If you look it up in the dictionary, an “archetype” is defined as: “the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies; a prototype; also: a perfect example.”
That’s a little vague for our purposes but for wrestling, archetypes are a valuable tool for a wrestler to be able to get the audience to identify with him or her. And that’s the most important thing. If the audience doesn’t like or hate you, they’re probably bored with you and that’s death for a wrestler’s career.
Archetypes give you a shortcut to letting the audience understand who and what you are. There are lots of archetypes to choose from but you need to be careful not to let your “archetype” slip into being a “stereotype”.
What’s the difference, you ask? An archetype is not as tightly defined as a stereotype in that you’re free to modify or alter some of the attributes. Let me give you an example: a cowboy is an archetype, a drawling Texan is a stereotype. Now that might sound a little particular but it’s an important distinction to be made.
Audiences are not dumb. If you insult their intelligence by adopting a restrictive stereotype for your character, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a bunch of fans loudly chanting “BORING!” By adopting an archetype, you get to shape it to suit your own needs.
Let’s talk about one of the most popular archetypes in wrestling and you can see how the most successful wrestling stars have used it to further their careers. I’m talking about The Playboy, a vain, egotistical creature who’s convinced that every other member of the opposite sex is madly in love with them. Or even in this day and age, members of the same sex if they’re so inclined.
What’s important is that this is a universal archetype known and understood by just about everyone. And while heels have almost always used it, it can even be adapted for use by a face.
Now The Playboy will highlight his vanity, making some of the most extravagant entrances ever seen in order to pander to his ego. He can insult his opponents as being beneath him and can accuse just about everyone of being jealous of his good looks.
But even within the context of The Playboy, there’s a lot of leeway as to how it can be used. For example, The Playboy can be cowardly and sneaky or he can be brash and arrogant. The Playboy can surround himself with flunkies or he can feel that no one is good enough to be with him and go it alone.
One of the more obvious examples of this archetype is “Playboy” Ronnie D, one of the most infamous names in the business. And Ronnie was particularly successful with this archetype not so much in using it to appeal to the ladies but more to get under his opponent’s skin. Ronnie was more of the active, fighting Playboy than the cowardly, sneaky one. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. But with one choice word or phrase, he made it clearly known that very few people measured up to his select standards.
When choosing an archetype, be careful to find a balance between making it your own and using it to reach the audience as quickly as possible. They need to know almost as soon as they see you or hear your theme music exactly what you’re all about.
Some examples of archetypes (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) are:
One word of caution I might mention is that you should avoid ethnic stereotypes as much as possible. Not only do you risk offending your audience (and beyond what you might wish to offend as a heel) but you also limit yourself by placing rigid boundaries on your behavior. Promoting a specific culture can work well but you’ll need to be careful not to let it overpower the strength of your own personality.
Whatever you decide to do, ensure that you get to put your own individual stamp on how you are represented. Too often wrestlers are saddled with “cookie cutter” gimmicks that make them all resemble each other. Without being able to stand out from the crowd, you’re never going to get noticed.
By “Fireball” Ken Keening
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