A recent post has gotten me thinking a bit, a sort of re-evaluating of wrestling and its relationship with its fans. It has caused me to rethink the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) in general and my own particular part in it. The most wonderful thing about pro wrestling is its inclusiveness. In all other fandoms, even sports, there is often a wall that separates the fans and the thing that they fangasm over. With pro wrestling, that wall always felt more like a fence. The relationship between a wrestler and a fan always felt a little more symbiotic and personal, especially when you see pro wrestling live.
At a live event with 20,000 people when a popular wrestler's music hits, there is an enormous burst of energy that we all share. The wrestler feeds on that energy and sends it back out to the fans in attendance. We're all connected into one loop of pure, human energy and there is nothing like it in the world, not for the wrestler and not for the fans.
Out of all the fandoms, the intense opinions on pro wrestling make the most sense. Its deeply personal for each wrestling fan out there. There is something incredibly unique and special about it, something essentially human. It's a theater of emotion and the purest of human spectacles. Wrestling geeks are the fandom that I understand the most. How easy it is to be completely swept up in this weird, strange world where grown men pretend to hurt each other for our entertainment. It's a fascinating world filled with fascinating characters both real and fictional, both in and outside the ring.
Forgive my ridiculously overwritten opening, but it was just something I wanted to say before I cut to the heart of this thing. Let's begin with this: John Cena has never been nor will ever be my favorite wrestler. He more than likely will never be a wrestler that I even like. I'm sorry, but its just a cold, hard fact of life. I'm certain John is heartbroken by this, sitting at his computer, eating fruity pebbles and reading Cageside Seats with a frown and a tear in his eye. Well, buck up, John. You can always take comfort in the fact that you have been, and continue to be, good for the wrestling business and its future.
In the past, I have been more than critical with the John Cena character. While he can occasionally give good to great performances, I often find his promos run the range of cringe worthy to bland and tedious. Cena fares a little better in the ring, depending on who is standing across from him when that bell sounds. That's my personal opinion, tempered by my personal biases of what I like and want to see when I watch pro wrestling. Every wrestling fan has different opinions and biases and views pro wrestling in different ways. While I'll never understand what it is that people see in Cena, the more I look at the current American pop culture landscape, the more grateful I am that he is around doing his thing. It's weird; I still would rather watch just about anyone else on the WWE roster, with the exception of Wade Barrett and The Miz, but now I'm beginning to become glad that he is here at all. In fact, I find myself grateful for the whole PG era, even though I'm not the biggest fan of it myself.
Oddly enough, it wasn't anything that WWE or John Cena did that put me on this road of thought. This digression I'm about to go on is outside the area of pro wrestling. However, once I make my way around, how it all relates to Cena and the PG era will hopefully become clear.
And now for something completely different....
I grew up in the 80's, so I never watched or cared about the Lone Ranger as a kid. I have been mildly aware of the character and the general mythos surrounding him, but I've never seen an episode of the show, and I used to constantly watch Mr. Ed, Car 54 and Patty Duke on Nick 'At Night. I remember watching the Rifleman with my grandpa, but he also watched Hee-Haw and The People's Court, so let's not dwell on his television viewing habits. [Can you smell what Judge Wapner is cooking? Smells like Perkins to me.]
Keep that previous paragraph in mind in regards to this next statement (you can delete the aside about Wapner and Perkins from memory if you like). Disney's The Lone Ranger didn't shit on my childhood, or probably anyone else's who is under 40-years-old. Disney's The Lone Ranger shits on the very concept of childhood. It's a mean, ugly film filled with self-loathing for its own source material. Every single piece of mythos in The Lone Ranger is twisted into a snarky, cynical joke that doesn't even have the decency to be funny. It is everything wrong with our current pop culture.
Comics, video games and movies have stripped away every single bit of magic and wonder from themselves, leaving only empty, cynical husks. Comics are often written for 30-year-old man-children to conform to their sexism and general antagonism for the world. Video games have descended to drab, brown and grey slogs through bad writing and brain dead game-play, all in the name of being "accessible" and "mature." Movies are now under-saturated, over-edited messes of badly shot action spectacle and hack plot shortcuts.
Everything has to be grim, dark, serious and "mature." Comics have taken the razor sharp, cynical edge of Alan Moore's Watchmen, and bludgeoned themselves with unsubtle Hammer of Nihilism (+2 Attack against Wood Elves and -2 Defense against Lawrence O'Donnell). There are a lot of comics that I like, but then something like the girlfriend in the refrigerator happens. Much of the geek community and the characters and properties that we hold dear have turned so ugly and cynical, I sometimes wonder if we might be hoarding these things to ourselves and pushing away the next generation of fans.
That is something that I don't have to worry about with wrestling. An entirely new generation of young wrestling fans are discovering this great entertainment because of John Cena's popularity with the kids. Those eight to twelve year old Cena fans will grow up, some of them will move on and some of them will join us as lifelong wrestling fans. Their tastes and biases will change over time, but in their hearts they will always have a special place for Cena, as I do for Hulk Hogan even though I think he is one of the most toxic parasites in wrestling today.
At the beginning of this very long post, I rambled on about energy and emotion. That magic is still there in WWE today. Cena is a part of that magic, a conduit of it. While he might not connect with the older fans, he sure as hell connects with the younger ones. Besides, us old timers have the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan to mark out over.
Let them have their Cena.
I even think that Cena deserves to be the top guy for this alone. In order for this machine to keep turning, new fans have to be converted. Get them while their young! While the IWC can bitch about workrate and story logic, I think the kids in the audience are more important. WWE is now family entertainment, which is great because our pop culture honestly needs better family entertainment. It's a difficult balance, between having the magic and wonder that can hook in the kids, and keep things interesting with well told stories to hold the older fan base. Right now, WWE is doing a pretty damn good job of it. There's a little something for everyone on Monday Night Raw right now.
They are sure as hell doing a lot better job of it than Man of Steel did. While I liked the movie, I was a little disappointed it was so humorless and colorless. It had none of the warmth, wonder or awe that comes with the Superman character. I think most kids would be bored with most of the movie until the punching started. Superheroes, video games and other forms of geek culture have been hoarded by older fans, whose insecurity demands that everything be "serious" and "mature."
Let's not make the same mistake, wrestling fans. This doesn't mean we can't criticize or dislike WWE's product or any of its wrestlers. But let's be grateful that in a world where a friggin' Superman movie had its color de-saturated (the fact that his suit was such a dark blue it may as well have been black still bugs the shit out of me), that WWE is countering the culture by being a vibrant, fun and colorful show filled with wonder, awe, and spectacle. Let's be grateful to all the little Cena fans out there, who just might grow up to become lifers and pass their love of this amazing, human spectacle onto their kids.
Pro wrestling is deeply American in a lot of ways. It deserves to be around in 50 to 100 years for a different generation of fans. In all the cynicism and grim dark cliches that are hounding our current pop culture, WWE is an oasis away from all that, where it's alright to still be a little silly, a little cheesy and a lot of fun. John Cena is the forerunner of that movement. It's funny: By becoming family entertainment, WWE and John Cena have become counter-culture once again.