John Cena to blame for WWE's current struggles?
Well this article thinks so anyways.
How the Storytelling Medium of Professional Wrestling Broke Down
- BY CHRIS SIMS
- 6:30 AM
http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/un...a1-300x247.jpgAt its best, professional wrestling is a storytelling medium — albeit one that’s mostly built on guys in tiny pants beating each other into submission two or three times a week — but over the past year, World Wrestling Entertainment’s mechanism of good guys, bad guys, plot twists and the strange logic that leads every single conflict to be settled in the ring has become increasingly broken. There’s a disconnect between what they’re telling us and what’s actually happening in their stories, and there’s no character that embodies that problem more than John Cena.
Even if you don’t watch pro wrestling, you’ve probably seen John Cena at least a few times. He’s the big square guy in jorts, dog tags and a crew cut who’s responsible for selling an entire rainbow of t-shirts advising young wrestling fans to live by the nebulous tenets of “Hustle, Loyalty and Respect.” As a character, he’s spent the last ten years evolving from a wannabe gangsta to the top good guy in wrestling, a stand-up hero who fights for what’s right no matter what it might cost him.
The thing is, he’s not. He’s more like the snobs who tried to get Delta House guys in Animal Housekicked out of college.
For better or worse, Cena’s the face of World Wrestling Entertainment. He’s the one on the programs and the collector cups, he’s at the top of the card in every event that he’s at, he’s even the one playing the role of conductor in that new video where the roster sings Jingle Bells. The trick is that at this point, his character almost has to work in a very specific way. He’s the king, and because of that, he really only works as a hero when he’s fighting against something from outside his kingdom.
That’s what his feuds through 2011 were all about: using his status as the top dog to build conflicts that had actual weight, rather than just having him win because he wins. Admittedly, there was also this weird month-long diversion that was structured like a horror movie about Kane throwing Cena’s inept-but-likable pal off a loading dock, and that ended with the kind of slut-shaming and misogyny that even pro wrestling should’ve moved past by now, but overall, he came out of it okay. He had defeats and triumphs, and more importantly, he had motivation that was both clear and heroic.
Unfortunately, 2012 rolled around and the storytelling mechanism of the WWE promptly shot itself in the foot at every single opportunity.
Part of the problem was that over the course of that big year-long epic, they’d pretty much exhausted their supply of outsiders for Cena to fight. His brutal victory against Brock Lesnar was a symbolic defense the entire concept of pro wrestling against encroachment from MMA and an incredible triumph for his character, but it also put him pretty unambiguously back at the top of his field. Like Alexander, he had no more worlds to conquer. But unlike Alexander, he still had to show up and fight somebody on the next Monday Night Raw.
As the WWE’s favorite son, Cena doesn’t really need the championship belt. He’s a ten-time champion already, so it’s not like he’s looking for that one last shot at immortality. He’s the star of the show whether he has the belt or not, unlike CM Punk, who clings to it as a symbol of the respect he hasn’t been able get in any other way. Cena’s desire for the championship seems to come from a sense of entitlement. At worst, he just doesn’t want CM Punk to have it, and at best, he just feels like it ought to be his — a sense of entitlement that seems more in like with joining Neidermeyer and the rest of the Omegas in plotting against those misfits in Delta House.
He’s also aligned himself with authority figures, which might be an even biggest sin, as fans tend to rally behind hell-raisers who buck authority. Perhaps the most consistent power fantasy of wrestling is the common man battling against the rich guys and the corporate big shots, a story that gives fans a chance to vicariously vent their frustrations at their boss/principal/mom/teacher.
It’s a formula that almost always works. But despite ostensibly being the good guy, Cena’s role as the biggest and most marketable superstar has lead him to buddy up with the same evil fatcats that we loved seeing “Stone Cold” Steve Austin drag through an arena at gunpoint back in the ’90s.
The worst of it came recently, when Cena allied himself with WWE chairman Vince McMahon. It’s worth noting that in the ever-changing continuity of WWE, Vince had previously been ousted as CEO back at the start of this whole mess, only to swagger back onscreen with no explanation whatsoever. Equally inexplicable was the fact that he was met with cheers from the crowd, even though his return involved humiliating his subordinates and forcing them to call him “sir.”
But the nostalgia of a wrestling fan is a tricky thing. Much like the world of superhero comics, any reminder of that stuff you liked ten years ago — in McMahon’s case, his genuinely amazing tenure as the villain to Steve Austin’s anti-hero — is typically met with nostalgic approval.
The latest development in Cena’s descent into Snobhood? McMahon announced that he’ll be forcing this year’s winner of the Money in the Bank ladder match, Dolph Ziggler, to put his shot at the championship on the line against Cena at the next big event, giving Cena a convenient way to get back to the main event.
It’s the most blatant example of pulling strings to give him an endless amount of chances, and to make matters worse, it’s a pointless storytelling move. It doesn’t matter what the outcome is; if he loses, it doesn’t mean anything because it’s become evident that he’ll just be given another chance. If he wins, he doesn’t really gain anything because he’s in the exact same spot that he always is, and Ziggler loses some of his legitimacy to fix something that ain’t broken.
And all the while, Cena’s been playing up to his role as pro wrestling’s Greg Marmalard. His promos are built around insulting any funny-looking members of his competition even when he’s not even remotely involved in their storylines. Recent video packages have had their colors desaturated to turn the pink baseball cap he wore for breast cancer awareness month into a muted gray now that October’s over. His current storyline involves a nebulous grasp of blackmail where the major hardship is that he’s given the petite and adorable AJ Lee the worst kisses ever broadcast on national television. He might as well just challenge Rodney Dangerfield to a game of golf and get it over with. And yet, he keeps getting cheered, because WWE presents all of this stuff as positive and heroic.
I’m not saying Cena has to come out, rescue a kitten from a tree, buy everyone in the crowd an ice cream cone and shake hands with his opponent before every match, but to be honest, that’d be better than what we have right now. Right now, we have a guy who looks like he’s trying to shut down the rec center unless a gang of scrappy kids can raise enough money by breakdancing to stop him, and that means something’s broken.