Yesterday, I started writing a piece about what interested me so much about Bret Hart, and the attributes that I thought made him both a great hero and a great heel.
Basically, I think what made him great was how seriously he took his character, and how much he seemed to identify with it. Bret made a fantastic hero because he actually believed that his character (and himself?) was an important role model for everyone in the audience watching.
The genuinely noble and heroic qualities of his character were incredibly believable because Bret did in fact try to be genuinely noble and heroic.
From this, came the same qualities that made him an even better heel than a hero. He easily managed to attain the ire of the fans because he started to genuinely become disgusted by the fans and the qualities that they appreciated in the new hero (Steve Austin).
This shows and makes his character very believable, but what is even more important, is once again, how he blurred the lines between reality and fiction. He was quite outspoken about his dislike of the direction of the WWE and what it was doing as a company. He clearly brought the company itself into the picture by addressing the fact that he disliked what they were doing, and thus disliked the fans and the new heros because of it.
By pulling all of this together, Bret becomes a fantastic heel.
Now, as I was thinking about this, it struck me that this is very similar to what Andy Kaufman did in making the audience believe that he, as a person, actually hated the audience and their institution.
Kaufman used his role as a character on TV (in Taxi) to make his wrestling persona more believable. Similarly, I think Bret's role as a good wrestler in the WWE made his character as a heel more believable since it seems to show him abandoning his role as a good guy (his character) out of a genuine dislike of the audience and the new WWE.
Of course, in Bret's mind, I think he probably saw the WWE as changing and his character as more constant, though from the audience's perspective, I feel this probably has more of the Kaufman-like effect of pulling the character's mask off and revealing the real person.
Then again, in Bret's case, you might say that what was in fact happening was that the real person was actually being revealed. The big difference with Kaufman is that it seems there was still another person behind all of that and everything was constructed, whereas Bret had nothing deeper, and that was actually the real him just happening to line up with the times.
Now did someone (Vince McMahon?) realize that Bret's real personality could be utilized to create a highly heel in mcuh the same way Kaufman's constructed "real" personality was used to create a highly effective heel? It is possible, I suppose, but I personally would doubt that it was constructed to that degree.
Ultimately though, Bret is a very interesting character who I think managed to get lucky and hit on that same amazing situation that made Kaufman such a spectactular heel. My intution wants to say that Kaufman was somehow better because he managed to calculate and construct this situation, whereas Bret got lucky. I feel that if I dug deep enough I could come up with an explanation for Bret's downfall as a result of this, though perhaps Kaufman would have had just as weak and sad of a downfall if he had lived long enough.
I'm not quite sure yet...