Monday, July 7, 2014

Languid Reflections on Absurdity : Bald Badasses and Collector Cup Demanding Douchebags

Punk did this backstage
Photo Credit:
Through the years, anti-authority storylines have always resonated with the public, more than any of the other convoluted faction war mish-mash or personal grudge matches (whether they are over shampoo or women irrespective). Whether it is the Stone Cold saga or Money in the Bank 2011 or the recent Daniel Bryan story up to WrestleMania XXX, the hysteria over these angles shows that WWE connects deeply with the audience with these Authority/Corporate Sell Outs v. Mythical Greek Heroes. However, there is a substantial difference between 1999 and 2011. In the following short piece I give my reasons as to why I despise the characters of CM Punk and John Cena but still love "Stone Cold" Steve Austin circa 1998-early 1999.

This is the age of brass rings. You are made to jump through hoop after hoop, in the hope of a better tomorrow, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty. It never really happens though. Most people show up to work only because they never make enough to go home and stay there forever. This wasn’t the case always. Once upon a time in America, people believed that if they were honest and hardworking they would get their just desserts and the wicked, the lazy would be punished. Their bosses, the ultimate American heroes, the almighty owners, would always respect the good people, that merit would be rewarded. Blue collar, white collar, it didn’t matter - you will be respected if you worked hard. Healthcare would always be affordable, college education would be accessible, and a liberal arts degree wouldn’t be regarded as Coleridge’s Albatross. There would be no repercussions from raping the environment. Modern day existence would continue forever. Life would be easy. Travelling by a vehicle which runs on petrol would be a good idea. Rock and roll would never die. Hulk Hogan would always be a hero. The naivete or willful denial of reality, whichever it might be, would almost be touching if it wasn’t so horribly misplaced.

The more dreary the reality, richer the fiction that man draws up to stop himself from climbing the walls. However, even in fiction, it is only conflict that can lead to catharsis. Even this subset can be further divisible – the fundamental conflict of human life in the 21st century vis a vis the guy who owns the business vs. the guy who actually does all the work and gets paid a pittance to do so. The more fiction reflects real life conflict, the more chances that people will relate to it, that they will demand a proper resolution, a resolution that would not take place in real life.

This phenomenon manifested itself in wrestling, first in the late 90’s and then in 2011. Austin was the guy who wanted to come to work. Punk just wanted to show the finger and leave. Somehow the motivation of our chosen ones changed drastically.

Vince McMahon was the boss who wanted to fire the beer swilling, foul mouthed Texan. He never wanted to fire Punk because he would rather present him with metaphorical brass rings. He had become wiser, more subtle as has the “real” world, a more subtle and cunning world; a world where rather than fire you they will try and infuriate you, try to isolate you, belittle you and make you quit. Why bother with conflict when they are big enough to conquer the spirit? McMahon could have tried to break Austin’s back, but they could never kill his spirit. By the time June 27, 2011 rolled around, Punk had been broken into pieces. He was never called “trailer park trash”. They never tried to make him wear a suit. There was no “corporate” Rock. No stooges. Just the unconquerable machine, layers and layers of corporate doublespeak.

Austin was the man. He was, as he himself put it, red hot, white fury. Just look at the Stunner, how expressive and contemptuous a move it was. Succinct. Explosive. Those were times when people had hope. They could see the enemy and when you can see the enemy you can beat the enemy, or at least, be passionate about beating the enemy. By the time 2011 rolled around, they were inured to the routine. No hope, but only quiet desperation had settled over the world like soot used to settle down on Dickensian London on Monday mornings. Things are not getting better, so what’s the use? In this world, the only hero is the guy who beat the game and got to go home. Not the one who put on black boots and black trunks and showed up no matter what. Austin was epic fantasy fiction. The Pipe Bomb was acceptance of reality. "Stone Cold" was the white knight in the vein of Robin Hood and Harry Potter. The Best in the World, ironically, was the average guy.

And John Cena? He's the summation of modern neo-liberal civilization, a string of empty words, a walking talking billboard, Mr. Charity, a marketing gimmick that people accept because they are too tired, dammit. He is the disingenuous machine that will not even accept that there is a problem. You show up every day and work hard, dammit, just like I did. You keep your mouth shut and show respect. Hustle, Loyalty, Respect was not about John Cena, it was the machine’s message to the Universe, a code to live by. Be loyal and respectful even if you are treated like yesterday’s news, dammit. There was no reason for anyone, anyone to be pissed. Put up or shut up, dammit. The guys in charge are good people, and if you have breast cancer, they will donate money, dammit, instead of, you know, universal healthcare. Cena did not understand Punk in the beginning, (Punk became Cena later on) and he could never have understood Austin. You want me to be a white rapper guy? Cool. You want me to turn into a philanthropist wrestler, a veritable, figurative Mr. America for kids? Cool. (Ed. Note: The literal Mr. America was another WWE megastar altogether.)

When Punk went home, it was time for the machine to co-opt the rebellion just like black metal was turned into mall metal. Punk came back, and they kept the false hope alive for the rest of the people that he had left behind in the trenches. Don’t go home because you never know when we might decide that the Sun should smile on your fate. Stay loyal, stay respectful, stay invested in us, period.

But then Punk himself wanted jet planes and ice cream bars. On one hand, Austin, being the classic medieval fantasy hero that he was, never wanted anything for himself. Even acquiring the title was just a way to piss everyone off. On the other hand, Punk’s biggest regret, at the end of the day, seemed to be that he was not a part of the upper echelon, the rest of the rantings about corporate yes-men and employee-employer disconnect turned out to be noise to garner public support. What concerns did the Voice of the Voiceless ever raise, really?

Austin never seemed to have such bourgeois aspirations. There seemed to be a brotherhood between the pot-bellied trailer park crowd and the redneck Texan. How redundant it all seems today. The Attitude Era seems to be the result of Tarantino’s cocaine fuelled wild western fantasy with heroes who were heroes with a penchant for beer and cursing. The Reality Era is depressingly predictable, just like modern life.

Austin was the aspiration to break the chains of conformism and doublespeak; Punk looked the same but was in fact the opposite. He with his stupid Pepsi tattoos and straight edge lifestyle was the commodification of rebellion. Like they said, oh brother; they need to rebel, why can’t we give them their hero? In a Freudian slip of epic proportions, they made their rebel demand limos and Lear jets. Straight Edge Superstar? More like the Narcissist Nature Boy, if you ask me. The manufactured rebel wore no clothes and had feet made of clay. He merely voiced the aspirations and deepest concerns of the corporate overlords.

Austin appealed to the optimistic romantic, while Punk, the biggest heel after Cena, represented the fall of man, the epitome of the culture of triviality and nonsense that we have cultivated in the 21st Century.