaining product. The Million Dollar man thought that having money made him better than everyone else and went about teaching everyone else that he was by showing that everyone had a price and therefore money was everything. The list continues but at the bottom of every heel is someone who is just trying to do good things either for their opponents, the fans or the world at large.
So that’s what makes a heel. I’d like to think these points are timeless and universal. It’s certainly possible that what we find repulsive changes over time, so a good heel stays on top of that if they want to hold that position. As long as they keep losing or winning dirty, as long as they keep being less entertaining than the good guy and as long as they keep believing they’re the good guy then they can always stay reviled. I think I’ll close off with an oft-repeated but still true quote from my favorite governor of all time, “Win if you can, lose if you must but always cheat!”