Is Anti-Hero the new Babyface?

IMAGE CREDIT: WWE.com
Look down the list of people who became popular in their time and you'll find something interesting; for every uber-popular, white knight babyface like Hulk Hogan, you've got the shade-of-grey “anti-hero” like 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, John Cena, Randy Orton and CM Punk.

But what is an anti-hero? In the realm of fiction the anti-hero is portrayed as a hero despite having tendencies which suggest otherwise. And in professional wrestling, especially modern day professional wrestling, anti-heroes are the coolest - and most popular - guys in the room.

Unlike way back when, the characters who get the big cheers aren't the ones who should. For all of John Cena's redeeming qualities outside the ring with Make-A-Wish and such, his words and actions more often than not suggest anything but hero (hoeski, anyone?). Instead they scream irrational, fascist, hot tempered bully. Stone Cold Steve Austin was nothing if not a hot tempered, beer swilling, middle finger gesturing, boss bullying redneck. Randy Orton shares the same aforementioned qualities, but his shift into good guy territory is made even more baffling as he used to kick people in the head. I may love CM Punk, but I'm not going to try and convince anyone he's noble by any means.

I think it's fair to suggest that the anti-hero is the new babyface, because in modern day wrestling, it's the anti-hero who gets the adoration. Being a modern babyface doesn't require you to be above scrutiny at all, you don't even have to be nice, just an  angry, rebellious, winner.

Winning is important. Austin was a big winner. Cena wins to a fault and it has caused immense resentment from fans. Orton wins a lot, too, but disguises it by taking a loss every now and then as well. Despite taking some hits on TV, CM Punk has been WWE Champion since last November.

In general, anti-heroes go against the grain, blaze their own trail, and tell their bosses where to shove their authority and it makes them cool enough that fans will look passed their villainous and bullheaded tendencies to cheer them. Perhaps the rise of the anti-hero speaks to a culture which doesn't want its heroes to be whiter than white any more. A cynical culture which in many ways embraces the shade-of-grey and outright shuns the white knight good guy as being too goody-two-shoes as John Cena has found out whenever he's tried to preach morality.

There's one more person we can add to this list now: Sheamus. Over the last year or so, Sheamus has sunk into the same pattern that made the aforementioned popular. He's a hot-tempered Irish rebel who likes to kick everyone in the face. Despite these less-than-noble qualities, Sheamus gets one of the loudest reactions of any guy on the show.

In recent weeks, he's shown that he has no respect for authority and will not be told what to do. And since mid-2011, Sheamus hasn't appeared to have lost more than about five matches. The guy just wins all the time. Despite clearly needing some form of anger management, he's become one of WWE's hottest “good guys”. No surprise, Sheamus is another anti-hero who got really popular.

The rise of the anti-hero isn't a recent thing. It dates back to Stone Cold Steve Austin at least, and maybe further back than him. The anti-hero is the new babyface in professional wrestling. Being a hot tempered, rebellious bully is a pretty good way to get the people to cheer for you.

If you disagree, I'd be happy to kick you in the face.