It would seem John Cena is channeling a 1997 Vince McMahon in explaining his current role on WWE TV.
You remember when Vinny Mac went on television in Dec. 1997 to introduce the "Attitude Era" with his now famous promo explaining that the era of the superhero was dead and gone. Here's a taste of what else he said (click here for the full vid):
"We in the WWF think that you, the audience, are, quite frankly, tired of having your intelligence insulted. We also think you're tired of the same old simplistic theory of good guys vs. bad guys."
This philosophy was adopted around that time because of anti-heros like Stone Cold Steve Austin and heels that everyone cheered for like D-Generation X. We can trace it all back to Hulk Hogan and blame him, which Vince actually does in the full video, for the superhero character he presented. He was always the good guy because he presented the good message, while anyone that went against him was the bad guy because they, in turn, went against that message.
And that worked just fine in the late 80s and very early 90s. Fans were okay with the product at that time because most of them were kids and the ones that weren't, were too enthralled with the diversity of the characters to care all that much about the ideology of the pro wrestling industry.
Eventually, though, fans got tired of being browbeaten with the same stale message. Variety truly is the spice of life and defiance is the calling card of this entire generation. That's why factions like the NWO and DX, along with Stone Cold and The Rock, became megastars. They were the antithesis of the good guy/bad guy dynamic. Instead of being told to cheer for one or the other, you were presented with your options and allowed to decide for yourself, with the eventual on-screen product being tutored to whatever decision the majority of fans ultimately made.
Today? Not so much.
Or maybe it is the same today and it's just not caught on as well. I say all this to lead into recent comments made by the top babyface in the business today, John Cena. Except he disagrees, heavily, with being branded as such. That label doesn't suit who he is nor the character he plays.
When told on his Twitter that he needed to turn heel already, Cena went on a tirade. Here's what he said:
"Yawn..stop looking at this bizz in black and white. I am not a 'heel' or a 'face', I am me. I find it comical that u truly believe that archaic ideology still exists. Today, wwe fans cheer for who they please, which is why I love this company. I should mail u a pair of my shorts, because your stuck in 1993. I thought I made it pretty clear at contract signing where I stood. I guess there's a lot of folks out there whose capacity is as limited as "my offense". :) I back those who back me. And those who back me, get ready for one Helluva few months! Rise Above Hate. This 'soap box moment' was brought to you by Fruity Pebbles. :) Thanks again to ALL those who never give up."
While I can certainly appreciate his sentiments, he's badly mistaken as to the direction the very company he works for has been going in for the past five or so years.
He is EXACTLY like Hulk Hogan in nearly every way imaginable ... other than his near total lack of ability to win over a wider scope of the overall fanbase.
For years now, his character has been centered around fighting the good fight and sticking up for the fans (who, presumably, can't stick up for themselves). This gimmick has failed on a massive level with the same folks who have called so boisterously for him to turn heel already and reintroduce the edge he once had when he initially broke into the business.
It's fine if he continues on his path of being the hero who stands up for what is good and right in the world. If that's the line he wants to play, great. But he adds an entirely different level when he directly attacks a fan who doesn't believe in the way he does things.
The deeper level to this is that good vs. evil will always work in some form or capacity. It's all about the delivery of that notion that determines whether or not it gets over to the fans. Why? Because conclusions will be drawn no matter what Cena does. If he laughs in a manner that most people find annoying, he will be booed and treated as a heel. If he walks in a way that people find entertaining, he will be cheered as a face.
What is important to remember, though, is that playing both sides of the fence never works. Having the top guy in your company consistently riding the line and never quite fully making his choice to sit on one side is disastrous to long-term results. No one was ever really a booming success as a tweener. The biggest names in the history of the business found the side that worked for them and exploited it to its maximum capacity.
The side that works best for John Cena, or at the least the one it would seem to, is as a heel. His character is one that is easy to despise. He reminds me of a young Kurt Angle, who was packaged as a babyface and got over as a heel because his goody two-shoes act didn't fly with the audience.
When he turned heel, though, he became a huge star.
In the end, it's not about being good or bad, or a heel or a face. It's about finding the right formula for each particular character within the limitations of said character. Cena doesn't work as a face because too many people want to boo him. And those that cheer him and "stand behind" him will only continue to do so as long as he lets them. If he wanted, he could turn them, too.
Cena is right about fans making the choice to cheer or boo him. But unlike the "Attitude Era," the fans choice is not being met with the same reaction. The WWE is not falling in line with what the fans so clearly want. It's not the fans that need to get with the program here; it's John Cena.