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Darkness Induced Audience Apathy / Professional Wrestling

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  • Ignoring the insanity of Vince Russo's endless use of the Shocking Swerve, this trope was one of the main causes of WCW's decline. While the nWo were cool for a while, they were the heels, which meant that they ultimately needed to suffer defeats, and meaningful ones. This, however, was a fact seemingly lost on everyone there (especially those members of the nWo who were involved in booking the stories - funny that). After years and years of watching the villains run roughshod over absolutely everyone, gloating and laughing, the whole thing just became pointless and depressing - they were never going to be defeated, and that was that. So people just changed the channel. In the end, the one saving grace was that the group's leader, "Hollywood" Hogan, reverted to being Hulk Hogan and returned to being a face - but that in itself could be considered a Karma Houdini. Most people would probably argue that the New World Order storyline should've ended at Starrcade '97, after Sting finally defeated Hulk Hogan (albeit in controversial fashion), thereby proving that, if nothing else, the nWo wasn't invincible. Of course, that arc itself came close to resulting in DIAA, since Sting was early on made to look as if he were secretly working for the nWo, and his immediate reaction - abruptly quitting WCW and entering into semi-seclusion for a time - didn't exactly allay suspicion. Indeed, Sting's enigmatic, smiling declaration of "The only thing that's for sure about Sting... is that nothing's for sure" - the last words he ever spoke before completely whitening his face and refusing to speak publicly for more than 14 months - kept people guessing for quite a while.
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  • The Death of WCW talks about this from a booking standpoint. According to the author, the best way to make money is to create a match fans want to see and one that they're willing to pay for to see. However, fans won't pay to see a bout if they can easily perceive a winner. In context to WCW's own entry on this page; the apathy factored into money bouts as well. Not only was Bischoff trying to put PPV matches on regular TV, but the sheer apathy of the heels running roughshod constantly make it a drain to see. Fans began to perceive who the winner would be (especially on the Souled Out PPVs) that money stopped coming into the PPV matches.
  • The inVasion angle of the summer of 2001 also suffered from this. WWE fans, WCW fans, and ECW fans had hated each other for years, so when WCW and ECW unexpectedly decided to team up against the big bad WWE, it looked like a battle for the ages. Except... the WWE writers sabotaged the whole concept by casting every WCW and ECW representative as a heel, even though many of them had done nothing wrong. Worse, the leader of the WWE team was Vince McMahon, hardly a likable character; his opponents were his children Shane and Stephanie and ECW chief Paul Heyman, all of whom were likewise Jerkasses. Finally, at the actual pay-per-view event WWE trounced the WCW/ECW Alliance so thoroughly that when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin defected to the Alliance and helped them pull off an unexpected victory, it was hard not to see this treachery as WWE getting its just deserts. (And all the Alliance members ended up joining or rejoining WWE shortly afterwards anyway, so what was the point?)
  • Triple H has been responsible for this at times, most tellingly during 2002-2004, when he made a career of burying faces so completely that even today (coupled, it has to be said, with WWE's almost decade-long refusal to properly build new stars), WWE has an extremely small amount of top card faces, as there are so few people left for fans to take as credible threats. Granted, the Heel–Face Revolving Door makes it possible to turn a top heel into a top face at the drop of a storyline, but the top heels tend to spend most of their careers as heels for a reason: they're better at it.

    Triple H has also been largely involved in the "The Authority" storyline since mid-2013. Borrowing largely from Vince McMahon's "Mr. McMahon" character from the late 90s, Triple H and wife Stephanie set themselves up as bad guy corporate leaders of the company, pushing guys who aligned with them into the main event title scene under the guise of such actions being best for business. The difference between this scenario and the one back in the 90s is that The Authority has not had any face presence to counteract their actions. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin brought the fight directly to Vince and fans delighted in watching him make Vince's life a living hell, while Vince could never come out and fire him because he made him too much damn money. The Authority has no such counterbalance, as top faces like John Cena are never really setting themselves up in opposition and simply acting within the confines of the boundaries The Authority establishes. Former top heels either align with The Authority and lose a great deal of their autonomy (like Randy Orton), or wither like dry weeds (like The Miz, Damien Sandow, Vickie Guerrero, or AJ Lee) when Triple H or Stephanie tell them it's their way or the highway, get in line or it's the unemployment line. And the fans know it. Unlike with the nWo, there is not even the hope of a masked savior waiting in the wings to bring down the machine, and so fans watch as The Authority rules the roost as the top bad guys either until a game changer comes along or until they get tired of the role.
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    • The few superstars who have tried to stand up to the Authority have failed in their efforts. Any victory they achieve has only been temporary, and the Authority always wins out in the end. Examples of those who've tried (and failed) to get the better of the Authority include Daniel Bryan, Big Show (who eventually joined them after over a year's worth of on and off feuding), John Cena, The Shield (who, despite going 3-and-0 against a reunited Evolution, ended up being dismantled by the Authority after Seth Rollins turned on them and joined the Authority himself, and has since replaced Randy Orton as the group's main in-ring competitor), Dolph Ziggler (who actually succeeded in ridding WWE of the Authority, though it was another temporary victory, and they returned after a month's absence and got the last laugh as always), Randy Orton, and even Sting.
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    • Another issue with the Authority is that during their long reign of terror there hadn't been a true face champion ever since Daniel Bryan had to vacate it due to injury. John Cena, a major Base-Breaking Character, won it, only to lose the title to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014. Lesnar later lost the title to Rollins at WrestleMania 31, who would hold it until he got injured in November of that year. The title was left vacated and a tournament was created to determine a new champion in his place. A face did win the title — Roman Reigns. Problem was, Reigns was regarded as a Creator's Pet due to his transparently obvious status as The Chosen One to succeed John Cena's role as face of the company. The fact that he was completely bland as a face made him a major recipient of X-Pac Heat. Then, not even five minutes later, Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to become champ. Problem was Sheamus had gone through a lot of Badass Decay and basically had no storyline direction ever since he won the briefcase, making him so irrelevant that fans wanted him to be champion even less than they did Roman. Roman then managed to get briefly over at TLC 2015 by returning to his badass Shield character and won the title the following night on RAW. However, they went back to booking him as a bland face, turning him into The Scrappy again. Then he lost the title to mega-heel Triple H at the Royal Rumble match to set up the main event of WrestleMania 32.

      This is where things utterly fell to pieces. The fans hated Roman. Hated him. They hated him so much that they began to root for the Authority, the ones responsible for starting all this Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy. It was for naught, as Hunter lost and they got another reign with Roman. Things didn't get better until Roman violated the Wellness Policy three months into his championship reign, forcing the company to suspend him, meaning they had to take the title off him as soon as possible. He dropped the belt in a semi-clean match to a returning Rollins at Money in the Bank 2016. While fans liked Rollins or at least sympathized with him, he was still a heel. However, not even two minutes later, Dean Ambrose, one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster, if not the most popular, and the last member of the Shield, cashed in his newly won briefcase and won the title, finally breaking the chain. The fans were absolutely elated. That being said, the past two years had made the fans extremely cynical, to the point that they were convinced that Ambrose was a transitional champion and that Rollins and Reigns would win it back soon enough. It wasn't until Ambrose pinned both men clean to retain the title (Rollins in a one-on-one title match, Reigns in the Shield triple threat) that fans finally realized they were getting a nice, long reign with the first true face champion since Daniel Bryan himself.
    • Another issue with the Authority angle, which has persisted beyond "The Authority" being explicitly mentioned, is Stephanie McMahon. While she is great at being the utterly loathsome authority figure like her dad, it seems to have been forgotten that what made the old Vince/Stone Cold dynamic work is that Stone Cold would routinely give Vince his comeuppance. Vince would be a dick about something, the crowd would boo, Stone Cold would beat Vince up, the crowd would cheer, Vince would have Stone Cold arrested, the crowd would boo, and Stone Cold would make bail in time to beat Vince up at the next show where the crowd would cheer. In WWE's particularly cheesy, politically correct PG era, they'll never have someone beat up Stephanie to payoff all the heat she builds up.
  • Also during the same time as the Authority storyline was Brock Lesnar and his complete dominance over the WWE roster since ending The Undertaker's WrestleMania undefeated streak. Although still technically-booked as a heel, fans still cheered him at first, since his "Suplex City" gimmick was used on traditional X-Pac Heat recipients Cena and Reigns. But as the WWE entered the latter half of 2015 where Lesnar first refused to be beaten cleanly by Undertaker in their SummerSlam rematch that year then defeating him again in Hell in a Cell, people began to start seeing problems with Lesnar's overprotective booking. It got worse in 2016 when at first Lesnar feuded with Dean Ambrose, arguably WWE's most white-hot babyface who fans believed could be the one to get the victory on Lesnar, only for their WrestleMania Street Fight to end up an embarrassing squash match in Lesnar's favor due to him not wanting to get injured before his fight at UFC 200, then fighting Randy Orton at SummerSlam resulting in a finish that ended with Lesnar giving Orton a legitimate concussion. The darkness abated somewhat after Goldberg squashed Lesnar in less than two minutes at Survivor Series, but now that Lesnar has defeated Goldberg in their WrestleMania rematch, becoming Universal Champion in the process, the apathy is sure to come back in full force.
    • Adding to this is Lesnar's own apathy. When he disappears for months at a time with the championship, why would the audience care about the rest of the scrubs on the roster who feel like placeholders killing time until the champion comes back four PPVs down the road?
  • Looking at the entire history of the WWF, it's understandable that one would see "sports entertainment" itself as this. Due to the Heel Face Revolving Door described above, almost everyone has been a heel at some point in his or her career. Even worse, many of these heels are unrepentant for their past actions even after turning face, simply laughing along with the audience or just resorting to the Hand Wave whenever anyone tries to bring up the crimes they committed in the past. So with the exception of John Cena (who's been a face for so long now that all of his past evil deeds have been effectively erased from memory) and a few others, it's hard to truly care for any of these characters. Particularly true when they exhibit Jerkass behaviors even while playing the face, or when one realizes that they're just one Shocking Swerve away from becoming heels again.
  • An ongoing angle in SHINE is whether the promotion should be honoring long time veterans or showcasing up and coming talents. The angle worked by pitting a heel on one end of the argument against a more compromising or apathetic baby face, giving matches good heat. But then the angle ran into SHINE's tendency to book heel vs heel, so the audience wasn't too enthused by "Dinosaur Hunter" Leah Von Dutch vs 1940s throwback Thunderkitty...till Dutch turned face later that night.
  • This trope is why heel vs. heel matchups are typically undesirable from a booker's point of view: the audience would have no one to cheer. When there is a heel vs. heel feud, it's usually a sign that one of them is about to turn face (for example, Sheamus versus Randy Orton in January 2010 — and even then, that only happened because Randy was getting cheered so often despite being by far and away the biggest dick in the company (not named Batista) at the time that they had no choice but to turn him face).
    • Jack Swagger's first Raw match against Big E. Langston was a great example of how not to book two heels against each other, as the audience crapped all over both guys and their match, despite them not messing anything up. They did appreciate Alberto Del Rio coming out though, in one of the few moments his response really wasn't tepid on Raw.
    • As for an example of how to avert this, The Wyatt Family versus The Shield. Careful build-up and Bray Wyatt's charisma led to a heel-on-heel match that had fans cheering before anyone stepped in the ring. This was a rare case when all the stars aligned for such an event, as the Shield featured three of the top new ring workers in the company breaking into the main event scene, while Bray Wyatt's convincing portrayal of a Deep South cult leader gave the company the first top heel of his kind in nearly twenty years since the debut of Mick Foley, so despite being the bad guys, fans had ample reasons to cheer for both sides. Careful coordination then made sure that both groups had largely differing agendas that made a feud between them believable from a fan standpoint.
    • Another aversion was a brief 2002 feud between Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle before their reluctant tag team alliance. There were two big factors in why the audience embraced this (and Benoit, who elevated into the upper midcard again post-neck surgery) despite the heel vs. heel slant: first, their quarrel was over something pretty funny (Benoit laughed at Angle getting Stinkfaced by Rikishi; Angle held down Benoit so he could get the same treatment), and second, both were such phenomenal workers that they could get the crowd engaged even as bad guys. Thus, their Unforgiven 2002 match was an instant classic that received multiple mid-match ovations and was part of the beginnings of the fabled SmackDown Six.
      • In short, heel vs heel matchups can be saved if one invests enough Rule of Cool into the angle.
  • WrestleMania 32 was a unfortunate study in this; every match leading to the main event either was undone the next night on Raw (Zack Ryder winning the IC belt, The Undertaker def Shane McMahon), or had the heel win (The League of Nations def The New Day, Jericho def AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar def Dean Ambrose, Charlotte winning the Triple Threat for the new Women's Championship, Baron Corbin winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal), and the final bout crowned major Creator's Pet and X-Pac Heat recipient Roman Reigns WWE Champion over the heel-but-still-preferred Triple H.
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