I may be dumb / But I’m not a dweeb / I’m just a sucker with no self esteem– “Self-Esteem,” The Offspring
Late yesterday evening, one of those “invisible hand” moments occurred that pushes a brand just over the tipping point towards being very cool in a very big way. At the 30th edition of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Wrestlemania, 5’8″ and 200+ pound wrestler Daniel Bryan defeated Randy Orton and Batista to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. In the (comparatively) diminutive grappler winning the company’s most prestigious title at their showcase event, a new element was significantly introduced into what typically is a dazzling gladiatorial display of the morality play between all things good and evil. In WWE now endorsing the smaller (and also) modest-living, once-vegan and organic goods loving athlete, something has changed. In the company making a calculated move towards embracing DIY culture and fans of their product discovering (through Bryan’s all-inclusive and wildly popular “YES!” movement) that their own self-esteem is all they need to overcome obstacles, they’ve likely found the magic formula for once again excelling in mainstream culture.
Wrestlemania was also highlighted by something else, the end of the 21-match streak of victories at Wrestlemania by near 30-year veteran wrestler The Undertaker, as he lost to one-time wrestler turned former UFC Heavyweight Champion (and now wrestler once again) Brock Lesnar. The Undertaker’s walking un-dead character has come to symbolize more than wrestling. Ultimately, his victories in scripted battles (especially at Wrestlemania) had come to define something more in line with the indomitable fighting spirit of the human will being encapsulated in the spirit of a seven-foot tall and heavily tattooed grappler. As a society though, and especially as an American society (with global WWE being based in America), the notion that we place all of our hopes and dreams in a superpower to always win, well, doesn’t really make sense. The Undertaker losing to Lesnar shocked fans in the same way that, say, we’re shocked when many of us were either presented with the idea that George Bush had spent America’s budget surplus or that Barack Obama was to be America’s 44th President. Times do change, and when evolution occurs, the best place to look for something more is other inside ourselves. In significantly promoting Daniel Bryan as something special, WWE’s falling in line with exactly where America needs to be.
Amazingly enough, self esteem has been a big part of Daniel Bryan for quite some time. On June 22, 2002, I watched Daniel Bryan (then wrestling under his government name of Bryan Danielson) wrestle at an independent wrestling show for the Ring of Honor promotion in front of 475 people in a musty and humid recreation center in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I had heard of him before, as he was a trainee of Shawn Michaels, another smaller-sized wrestler who had excelled the last time WWE pushed smaller wrestlers to the forefront in the early 1990s. Of course, that moment was intrinsically linked to rampant speculation (later proven to be fact) that many wrestlers in the company during the 80s boom were using illegal anabolic steroids. As the bell tolled for the first match, I heard the strains of yes, “Self Esteem” by The Offspring.” Out strolled Bryan Danielson, fresh-faced and, given what he did in just under three minutes to his opponent, technically gifted, but still some years away from finding himself and being a Wrestlemania main eventer.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJVIjUWTdd8
In the past 12 years real life has seen Bryan go through all of the typical bumps, bruises, bone breaks and blood loss that accompany growth and development as both a man and a professional wrestler. However, in making his push towards the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, WWE’s creative storyline featured Bryan’s struggle against odds so large that they could inspire a universe of support. Real life ex-champion turned WWE Executive Vice President Triple H (Paul Levesque), his wife (WWE’s Chief Branding Officer and company Chairman Vince McMahon’s daughter) Stephanie McMahon, Kane (a seven-foot tall wrestler once known in story as the Undertaker’s brother, now playing a literal monster-in-a-suit) and Wrestlemania opponent (and until last night, champion) Orton acted in collusion against Bryan as “The Authority.” The Authority’s only desire? To keep Daniel Bryan away from being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Like so many of us who are needing self-esteem, yet still motivated DIY types, Bryan’s eventual victory wouldn’t just be a scripted win of a pro wrestling title, but emblematic of something more.
After surviving seven months of the brutal attacks of the Authority, earnest and modest ex-vegan Bryan first defeated Executive Vice President Triple H in order to wrestle, AGAIN, IN THE SAME NIGHT, in the main event versus Orton (billed by the company as “The Viper” and “The Apex Predator”) and Batista (billed as “The Animal). Though daunted, and at one point on a stretcher, he survived, and locked in his “Yes Lock” sumbission hold, and a slow-to-adopt DIY principle crowd – now imbued with self esteem through Daniel Bryan’s against all odds victory – went wild. YES! YES! YES!
Well I guess I should stick up for myself / But I really think it’s better this way / The more you suffer / The more it shows you really care / Right? Yeah yeah yeah– “Self Esteem,” The Offspring