Second Nature: Dynasty, Charlotte, and Famous Dads

The Women’s Championship match was the best match of Wrestlemania 32, hands-down, no contest. It had stakes, it had psychology, and it mattered in a way that none of the other matches on the card did. And it was all elevated by the fact that Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky weren’t fighting over some chintzy butterfly-shaped insult — at last, here was a big, badass belt that anybody would be proud to go to war over. The audience got to watch two fights at once: a dust-up between three old rivals, and a struggle to be taken seriously as competitors. Just last year, Paige and AJ Lee faced the Bella Twins in a pointless 6-minute tag match, and now three of NXT’s Four Horsewomen had 15 minutes to go to work. For competition! For respect! For the bloody, glorious future of women’s wrestling!

And then Ric Flair rubbed his horrible flaky old-man hands all over everything, as is the WWE house style.

Now, some qualifiers I feel like I gotta make before I continue:

  • A shit ending to a match doesn’t invalidate how good the match was up until the shit finish
  • The ending to Charlotte/Sasha/Becky does make narrative sense, because Charlotte had been establishing herself as a nepotistic chickenshit heel. It’s unsatisfying as hell, but at least it makes sense
  • A gross old-timer messing up the ending of a hotly anticipated match full of young talent that people actually care about is like the free space of a Wrestlemania bingo sheet

And while I don’t think that the Women’s Championship match was a great venue for Sneaky Dad Tactics (because there was too much at stake with the new Women’s Championship, and no, sorry, you shouldn’t need more Development as a chickenshit heel by the time the biggest show of the year rolls around, GIMME SOME PAYOFF, jerks), it introduces an interesting question: How do you establish your own identity within the shadow of a dynasty?

When Natalya locks in the Sharpshooter, are our brains superimposing Bret and Owen over her frame, making the maneuver itself a kind of talisman that connects her to her own bloodline? Tamina’s, Charlotte’s, and Natalya’s lineages provide an instant point of contact with wrestling fans who might otherwise write them off, but it can be well-nigh fucking impossible to establish an identity outside of your father’s accomplishments. To paraphrase The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: The Figure-Four Leg Lock is family.

Ric’s fame isn’t doing Charlotte any favors. Not anymore. Don’t get me wrong, having The Dirtiest Player in the Game in her corner has turned her into the Draco Malfoy of pro wrestling (platinum blonde, “wait until my father hears about this,” gross shit about genetic superiority, very uncomfortable with hugging old dudes), and it’s a perfectly fine way to get heat, but only in the short term. It comes at a price.

Charlotte needs to step away from the oily cryptkeeper lurking at ringside, because as long as she’s cast as the Muppet Babies version of her dad, he’s got a claim on all of her victories. When she comes out to “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” or yells “woo” for easy pops, or pretzels someone in the Figure-Four, the audience is worshiping the ghost of Ric Flair. (Which is weird and uncomfortable, because he’s technically still alive.)

Charlotte deserves better than being the host body for Ric Flair’s poltergeist.

The question here is whether she can have it both ways: Is it possible for Charlotte to be Ric Flair’s daughter without being billed as Ric Flair’s Daughter? Plenty of other wrestlers have forged their own path, even if their relation to somebody famous brought them to the dance to begin with.

Okay, think of it like a graph, right?

legacygraph

On the X axis, we’ve got “How important your family member was to professional wrestling, and how much people still gush about them during retrospectives that inexplicably feature Sam Roberts.” The Y axis is “How much talent you yourself have been blessed with, and whether or not you could have a compelling Iron Man Match with an anime body pillow and/or are charismatic enough to have a decent film career once your health shits the bed.”

Randy Orton is a third-generation wrestler, but we don’t think of him primarily as Ace Cowboy Bob Orton’s Offspring because 1.) Who the fuck is Cowboy Bob Orton, wasn’t he the dude that hung out on ring aprons with a cast on his arm? 2.) Randy might have the personal magnetism of wet particleboard, but he’s an absolute joy to watch in the ring when he cares about putting on a good show, and 3.) By the time his stable of Dudes Fathered by Famous Wrestlers had broken up, he’d developed a character built on something other than “my dad was a wrestler who was also a cowboy.” He skews upward on the graph instead of sideways.

The Rock rolls nat-20s on his Charisma checks and modern audiences don’t give a shit about Rocky Johnson or High Chief Peter Maivia. He skews upward, obviously. Ted Dibiase Jr. and Brian Christopher and Curtis Axel? Not talented or charismatic enough to rise above the massive legacies of their fathers.

As long as Ric is written as a central component of Charlotte’s character, the audience is never going to judge Charlotte based on her own incredible talents, not least because wrestling culture is permanently smitten with the good ol’ days. The only way to outdo a legacy like Ric’s is not to try (never try to out-Flair Flair) and not to surround herself with constant callbacks to someone the old guard will always consider superior to her anyway. Charlotte has worked long and hard to occupy her spot on main roster, and it cheats her out of the respect she deserves to have her dad as a ringside svengali, soaking up the adulation that rightfully belongs to her.

(No, really, please send Ric Flair home. Is there a Kickstarter that we can all pitch in on to make sure he never has to show up for another paycheck? I’ll pay it every month with a song in my heart if it means I never have to see Ric Flair forcibly kissing anybody ever again, please and thank you.)

Recent Posts

Recent Comments

Archives

Categories

Ryan Boyd Written by:

One Comment

  1. April 19, 2016

    Apparently, you and Dr. Phil are on the same page…

Comments are closed.