In Defense of Kaneda Pinball Podcast - Or Why Pinball Needs a Good Heel
For those of you who are familiar with the world of pro wrestling (and I know a lot of you are, otherwise we wouldn't have several wrestling-themed pins to enjoy), you're probably already aware of the concept of faces and heels.
For those less familiar, let us educate you.
The Art of the Face
A face, or babyface, is the good guy in the match. They are the character the audience cheers for, and who usually (but not always) wins.
The heel, on the other hand, is the villain in the match and is designed specifically to draw heat (boos) from the audience and generally get the audience invested in both the larger storyline at play and openly rooting for the opposing face.
Historically, most faces were nothing without their opposing heels, and as Mike Edison explains in, The Art of the Heel,
"It’s a truism of the sport that the heels sell tickets. Without the Iron Sheik, Roddy Piper, or a raft of other talented villains, the Hulkamania formula was worth nothing. The heel makes the face. Without a good villain, all you’ve got is a public service announcement."
-Mike Edison, The Art of the Heel
And this isn't a dynamic that's unique to wrestling either! Most good narrative stories that follow traditional structures will have some kind of protagonist vs antagonist dynamic to them. In those stories, you usually need the antagonist as a plot device that sets up conflict and challenges for the protagonist, and generally helps move the plot forward.
Master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock once explained this dynamic perfectly.
"The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture."
In other words, having a well-defined villain, with clear motivations, and behaviors, and that the audience can identify with on some level, is good for the larger story.
The World's Most Provocative Pinball Podcast
This brings us back to Chris Kaneda and the Kaneda Pinball Podcast, the creator of "The World's Most Provocative Pinball Podcast" (his words, not ours, though we tend to agree).
For all of the hate and derision Kaneda receives within the pinball community (particularly on Pinside) when viewed through the lens of a heel vs face wrestling match, or a good guy vs evil villain story, Kaneda Pinball Podcast is an essential piece of the pinball community writ large, and without him, the story of pinball would be much more boring to follow.
Does anyone have anything good to say about Kaneda?
— Nudge Magazine (@Laarks) July 25, 2022
Pinball is a close-knit, small community. It attracts a lot of outsiders and lovable weirdos (like your author), and most of us tie it closely to our individual personalities. Plus, most of us have first-hand experience with the scene very nearly ceasing to exist. Because of this, it can be pretty easy (and rewarding) to get caught up in being a cheerleader for the industry and those who work in it and support it.
It's the pinball manufacturers like Stern and Spooky and Jersey Jack, and the large majority of the pinball media, that become the faces of the industry. We root for them, we want them to succeed, and we want them to win.
But without someone like Kaneda, who can push, who can needle, draw an audience, who says things other people won't say, and whose greatest skill set is "pissing people off" (again, his words, Episode 700 of his Patreon podcast feed), there would be no drama.
And in a hobby that doesn't always have a ton of news to discuss, and needs to manufacture a lot of its own talking points and storylines (see, for example, our list of pinball theme rumors), the drama is essential for keeping the plot moving and for keeping fans cheering for the faces of the industry.
In wrestling, a top heel has no reservations about doing or saying whatever it takes to make the audience absolutely hate them - sometimes to the point of getting verbally or physically attacked by those same audience members. Heels certainly have their own fans and contingencies, but that's not always the intended outcome.
And whether it's truly intentional or not (I suspect a lot of it is more character than substance, it's clear he truly cares about pinball, but the shtick does sell, and he'd be a terrible marketer if he didn't realize that and push the edge), Kaneda is that person in spades, and we have little doubt that he knows it.
Kaneda is Pinball's Ultimate Heel
He's pinball's greatest heel, and probably always will be. People just love to hate the guy (they love to love him too, as evidenced by all his TWIPY wins) . A lot of you probably want to see him "defeated", but we would see that as a mistake. The dog who caught the car, as it were. At the end of the day, Kaneda's Pinball Podcast, and Kaneda himself, is an essential part of the pinball community and we would not be surprised if a lot of people secretly missed him were he to one day walk away.
So take a step back, subscribe to his Patreon feed, and take his content for what it's worth - pure heel-driven pinball entertainment, and appreciate that we have someone willing to put in the time and the effort to play that role in the pinball community.