- Daniel Bryan has been a professional wrestler for years, but only recently made the character switch to become a heel.
- Bryan's unique heel work has caught a lot attention and praise among fans, and it's struck a nerve online too.
- In Bryan's critiques of consumerist culture, the lines between sincerity and parody often become blurred.
“I’m here to take you on a much-needed educational journey,” professional wrestler and current WWE Champion Daniel Bryan says in a recent YouTube video.
Bryan is standing in front of a sports arena concession stand that’s serving chicken tenders and soda. But according to him the “only concessions being made are to your health and to your well-being.”
“Do you know why you eat this?” he says into the camera. “Do you know why? Because you’re filling a void. Because your lives are so empty and vacuous that you just shove candy, you shove popcorn down your throats!”
After tossing hotdogs and a cup-full of soda at some unlucky diners, Bryan starts railing against WWE fans’ relentless consumerism, the perils of capitalism, and the damage it all does to the environment. Then he enters the arena.
“I am out here making the world a better place,” Bryan says with a righteous air, walking down a staircase between the roaring crowd. “But to create change, I need you people to change. You see, because all of these people, they’re weak! They’re submissive. They are impotent. Weak! Change it! Submissive! Change it!”
Bryan stops to stare into the eyes of a goateed, sign-holding man in the crowd.
“I am not!” the fan says.
“WOO!” the fan cries.
Bryan is, of course, playing the role of a heel: a villain character in wrestling who’s meant to be hated and serve as a foil to a more sympathetic hero character. The 37-year-old wrestler, once a crowd favorite, “turned heel” in 2018 after winning a match by low-blow. Now, he’s stirring up crowds with his anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism and anti-boomer message.
It’s striking a nerve online, too, evidenced by the fact that more than one million people have watched this clip of Daniel calling WWE president Vince McMahon and his boomer generation the “greatest parasites of this world.”
Bryan isn’t the first heel to do social or political commentary. But what’s unique about Bryan’s persona, and what’s likely part of the reason why it’s been successful, is the fact that it’s quite possible he really believes in much of what he’s saying: he’s reported to be (mostly) a vegan, he leans left in his politics, and he expresses concern about the environment.
On the screen, the results are sometimes strangely sobering, but also satirical and funny.
Of course, a major reason why Bryan’s heel work is so effective is because, like all heels, he’s in-your-face about the fact that he thinks he’s superior to everyone.
But is there more to it? What’s the crowd really booing: his preachiness or his message? If wrestling heels have often assumed identities and qualities that crowds can collectively root against – including a history of characters depicted in crudely racist manners – what does it mean that crowds so readily hate a character calling for an end to real problems? And how does Bryan feel about it all?
Who knows. But the likely answer to that last question is that Bryan enjoys playing his character.
“I’ve always loved being a bad guy; there’s something more fun about it,” Bryan said in a 2012 interview. “It always makes me smile. Now, I’ll hear my music and (the crowd) instantly starts booing. I have to keep myself from laughing, because it makes me happy.”