Monday, September 8, 2014

Instant Feedback: The Long Con

Cena may not have been on a path of change, but it's nice to imagine
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Over the last ten years, John Cena has been as regular as the sunrise. He's become as inevitable as death and taxes. As he reminds the viewing public every week on RAW, some of the fanbase is sick of him, and others still love him. You know, the kids who did their homework early so their dads could take them to RAW, and the dads whose kids have someone to believe in, and the soldiers whom Cena goes to visit, whom Cena regards as his own heroes. But even his haters seem to have settled into a comfortable groove. I don't want to accuse all wrestling fans of being easily and happily complacent, but WWE seems happy to keep grooving the same rut for as long as it gets the same return on investment, whether monetary or in the decibel department.

The cause of his staid nature could very well have been Vince McMahon going into cruise control creatively. However, the transition process for Triple H and Stephanie McMahon taking over the show has already begun. The process won't happen overnight; Papa McMahon will continue to have some kind of say, if not the final say, as long as he's breathing and of sound mind. But his influence is eroding. Maybe that change is as gradual as the creep of a glacier, but it's happening. Coincidentally, the cracks in Cena's facade have also been showing themselves.

Programming him against Bray Wyatt earlier in the year and Paul Heyman now, using the WWE standard operating procedure of the last ten years, has to be some kind of random coincidence. The two most silver tongues in the company both appealed to Cena's lizard-brained tendencies to embrace his inner demon, or embrace the hate so to speak. Lining up Cena's opponents even going as far back as Kane in early 2012 can lead to some kind of false sense of longterm planning. But what if a change was coming, gradually, but surely?

Cena did show some dickheaded behaviors in his big retort to Heyman's usual easy mode promotion on Brock Lesnar. Most of his delivery was impassioned, one of the best, most sympathetic and heroic speeches he's ever given. But he gave some tells that for a company that doesn't book everyone to be a colossal shitheel like WWE would have been red flags. At the beginning, Cena belittled the Undertaker, and at the end, he physically threatened a man whom he knew couldn't put up a fight against him, recorded official win against CM Punk be damned.

Everyone who watches knows that WWE doesn't have the track record to deserve the credit for creating a nuanced story. Cena shaded the Undertaker after losing to Lesnar because he's always been petty, and he threatened to beat Heyman up because WWE good guys aren't good at all. I mean, Dolph Ziggler hacked into Miz's phone and played up the pictures he stole in a way that made himself look like a goddamn homophobe, and the story was meant to play him up like the hero. WWE is a hole filled with garbage, and the people bathe in the refuse more happily than Oscar the Grouch.

But what if this year has been a long con? What if Cena's apparent dominance of Wyatt has been a smokescreen, that Wyatt really has affected him but he was just too good at hiding the scars? What if Cena really is about to tape into his dark side, especially after another failure at the hands of Lesnar at Night of Champions? What if the endgame was Cena forming an unholy alliance with the Eater of Worlds, causing his transformation to become complete? It would provide a sea change in WWE (especially if Roman Reigns continues to take off, Dean Ambrose gets properly followed upon, and Daniel Bryan comes back healthy eventually) and it would pay off on Wyatt's character in the most meaningful way possible.

I doubt the scenario will play out that way, however. Cena going to the devil is too drastic a move right now, especially for the snail's pace his hypothetical narrative has moved. But with the way RAW has played out recently, maybe the best way to watch is with an imagination.