Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Languid Reflections on Absurdity: The Gaping Void in the Heroic Narrative

Unlike Cena, this demigod did have a weakness
When I watch wrestling, I admire the athleticism. It's not the main reason that I spend my time indulging in what most would term a “wasteful” activity, however. It mostly comes down to the narrative. I think most would agree when I say that in modern era WWE, the only narrative that matters is the “main event” storyline, the one that centers, usually for the worse, on John Cena. I don’t want to be yet another wanker on the internet who “hates” John Cena and loves stars from the independents, but then again, recent events force me, very reluctantly indeed, to look long and hard at John Cena.

A story which has a hero in it usually has to show conflict which affects said hero. Usually the it develops based on the protagonist's weaknesses. See, for example, Homer's Illiad, or, you know, almost everything ever written. Japanese anime has usually done this by putting the hero who has certain special powers in situations where he has to confront and question the morality of his actions, and judge his motivations for himself. For example, watch Code Geass, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Full Metal Alchemist or Trigun, just to name a few off the top of my head. Hopefully these references are not too obscure. Full disclosure - I am what they call in Japanese lingo an "otaku."

WWE has served us a hero who not only is unpalatably goody-goody, but immutable, like a rule carved in stone. He is like Goku in that immeasurably stupid anime, DragonballZ, who has nowhere to go because his superpowers are at max, and his actions are always, unquestionably correct. John Cena is never placed in a situation where there might be two valid arguments about the course of action he might have to take. No quandaries. No nothing. This narrative of a hero who cannot be overcome, and who in turn, does not have to overcome anything, who has nary a thought for self-reflection makes me sick and tired. Don't get me wrong; I have zero issues if WWE wants to portray a physical freak who cannot be overcome in the ring, however problematic that may be practically and undesirable if they want to build new stars. What I would like, however, is for us to get some sort of character development on a psychological level.

Again, it is entirely possible to take another interpretation for what we have seen so far - that Cena was never the hero. We saw glimpses of this during July 2011 (e.g. the recap of the Punk-Cena feud aired during the Money in the Bank 2011 event just before the main event), but it is unlikely that this scenario will ever play out onscreen. We are most likely stuck in kayfabe with a John Cena we are supposed to cheer on.

The only one to blame is me, because I expect a giant corporate entity to generate honest, thought inducing stories. In reality, for 10 years the only real narrative seems to be John Cena. He is the ultimate deus ex machina for any and all kinds of stories. He is the gold standard to which all our heroes get reduced to, even who used to be our main man, Daniel Bryan. It must have been so bittersweet for Bryan when he transformed from an honest to gawd artist to a guy starting BONER chant for a new guy who had never done anything to him. As per the current narrative if Stardust or Roman Reigns ever become a main eventer they would probably start off their run with either dick jokes or other gross-out bodily function humor like they did with drowning Dolph Ziggler in poop or dumping green slime on the Spirit Squad. How long before WWE runs with either of those incidents again?

The real question is whether WWE will ever give us the baby face that a sentient, reasonably intelligent species deserves or will they give us Superman aka "Lazy Storytelling Method 101?" At this point I’ll take anything different. Even a pre-1997 Bret Hart would do wonderfully well. Heck, now that was some babyface fire. To hell with it, freaking AJ STYLES is a much better face than John Cena. When Styles got thrown around by the MONSTER Abyss in a steel cage you bought it. When Sting got continually betrayed by Lex Luger, you bought it. When Bret Hart felt wronged by the fans for their rude treatment, you…oh wait, that was actually the best storyline of all time in WWE till date.

The thing with all those examples was that you bought it, because you could relate to it. How many of you can relate to a guy who never makes mistakes, never (really) loses, never questions his actions (as destructive of other people they might be, remember Zack Ryder and Eve Torres?), and has never any qualms or self-doubts? Hell, the only person who could relate to this sort of shit is friggin’ Dracula. He too never lost, had amazing superpowers, was immortal, and had no questions about the morality of his actions.

The best pro wrestlers, heel or face, are those that endear themselves to the audience through their humanity, cases in point: Eddie Guerrero, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Dusty Rhodes, and most recently Dean Ambrose. When his character shows the emotional wounds from a (supposed) closer than a blood brother's betrayal, you can get behind that. I can't remember John Cena showing that kind of vulnerability. Even when he makes those angry faces, I can feel the fakeness behind the rage, because you know that next week all will be forgotten. If Cena the character never shows up on RAW again, I would probably not miss him because he lacks a past. Rather his past never informs his present or future. Why should I feel emotionally attached to a guy for whom the past does not exist? Guerrero's past informed his present, because he remembered - he would play off it, if that's the word - to make the audience feel that they had a payoff for investing in watching him for so many years. Watch Shawn Michaels' match with Triple  H at SummerSlam 2002 (or any of the matches from his second run, really). The contentment and thankfulness that shines from his face is based on the bitter experiences from his first run. I don't know how he did it, but somehow he could reflect his whole career from every word and action.

The more pressing problem with Cena is that he leads to ennui, something which is dangerous for wrestling fandom. When I know that the end result of the grand narrative will be Mr JACK, the Champ is Here, it cuts me off. I grow disinterested, because, let’s face it, the undercard can hold me for only so long. We need a hero who is vehemently the anti-Cena, and who remains that way. Right now, watching Bryan becoming a prime candidate for being the defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit (if WWE was real) is painful. The very fact that it is possible to have a baby face who is nothing at all like John Cena the character shows how deeply flawed the mentality of Vince McMahon/Reactionary America really is.