On Bray Wyatt

I am increasingly taken with Bray Wyatt. Those other two Wyatt’s still function as little more than cultural stereotypes, especially the one who wears the creepy sheep mask. The sheep mask, the red flannel shirt with the cut-off sleeves, the dingy brown work jumpsuit, the red ZZ Top beard and the generally greasy veneer: these are all indicators of characters we have been programmed to disdain. We know without being told they are from the deep south, they are followers of some unpleasant, cultish form of Christianity, and we are free to make the assumptions that they are violent, misogynistic, racist, and generally perverse in their worldview. At first I thought the WWE was just latching on to the Duck Dynasty gravy train and turning the bearded southern outdoors man figure on its head, making heels and buffoons of an easy cultural target: the screw-loose madman from the deep south who appears like a scary clown in cinematic nightmares. But Bray Wyatt’s recent development leads me to think they’re working on something far more interesting here. There is potential for this screw-loose madman to take the Mick Foley classic template into an even more profound level of character development.

I’m transfixed by the way Bray holds up his hurricane lantern and peers into the darkness of the wrestling arena. I sometimes have visions of myself in an uncertain dystopian future, holding up my LED prepper lantern (crank and solar powered) just like Bray as I peer into the dark unknown, a mystic with my face darkened by the partial cover of a monk-like hoodie. But in yet another classic wrestling inversion, Wyatt’s lantern does not illuminate the dark audience wilderness, the thousands of wrestling fans and all their various demons, nightmares, sins and perversions. Instead it casts its light metaphoric, illuminating Wyatt himself: Wyatt’s light (a Barthesean light without shadow, incidentally) offers a figurative glimpse into the depths beneath his cultural stereotype, expanding his character into something more vast, approaching iconic. He’s been belting out a traditional hymn about the love of God (“He’s got the whole world in his hands!”) as he does creepy things, achieving a chilling degree of moral ambiguity. Is he a DSM diagnosis, or is he gearing up for a face turn, teaching us to find love for characters steeped in the heart of deep south darkness? Indeed, the crowd last night was singing his hymn along with him, offering him entry into the tweener zone, where good and evil muddy each other and more nuanced truths emerge. Once again, an inversion may be approaching as a much loathed stereotype begins to twist on its Mobius strip toward a fresh cultural alignment.

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