Let the record show that I'm still a wrestling fan to this day (no snarky comments before watching this). It's an old habit from childhood that has simply refused to die, even after discovering it's all predetermined. As my understanding of the business expanded, I grew more appreciative of the artistry behind what made the product so appealing and effective to me.
One of the cornerstones of moving along plot lines and interactions between wrestlers (also known as angles) is the promo. The promo is a segment on a program, usually done through a interview or monologue, which is used by a wrestler to promote themselves and/or a feud they have between another wrestler. A memorable promo is filled with charisma and substance that simultaneously captures your attention while you making heavily invested in the story. Here is an example:
In that promo, Dusty Rhodes played the role of the face (a good guy) and used his energy and a sympathetic inflection to make sure that people cheered for him. On the other end of the spectrum, you have heels (the villains) whose job it is to gain heat (getting jeered and booed) by sharing unpopular opinions or verbally attacking a face. This is what a typical heel promo sounds like:
Pretty straightforward, right? You piss people off, which makes them want to spend money to see you get your comeuppance. There are varying degrees to how to get heat, but that's the basic gist. In my mind, the heel promo is something that isn't just limited to wrestling but in the reality that we live in. There's no shortage of public figures that say things the majority of the people disagree with, but we really take notice when it's done enthusiastically and sincerely. The fun of a great heel promo in wrestling is that we know this person is portraying a character, but they do such a great job of toying with our emotions and convincing us to hate them that we can't help but react outwardly. A real life heel promo carries that same weight of sincerity and the result is that we're usually appalled yet slightly entertained. With WWE's SummerSlam this weekend, (the 2nd biggest wrestling event of the year behind Wrestlemania), I decided to look at ten of the most notable heel promos in pop culture, listed chronologically.
Mike Love vs. The Oldies Station
The angle: The Beach Boys were inducted into the 1988 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame along side The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, for whom Mike Love had choice words (skip to 3:48).
Heat index (on a scale of 1 to 10): 9. Love's tirade included shots at Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie and apparently Brian Wilson's speech, which Love couldn't help but interrupt. His self-serving rambling made for the most awkward moment in Hall Of Fame history and turned what should have been a night of celebration and class into a train wreck.
Infamous heel quote: "I know Mick Jagger won’t be here tonight, he’s gonna have to stay in England. But I’d like to see us in the Coliseum and he at Wembley Stadium because he’s always been chickenshit to get on stage with The Beach Boys.”
GG Allin vs. Decency
The angle: Anti-establishment punk rocker GG Allin appeared on The Jane Whitney Show to declare his hate for society and good taste.
Heat index: 10. Allin displayed all of the classic heel traits during this appearance (which would be his final interview) from having a defiant, electric delivery to challenging audience members to a fight, but he really earned disgust by boasting that he raped women and men onstage and that he liked to have sex with underage kids and animals.
Infamous heel quote: Way too many to count, so here are a few samples.
"I'm gonna rape the girls, I might rape the guys. I might have sex wi-, I want it all! I want it all and I'm gonna have it all! Because I am everything!"
"I don't care about anything but myself and what I write. And what I do is law."
"You go to school? You go to school? Wow. What are you gonna learn in school? You ain't gonna learn nothin' in school! 'Cause I'm the only one that can teach you! I'm the only one that can teach you!"
Suge Knight vs. The East Coast
The angle: The East Coast-West Coast rivalry kicked into high gear at the 1995 Source Awards when Suge Knight fanned the flames by mocking Sean "Puffy" Combs.
Heat index: 8. Depending on where you resided, Knight's stance on Bad Boy Records could have been inspiring. The vocal NYC crowd decried anyone who wasn't from their hometown (they even booed Outkast. OUTKAST!) and the head of Death Row Records refused to let his label's accomplishments go unrecognized. Instead of trying to appease New York, Suge took the road less traveled to much derision. The best heels are aware of the venue that they're at and use it to their advantage to gain heat and who has been a bigger one in the music industry over the past twenty years than this man?
Infamous heel quote: "Any artist out there wanna be an artist and stay a star and won't have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the video, all on the records, dancing, come to Death Row!"
Michael Greene vs. Music Fans
The angle: The president of the NARAS, Michael Greene, gave his annual speech at the Grammys, which is usually a plea for the survival of music education in schools and the well-being of music's future in general. For the 2002 ceremony, Greene declared file-sharing as the industry's #1 enemy, even employing three kids to download 6,000 songs over a weekend to emphasize its effect.
Heat index: 8. Once Greene started going into his spiel about piracy, the boos became audible in the Staples Center and very likely, all across the country. No one realized it yet, but the music industry would be too late to adapt to new technology as record sales slid from year to year to the point where only four albums went platinum in 2014. Greene's speech was typical of the archaic ideology that the fans should not have the power and did not earn him any sympathy when he was forced to resign just a few months later. Aside from confusing ripping CDs with actual sharing, much of what Greene said wasn't false, albeit a tad exaggerated, but it all came off like a father chastising a young child who he felt didn't know any better. By 2002, the culture of discovering music online was irreversible and Greene was the one out of touch.
Infamous heel quote: "Ripping is stealing their livelihood one digital file at a time, leaving their musical dreams haplessly snared in this World Wide Web of theft and indifference."
Simon Cowell vs. Jim Verraros
The angle: The semi-finals of season 1 of American Idol was the first opportunity viewers had to vote on who would make it to the top ten. Jim Verraros, a sentimental favorite due to plenty of camera time about his deaf parents, gave a shaky performance that was far from impressive. Simon Cowell's harsh critique did not sit well with the other contestants, nor those watching, as Verraros got enough votes to go through to the next round despite being an inferior talent.
Heat index: 7. Before booing Simon became a reflex on the show (even if you knew deep down he made a valid point), there was a genuine dislike for him that first season. Verraros was nowhere in the same league as some of the other competitors, but the viewing public wanted to prove an unmerciful Cowell wrong so much that he advanced. The same thing happened the very next week with A.J. Gil, who was also one of the weaker vocalists on the show that Cowell dressed down. The audience eventually became savvier by next season and began to side with Simon more, leaving little room for error for the contestants and simply making him the villain that you love to hate at his snarkiest. At this point though, he was just a guy in real life you wanted to see swallow his words.
(I couldn't find footage of that semi-finals performance, but here is Verraros in the first week of the top 10 to give you context about how Cowell felt.)
Infamous heel quote: "I don't think it was good enough because you have just followed a star. I thought you looked ordinary up there and I think if you win this competition, we will have failed."
Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift
The angle: At the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Taylor Swift's "You Belong To Me" won Best Female Video over Beyoncé's zeitgeist smash, "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)". Noted Yoncé fan and world famous artist Kanye West took exception to this and stormed the stage during Swift's acceptance speech in protest.
Heat index: Nuclear level. A heel promo doesn't need to be long; it just has to be effective. Despite what people might have secretly felt about Swift winning an award over Beyoncé, West still rudely cut in on the adulation of one of the biggest faces in the game. The irony is that Beyoncé won the most important award of the night with Video Of The Year, which Kanye probably should have reserved his ire for if she had lost.
Infamous heel quote: "Yo, Taylor. I'm really happy for you, I'm a let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all-time!" [shrugs]
Adrien Broner vs. Paulie Malignaggi
The angle: At a press conference to promote their welterweight championship fight, the budding rivalry between boxers Adrian Broner and Paulie Malignaggi reached a peak when Broner boasted about becoming "good friends" with Malignaggi's ex-girlfriend, then proceeded to call her and put her on speaker. Broner defeated Malignaggi in his hometown and rubbed it in even more during the post-fight interview.
Heat index: 9. Not only did Broner make things personal, he seemed to take pride in it. His unflappable ego didn't make him the most endearing personality and the arrogance on display reached cartoonish levels, even having one of his trainers brush his hair in between spurts of bragging.
Infamous heel quote: "I beat Paulie. I left with his belt and his girl."
Richard Sherman vs. Michael Crabtree
The angle: The NFC Championship game for the 2013 NFL season pitted the All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks against wide receiver Michael Crabtree and the San Francisco 49ers. A war of words ensued between the two over the course of the game, which ended with Sherman successfully defending Crabtree on the last play of the game to clinch a spot in the Super Bowl for Seattle. Sherman had more words for Crabtree afterwards, to which Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews pointed out in a post-game interview. The candidness that followed by Sherman was certainly abrasive for an audience led to believe that professional athletes should be humble and mild-mannered in victory.
Heat index: 6. While it was far from traditional, Sherman's tirade was nowhere close to evil and probably more offensive to traditionalists. His delivery,
however, had "Macho Man" Randy Savage levels of intensity.
Infamous heel moment: "Don't you open your mouth about the best! Or I'm a shut it for you real quick! L-O-B!"
Dennis Rodman vs. Chris Cuomo
The angle: Dennis Rodman and a group of former NBA players traveled to North Korea to play an exhibition game as the guest of dictator Kim Jong-un, who isn't exactly on the best of terms with the United States due to nuclear weapon testing and accusations of human rights violations. CNN's Chris Cuomo called out Rodman for his relationship with Jong-un to explosive results.
Heat index: 8. Even though there's a possibility Rodman might have been a little inebriated, defending the North Korean leader so passionately is one of the most unpatriotic things a person could do right now.
Infamous heel quote: "I don't give a shit! I don't give a rat's ass what you think!"
Donald Sterling vs. Good Judgment
The angle: Former owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling sat down with Anderson Cooper to clear the air about racist comments he made that were recorded privately.
Heat index: 10. The conversation that got him in hot water was infuriating itself, but to see Sterling dig himself a further hole with off-key comments mistaking humility for being clueless was just as baffling. While he regretted his recorded comments, he remained defiant in other areas such as decrying the lack of philanthropy within the black community and Magic Johnson's role model status. There's also that brief moment at 3:58 in the video above when you can tell he was just itching to say something even more ridiculous.
Infamous heel quote: "What kind of a guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl that he catches HIV? Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself."