Dissecting Bray Wyatt
By merely taking a lazy, side-of-the-eye glance at one of his promo pictures, Bray Wyatt may seem like a 21st century do-over of Waylon Mercy, a character long-considered one of wrestling’s greatest missed opportunities. For what little time he was around, Mercy had a big impact on the memories of fans. A blatant Max Cady riff, Mercy was a Southern Gentleman who — as a heel, mind — shook the hands of fans as he walked to the ring, and protested his innocence (“I slipped!”) when DDTing a jobber on the concrete floor. Unfortunately, Mercy’s run came at the wrong end of Dan Spivey’s career, when his crumbling knees made Great Khali’s look like those of a permanently pre-pubescent Russian gymnast, and now, eighteen years later, we have Bray Wyatt. But more than just a chance at redeeming lost opportunities, Wyatt’s Southern Gothic is the most entrancing thing to hit wrestling in years.
It’s such a rich, layered character, clearly drawing influence from a lot of different places, that I’m fascinated by trying to spot the various hat-tips and homages. Don’t misunderstand the intention of this piece; this isn’t about accusing him, or whoever’s creatively behind the character of plagiarising; it’s a celebration. There are no new ideas, and wrestling has always been about digesting and co-opting elements from popular culture and puking them out into something fresh, something for that world, which exists solely in a bubble. Wrestling is its own beast, and Bray Wyatt walks in that world a glorious mish-mash of ideas, tics, and puzzle pieces from our own. So where does he come from?
Above all else, the presence of Charles Manson looms heavy over the Wyatt Family. Even the name — they’re a Family — harks back to the infamous hippie kill cult. Just Youtube some of the many hours of Manson’s prison interviews, and you’ll find the same themes of being lied to by your parents, and deceived by authority and The Man, and all with that confident patter that’s equal parts a favourite, bohemian uncle reading a bedtime story, a rabble-rousing anarchist calling you to arms, and Satan tempting Jesus in the desert. While you may be blinded by the big words, nonsense nursery rhymes, and verbal showmanship leading you this way and that, if you could sit down and leisurely read back a transcription, it’s just the ramblings of a lunatic with a messiah complex. In one of the ‘We’re Coming’ promo videos, Wyatt says the following line:
“I’m everything. I’m the dirtgrass beneath your toes. I’m a boxcar and a pack of matches…”
This is a paraphrasing of cheeky Charlie Manson himself, more notably, it’s a quote from a video that, thanks to Youtube, has become his most famous promo, his “We’re coming for you, nigga,” encapsulating everything about the most densely complicated man in history in 33 short seconds. He’s at once childlike, playful and mystifying, but never further than a sinister veiled threat from reminding you who you’re really dealing with. Check out the video below.
Interestingly, while Manson proclaims himself ‘nobody’, Wyatt conversely claims to be everything. In the background of one of the early Raw promos, a barefoot girl is seen hanging on the branches of a tree behind Wyatt, an image deeply evocative of that spirit of ’69, when a group of similarly shoeless innocents, brainwashed by their charismatic leader, barged into a Hollywood home and stabbed an 8 1/2 month pregnant woman sixteen times in the stomach.
Another famous family runs deep in the blood of the Wyatts, that of the one found in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Aside from the lumbering physical brutality, there’s a lot of overlapping visuals, as the Wyatt compound is a dilapidated, ramshackle house adorned with skeletal gizzards and vague hints at past atrocities, backed by a chorus of chirping crickets and distant screams, way out in the swampy middle of Fuckwhere. Similarly, there’s a vibe of Rob Zombie’s Devil’s Rejects, although that’s likely down to an influence crossover.
A broken nose in NXT gave the opportunity to take the TCM vibe even further, with a protective mask and butcher’s apron that played like a gritty modern reboot of Leatherface.
Even the explicit, deliberate term ‘Wyatt compound’, as used in the WWE’s ‘Search for the Wyatt Family’ videos, suggests something less a home, than an us-against-them siege mentality against the rest of the world. The word ‘Compound’ has a strong subliminal connection with its most media-famous use, that of Waco, where cult leader David Koresh, self-identifying reincarnation of Jesus, and leader of his own 132-strong Family, was burned to death with the rest of his cult by the FBI at the close of a fifty-one day stand-off.
For a purer influence, we have to step away from pop culture and back inside the bubbled world of pro wrestling. Like the Tom Waits interview that clearly formed the basis for Heath Ledger’s Joker performance, check out this video of Florida’s Bugsy McGraw challenging King Kong Bundy.
The timing and cadence is all there. The tics, the mania, the wild eyes and random spurts of laughter; add some Manson-type content to the delivery and you’re halfway to Bray.
Deliverance runs deep in the DNA of every Hixsploitation piece, from The Hills Have Eyes and Justified‘s Bennett Clan to the Wrong Turn series. Ned Beatty’s arse-bandits are the bucktoothed Adam and Eve to every rutting hee-haw who ever raped or gutted unsuspecting city folk in a wood, and on Monday nights, it’s there again in Wyatt’s hulking pair of inbred-looking bodyguards. Rowan in particular looks like he couldn’t count to one without unsheathing his nob, but if he did take it out, you’d be squealing like a good’un. The WWE roster, with their neat black trunks, tattoos, tans and sensible haircuts fill the role of the naïve out-of-towners, and even though the Wyatts are taking them on on their own turf, that threatening sense of a culture clash that’s going to end badly for the cosseted lambs hangs heavy in the air.
Wyatt’s début promo in NXT, a mesmerising character introduction, ends with a seemingly non sequitur break into the opening refrain from the Rolling Stones ‘Time Is on My Side‘. This is a direct homage to the horror film Fallen, where the song is used by the Devil as a mocking way of revealing his possession inside the bodies of innocents, and for all Bray Wyatt’s talk of ‘saving’ folk, this, like the dog-bark of a Tourettes sufferer, is his release; his instinctive admission that something evil lurks within.
The Fallen reference is particularly interesting in light of a leaked NXT promo floating around on Youtube. Here, a pacing, manic — and at points, frightened — Bray Wyatt talks of an evil “inside him” that “hasn’t been seen by humans in a long, long time,” before addressing an unseen presence off-camera that he names as Samael. In Jewish lore, Samael is the Prince of Demons, and according to his Wiki entry, “a figure who is accuser, seducer and destroyer.” Sound familiar? Samael is also considered to be the Angel of Death (follow the buzzards), and is often charged with the role of Eve’s seducer in Eden.
Is Wyatt possessed? Or in the least, does he believe himself to be? Check out the video below and see for yourself.
His nickname, as the self-proclaimed ‘Eater of Worlds,’ is a line from Stephen King’s murderous space-clown novel, It. In it (or, “in It”), Pennywise the Dancing Clown says of himself: “I am the eater of worlds, and of children.” Wyatt’s smiling persona, in his brightly coloured Hawaiian shirts, arms outstretched, while not quite a clown, is visually far-removed from the more obvious evils of, say, a black leather-clad Ministry-era Undertaker. The look itself, as well as the charming Cajun demeanour, borrows heavily from Cape Fear‘s Max Cady (and vicariously, Waylon Mercy), but a beard on a cult leader will always say Manson — or Evil Christ, which amounts to the same thing — while the hat’s a nicely disarming touch.
I couldn’t pinpoint the lamp, an integral part of the Wyatt look and entrance, but in discussing this on a wresting forum like a guy who’s never honked a tit with his thumb and forefinger, someone pointed out how tonally similar the lantern, and a bunch of other elements are, to The Others from Lost. Once you start thinking outwards, there are a lot of dots to connect, like the empty rocking chair from Jacob’s cabin, or even the Others suddenly revealing themselves from the darkness by lighting flaming torches; an inverse of Bray blowing out the lantern, and a moment when, as the Wyatts claim, the audience realises that they were there all along. Interestingly, The Others were just masquerading as dumb hicks, in false beards and dirty clothes, to hide the real, darker truth beneath.
But like all good art, the Wyatts are subjective; a Rorschach test for the audience to see what they will. Like that time some prankster switched my Rorschach pictures for ink-blot drawings of my scout master’s genitals, maybe an empty chair rocking by itself was simply a horror cliché that whoever directed the video thought would look creepy. Remember those pointless Chris Jericho viral videos of sinister schoolchildren that didn’t connect to anything? Eventually it’s just influences bending back on each other, and most dirt roads lead back to the common ancestors of the genre. I’ve probably already committed the crime of pretentiously over-thinking and seeing things that aren’t there, but as final example, take HBO’s True Blood. Six seasons in, and I still sit through the fantastic opening credits every week. If you were looking, you might see some Wyatt Family influences in there too.
It’s likely they’re both just chowing from the same bowl of cultural gumbo, but the Wyatt Family Titantron, with close-ups of insects and abandoned bayou settings; of nature, left to her own devices, suffocating man, along with True Blood‘s heavy Southern Baptist religious overtones (The début NXT promo mentions ‘the good book’) and demons being cast out, makes it easy to draw parallels between the two. As the character progresses, I’m sure there will be other nods, and I’m excited to see where it’s all going. Up to this point, I feel like I’ve been pretty comprehensive, but if there’s anything I’ve missed, or something you’ve interpreted differently, post away in the comments. I’d be particularly interested to know the thinking behind the name of Wyatt’s finisher, Sister Abigail.
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