Monster Heel : oR : Heat in its Eight Varieties
E-Jo the Bull Mountain was ten feet tall (when he decided to be that small) and billed as being from the mysterious sounding L’Ile de Pieces Inconnus and composed of stone like the Easter-Island-like island statues and empowered by the same gods of otherness. Thus, E-Jo at the beginning of his professional wrestling career elicited the first type of heat.
“Heat” is a specialized term for audience passion and one of the most complicated words in the English language. Heat has at least eight identifiable varieties though gradients and combinations make Heat nearly infinite in its possibilities, the way notes in a symphony may be distinguishable if the listener disregards microtones and all the other complexities of tonal interactions. Still, just as the novice musician must begin with “do-re-mi” to reach Beethoven’s Fifth eventually, E-Jo started his career with the first variety of Heat, given him at birth:
1) Otherness Heat.
With Otherness Heat, the audience excavates its guttural, self-defining rages based on a comforting forced-doubling antipathy toward otherness and internal shadows, to rage for life by raging against the unbeatable blackness we’re all bound to, etc. It’s the rage that takes us from the fear delights of shadow monsters to veneration of monster conquering. But Otherness monster is only a shadow making the light around the hero lighter..
The audience booing E-Jo in his earliest matches (as a wrestling audience is an audience with superior emotional intelligence) was fully aware of the ceremonial quality of this othering so held no legitimate animosity toward him. It has the same sense of vicarious hate tribesmen who hated masked demons in ancient dances. By being able to maintain this paradox of rage-despite-conscious-awareness (a level of ceremonial complexity beyond even the Judeo-Christian worshipper who needs belief in the devil for self-defining but can’t effectively negotiate all the necessary paradoxes of an omnipotent God who allows the devil continued existence) and such an appreciation of paradox transcends the potential taint of dualism.
The truth is E-Jo really was born an inhuman other: he was born a Lithopedian, meaning he was genuinely made of stone, more like a kidney stone than a human baby. Lithopedians, normally thrown away by parents who assume they’re little more than disturbing tumor, continue to grow and gather, driven by a migration impulse, in a land called Lithopedia.
E-Jo, unlike his Lothopedian brethren, didn’t so easily dismiss the possibility that humans had compassion. This was only an impulse, as deep and irrational as the migration that brought him to Lithopedia in the first place, since no humans lived in Lithopedia to teach him language or rational thought. He was the only Lithopedian with this impulse. This was a birth defect like all his other birth defects. He walked away from Lithopedia, hobbling on stone legs barely designed for human mobility.
When the first fleshy human said to him, “You okay, mister? You need help?” he would have cried for joy if he had any tear ducts in his stone body.
It was the regional booker and E-Jo’s manager (Baron Steve Faberbacher) who led him to a life of theatrical violence. “It’s all a work my friend, all a show. You’ll never hurt anybody. Not permanently.” Baron Steve let E-Jo live in his waterless pool and gave him all the praises that seemed to feed the rock monster more than human food.
But there was no way to logically beat E-Jo (considering the literal stone of his body) making him like death or other natural force no single man could stand against. But E-Jo, unlike death, never wanted to hurt anybody.
Still, the audience expressed their hate and E-Jo absorbed the hate into his rocky body. Like all Lithopedians made of black stone, hate turned the rock into jags poking out all over making him even more terrifying and hateable.
One day the Baron told him, “I paid a lot of money to have Sin Cara come in for a feature performance, so I want you to do the job.” The Baron wanted E-Jo to lose. The truth is E-Jo would willing lose to anybody he fought. He wanted the Baron to make the most money. The pool he slept in at the Baron’s remained waterless for a reason, and half the house remained roofless and cocooned in contractor scaffolds for a reason. Of course E-Jo would lose to Sin Cara, no question. But Sin Cara was only one tenth as big as E-Jo.
The crowd was going to hate this the wrong way.
This leads to the second and third types of heat which (considering the the elevated complexity of heat compared to all other fan reactions) sometimes coinciding and sometimes contradicting:
2) Meta-Failure Heat: This is the type of audience hate – a genuine hate in this case – reserved for failures in storytelling and performance that violate fourth wall conceit (considering the level of complexity we’ve reached with only the second type of heat, you can imagine how complex these fourth wall conceits can get). One might consider this type of heat merely criticism of a wrestler’s poor skill, but the worst reaction a wrestler can get is no reaction. One might think fans of professional wrestling might be extra cruel to poor performers, and certainly a sort of afterthought cerebral criticism is common for those who fail in basic ways, but this is not heat. Heat is a passionate response and the merely bad can hardly hope for that. Live performance likewise makes vocal criticism of the basically bad unlikely considering the face-to-face proximity – you want a live performer to succeed. The most passionate genuine hate elicited by bad wrestling is Meta-Failure Heat usually reserved for the booker or writer or whatever invisible force audiences can blame for making bad narrative choices. There is a level of embarrassment and shame in this narrative development or performance failure revealing the fakeness of the situation or in its badness. It is not the fakeness alone – audiences don’t hate most fiction for merely being fake – it’s the forcible waking from a dream. Chants of “b.s.” are more accurately “please don’t remind me it actually is b.s.” This most commonly occurs when a booker pushes an undeserving performer or a clearly weaker wrestler gets an unearned win.
When E-Jo knelt to receive the loss from Sin Cara, a human one tenth his size (E-Jo exhibiting more pain in his knees from the willful kneeling for loss than any pain Sin Cara could give him), he felt this variety of hate, hate for the Baron or whatever invisible force made this decision, but in his absence, E-Jo took all the rage sinking deep in his stone body.
Mixed in with the genuine hate was the third type of heat:
3)Pity Heat. Clearly, all of this hurt E-Jo on a deep level. Clearly, he was physically ill equipped to be a wrestler. Plenty of people in that audience went from genuine hate at the narrative failure to sympathy for the handicapped man who meant well. Since heat is the greatest affirmation a heel is doing well, a few in the audience gave away a sad fake “Boo!” as an apology for the earlier and entirely different type of “Boo!”
To build toward the Baron’s big moment, E-Jo had to beaten one beloved guy in the Baron’s promotion called “Dr. Axehandle” Holt Hefter (a sort of Duggan/Hogan hybrid) who played up a purely good and simple-minded persona driven by the immorality and chicanery of heels to axe-handle-based brutalization. In reality, Holt Hefter was kind and clever and well-versed in ornithology and could pick out various birdsongs all day (Holt met the Baron because the Baron’s uncle Goose was a legitimate ornithologist and Holt’s lifelong neighbor). He was also well-versed in cryptozoology (bird monsters were his favorites though rock monsters were a close second) and knew all the literature on Lithopedian biology. He went on and on in lectures to the silent E-Jo (the only wrestler still willing to listen to his lectures) about how Otherness Heat reflected ancient mythological dynamics of death personified.
He took to caring for E-Jo in the manner of a pet owner and a curious biologist.
When the Baron told Holt and E-Jo how their story would develop (they’d tease out the possibility that the morally pure axe-handle brutalizer might have a chance to beat the unbeatable rock monster but switch it up (good would lose to evil) and let the good kind of heat build so that when the well-paid guest star (Sin Cara) finally beat E-Jo, the audience would go nuts in the right way, having been properly emotionally abused for weeks beforehand).
But in their match, when Holt finally got E-Jo down for a two-count-near-win (even walloping E-Jo with the signature axe handle for about five minutes, it had to strike the audience as having as little effect as Holt beating a brick wall), E-Jo knelt down with his terrible and pained knees, willfully giving over this near win in obviously fake ways, but then the narrative upheaval: he took away the near win and beat Holt in the end as planned. Laying beaten on the mat, Holt spent some time listening to the inevitable boos with more of a curious expression than anything.
Later, in the back, he told E-Jo, “It’s the wrong kind of heat. It’s Meta-Failure Heat. We need Otherness Heat. When Sin Cara beats you, it’s going to be bad, real bad.”
So then, when E-Jo a horizontal stone slab on the mat in defeat, Sin Cara’s arm and leg over the little bit of E-Jo he could cover, the waves of disdain from every human in the audience sank into E-Jo’s body like sun soaking into green leaves. His body swelled. He became too heavy. The ring broke beneath his weight.
E-Jo couldn’t move in the middle of the nest of ring debris. The crowd filed out slowly past the fallen, face-down E-Jo. Some were brave enough to reach out and touch him. He seemed so weak now. Curiosity about whether his rock body was real overwhelmed any old gut-deep terror at the sight of him. When they found out the rock was real, the terror returned, and they moved along more quickly.
When everyone else was gone (and Sin Cara got his payout and bolted forever) the Baron sat beside E-Jo, the swelling in his body receding like any wound, and he said. The Baron, touching E-Jo with more gentleness than every other human, said, “That was brutal in all the wrong ways. You’re winning every match from now on, buddy.”
E-Jo did win every match from then on, and it was perfectly logical for a giant rock monster to do so, but this leads to the fourth kind of heat:
4) Anti-Mechanical Heat: This is very similar to Meta-Failure Heat in that the anger is generated by storytelling failure, but in this case the problem, instead of being the embarrassment-tainted revelation of falsehood, is rooted in being too logical and too real. Lives are built to be mechanical, to reduce the daily temptation to degenerating into rages, by repetition and predictability. Of course the strong beat the weak as predictably as heavy things fall to gravity. It’s a practical life free of dangers for those who aren’t the conquer-targets for the logical top of the hierarchy. The ideal of the logical dictatorship is logical efficiency where citizens remain safe and peaceful in acknowledging inferior positions.
But the soul needs heat, the free ecstasy of rage. Anti-Mechanical Heat explodes from the numbed soul like a thunderbolt from a too long dormant cloud. A seemingly simple chant like “Bo-ring! Bo-ring!” is a desperate cry for the return of humanity.
So the crowd rejected E-Jo’s illogical loss, and the crowd nearly as passionately rejected E-Jo’s logical constant winning, so the Baron paced back and forth around the pool where E-Jo slept, uncertain how to even honor the divine providence of a wrestling promoter happening upon a giant rock monster. But then E-Jo reached out a hand to stop the Baron’s constant pacing, a “there there” patting to calm the Baron’s anxieties (and it did seem to work as if E-Jo soaked the anxieties into his body). E-Jo was so gentle, the Baron wondered if there was a way to work gentleness into a wrestling narrative and again became blank and anxious. Good thing E-Jo was and would always remain terrifying.
There was another heel in the same promotion named Ford Fordham who had given himself the nickname “Murdergod” which is not the sort of thing people should have the capacity to do for themselves, but this is who Ford Fordham was. He told the crowds week after week, “I can break open the Bull Mountain Monster and give you all the blood you want!” and he’d get them chanting “Blood! Blood! Blood!” even though everybody normally hated Ford Fordham. This leads to the fifth variety of heat:
5) Pure Blood Lust Heat: This is the most basic and guttural form of heat, the kind of heat that most wrestlers would be love to hear. It’s at the base of so many other types of desired heat, but it’s different from, say, Otherness Heat because there is no love and sympathy for the hero necessary. The crowd wants both sides to beat each other to a broken bloody mess. It’s resistance to the entanglements of dualities makes it among the most powerful in any form of narrative.
Its nature as root/most basic of all heats is clear when examining a heel vs heel scenario. The common way to generate passion in an audience is to give them a vicarious hero to win with, to become one with and shape their desperation to magically aid their hero in fighting that which they most fear/hate. But can a narrative succeed in generating passion without this vicarious hero? To find the root value of any narrative, ask yourself if that narrative can succeed without a particular element. If you have stripped away all unnecessary elements, what remains is the most essential source of narrative vitality. One can see this most glaringly in heel vs heel matches stripped of vicarious heroes: only blood lust remains. This is a vicarious sensation audiences desire as much as hero victories. It is a secret shame that all of humanity is so thoroughly masochistic, but this is direct extension of Anti-Mechanical Heat. We desire the vicarious experience of pain because we are human, and our humanity needs pain as an antidote to the numbing machines of safety. Most days this desire is hidden shamefully (most people wouldn’t say in conversation, “I love to watch others in pain”) but in the brutal and bloody and primal ceremonies that crept into our so called civilization disguised as unsophisticated delight, our pain-loving humanity is set free without shame.
Ford Fordham went to the Baron and Holt Hefter and said, “The crowd is so hot for me to draw blood from E-Jo, I want to beat the crap out of Holt and leave him bloody in the ring. I mean I want to paint the mat red from edge to edge. Holt, you mind if I use your own axe handle to beat you to a bloody mush?”
Holt said, “That’s fine, Ford. You know I’m up for anything, but I don’t know if that’s a great idea.”
“Are you kidding?” Ford said. “Listen to those chants for blood.” He cupped his ear to listen to the “Blood! Blood! Blood!” chants still going on. “We haven’t gotten heat like this since E-Jo started winning everything.”
“I think they’re chanting that because they hate you.”
“Of course they do. I’m very good at my job.”
“No, I mean they hate hate you.”
This leads to the sixth variety of heat:
6) Genuine Personal Disdain.
When legitimate paramedics carted Holt away on a legitimate stretcher, Holt looked back at Ford stoking the blood passions of the audience, sploshing in Holt’s blood on the mat, holding Holt’s reddened axe handle high, Holt listened carefully to the heat and said, “This isn’t good.”
“We’re taking care of you, sir,” said a paramedic confused, like most normals, by the multitude of heat paradoxes.
“I’m not worried about me,” Holt said as the paramedics set a broken bone. “The crowd hates that guy. This is going to go very badly.”
The paramedic glanced at the ring and back at Holt, utterly baffled.
“I mean they hate hate him. It’s complicated. Nevermind.”
Anyway, long story short, E-Jo killed Ford Fordham.
The day of the match, the first minute of the match, in fact, E-Jo hit Ford once with his legitimate power, for the first time ever, sending him flying across the room, over the crowd, splattering him against the wall of the middle school gymnasium until what used to be Ford Fordham was hardly identifiable as human.
The heat that followed was a complex mixture of other forms of heat, including a seventh paradoxical form:
7) Legitimate Moral Disdain:
This went beyond merely disliking a wrestler’s personal qualities. You could still indirectly access Blood Lust Heat that way and have a great match. This was disdain of every moral implication inherent in the scenario. It was less a “boo” to say “I hate you,” and more a “boo” to say “I hate everything about this.” It was much more difficult to shape this into something audiences enjoyed. But there was a fascinating effect with Legitimate Moral Disdain: sometimes audiences hated the scenario in the moment but loved it later, looking back on the disquietude of emotional extremes with fondness.
Crowd members present to witness E-Jo turning Ford to jelly told the news reporters afterward, “It was the worst thing I have ever seen,” but they told each other honestly for many years to follow, “It was the greatest thing I have ever seen” (those, at least, who didn’t get a chance to see the manifestation of the eighth variety of heat soon to follow which took a step beyond this greatness).
E-Jo, for his part, swelled so thoroughly from absorbing all this hate, he couldn’t exit the gymnasium. The police couldn’t arrest him and called in construction crews to take the wall down. E-Jo slammed against the door opening over and over, weeping, trying to expel all the hate from his dry tear ducts, from his moaning, but nothing seemed to work.
Then he witnessed the final kind of heat that unified all dualities, good and bad, love and hate, man and woman, self and other, and so on.
8) Perfect Heat.
It has been achieved by few living wrestlers and very few if any wrestling fans can name a practitioner of Perfect Heat since this level of heat leads audience to such extreme ecstasies they must reject it as the stuff of dreams to go on living. Even “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who achieved Perfect Heat (secretly) in 1988, had to reign it in during television appearances to keep from blowing out all the electrical systems and causing heart attacks nationwide.
One man who achieved Perfect Heat was Frank Gotch who wrestled and beat TeddyRoosevelt and used the vitality of the heat he generated from that and other matches to go on living a hundred more years, wrestling only in local matches and dedicating his life to honing his art. He now had empty arena matches where the whole audience left the building and imagined what was happening inside and they felt the rippling waves of heat coming from the building.
When E-Jo got stuck inside the middle school gymnasium, Frank Gotch arrived because of course he would. He could smell it from miles away or feel the vibrations in the tectonic plates – how he was able to sense it was far beyond the capacity of normals to know.
He went in the gymnasium. He came out soon after. He escorted a mute young man wrapped in a rescue blanket and shivering, his skin like the pale and cold skin of a limb coming out of a cast.
Everyone crowding around was exhausted by waves of Perfect Heat ecstasy, so they hardly noticed.
Later in the gymnasium, they found a mound of black stone like a statue collapsed. E-Jo had fallen, and inside only a hollow absence. The shell of E-Jo must have been empty this whole time.