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CM Punk, heel turns, and how we digest pro wrestling

A heel would never do this.
A heel would never do this.

Old habits die hard.

Thanks to WWE and its style of booking for such a prolonged period of time, pro wrestling fans of today are seemingly fixated on ushering every wrestler into individual groups. You're either a heel, a babyface, or a tweener, meaning you're either a good guy, a bad guy, or someone who toes the line between the two.

Viewing pro wrestling in this manner severely limits our ability to digest the story we're being told. Indeed, when CM Punk allowed Big Show to take out John Cena, the collective reaction of the fans didn't reflect Punk's masterful performance as he struggled through a moral dilemma. He was faced with a choice between helping a man he respects, a man he likes even, and allowing him to get beat down by a man he doesn't because it would serve Punk's best interests, namely keeping the WWE championship.

In those few precious moments, Punk was left to decide what was more important to him -- keeping the WWE championship or helping a friend. He chose the former and it furthered his character arc, adding even more depth to an already complex individual.

That's why it was mildly disappointing to see fans so fixated on one thing -- "Awesome, Punk turned heel."

What is it about this label that is so important to us? Is it because it's important to WWE and how they tell stories? There's no doubting that heels are given more leeway, able to speak freely and shoot from the hip, whereas babyfaces are stuck in a vanilla world where there are very few shades of grey.

It's just unfortunate that we're so quick to place these boundaries around these artists because it limits their ability to be just that. One could argue the entire pro wrestling construct is flawed because of this want to restrict the natural tendencies of the human condition. Punk is a study in character, a man with deep flaws who is finding it difficult to navigate this road he is on with the added responsibility of being WWE champion. But he's also somewhat drunk with power, upset that he's not given more respect for the position he has attained within the company.

It's why he attacked The Rock. Not to "turn heel" but to satisfy his own need to maintain the status quo in his own mind, that the WWE champion should be the one closing the show and standing tall, one peg above the rest.

Some fans cheered Punk for his actions, for reasons only they can tell you. Others booed, unhappy with the decisions Punk has been making. Both have every reason to do so because we all react differently to unique situations between these wrestlers with differing interests. That's not a bad thing and we should embrace the depth wrestlers like Punk bring to the story.

Instead of labeling him good or bad and narrowing our view of the pro wrestling world, let's examine the intricate reactions to these increasingly complex situations. Everything isn't so black and white after all.

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