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Why Kevin Owens actually is ‘The Face of America’

And what it means for the rest of us.

United States Champion Kevin Owens on SmackDown Live

These are uncertain times. Americans of all stripes are looking to their leaders for inspiration and hope, and finding the primary examples notoriously lacking in all departments. Thus we must look elsewhere to find able representatives, to find men and women who reflect both our great strengths and great weaknesses. What we need are people we can relate to and help guide us through rocky seas—individuals of both great character and imperfections, who demonstrate that to be our best selves we must appreciate both our attributes and afflictions.

Americans need shining examples to help shape our narratives and enhance our experiences. Americans need examples like ... the United States Champion, Kevin Owens.

But not for the reasons you think.

On a surface level, KO’s story provides us with a wealth of American cliches: he “never gave up” in the face of constant adversity and doubters, and worked endlessly to achieve his lifelong dream; he came from elsewhere to make it big here, a classic “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” narrative that we Americans find so compelling. But a deeper reading provides us with so much more insight than these platitudes.

In one Talking Smack appearance, Owens again expressed his core philosophy that had gone temporarily missing—he is a devoted father of two and loving husband, and will do anything in his power to protect and advance those relationships. Everything he says and does derives from that very simple fact: if you know this truth, you will know Kevin Owens. It is, on the surface, a refreshing simplicity for a world that easily drives one mad with complexity.

Moreover, Owens would never deny this, and in fact would hold this truth to be self-evident. What you see from him is what you get—there really should be no surprises anymore. People like Chris Jericho may convince themselves otherwise, but Owens’ pattern of repetitive behavior is clear to any paying attention. If you are not his immediate family, you are merely a tool that he will wield in whatever ways necessary to benefit them.

Deep down, “The Prizefighter” appears to be a relentlessly common man. He need not immerse himself with fancy shoes and other material possessions, for those accoutrements are only sideshows from what is really important. He likes zoos, bantering on Twitter, wrestling, and providing for his family.

In American parlance, Owens is a “straight talker.” Owens presents himself as simple, but is masking something more insidious: he does not lie, but will also not correct you if you end up believing an untruth. Rather, his extreme—arguably sociopathic—levelheadedness allows those around him to convince themselves of things he plainly does not believe. When someone makes no outward display of fealty to honesty, we often convince ourselves that they have indeed done so—because we want to believe in their better nature.

Either way, Kevin Owens teaches us to keep our guards up.

There’s a wonderful duality to Owens—which makes his character such a compelling heel persona—that claims to provide a common truth while in reality presenting the exact inverse as the way to follow.

Firstly, Owens would never claim himself to be a demigod, and in fact likely would scoff at the suggestion that he is a man to idealize. But that is what makes him so important to Americans in these trying days—we are all struggling to adapt to new realities, and a seemingly appealing first step to tackling that task is to admit its power over us and, like he does, double down on whatever few things we each most hold true. Seek comfort in the people and places and things where we can most readily find such a luxury.

But the true, far greater lesson he demonstrates is that this philosophy—simple and pleasing as it may ostensibly appear—can also spring a trap of its own. When we narrow the things and experiences and beings that truly matter to such a small list, we can became fanatical in the defense of them. If we willingly remove ourselves from our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances, it shall come as no surprise when our setbacks become spirals and our successes fail to become lasting achievements. If we trust no one else, no one else will trust us. Isolationism will destroy us all.

Nay, the true richness of America lies not in a hyper insularity, but a belief in openness:

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Whether America and Americans have always lived up to that credo is an entirely different question. (Spoiler: It, and we, haven’t.) But that philosophy, that fundamental principle, is unique unto the world. Too frequently we fail to appreciate the beauty of its message—but lord, when we do, it is a special gift to humankind. We Americans task ourselves with fighting an uphill struggle against the powerful and avaricious alongside our brothers and sisters—and through that common bond, accepting each other as we are.

Perhaps the most fundamentally American aspect of Owens is his wealth of unrecognized flaws. Let’s be clear—Kevin Owens is a massively insecure man, rankled by raging, untamed jealousies (“They called him first”). His deep-seated, unresolved emotional vulnerabilities are something so common for a society in crisis like our own. They are his driving force to both greatness and destruction, and only context will decide which lever is flipped at any given moment.

Introspection is not Kevin Owens’ strong suit; nor is it ours. His unwillingness to examine his own motivations is worryingly reminiscent of our worst streak, of a zealous arrogance that what we do and believe is simply right because it is what we do and believe. His inherent failing—that anything is justified in order to provide for his family—mirrors our own inability to be self-critical, to see things how they truly are.

As noted above, Kevin Owens is many things. But most simply of all, the rich, compelling, deeply flawed tapestry of Kevin Owens is America. Examining both what he claims is right and what actually is right—and why there’s such a profound difference between the two—can reveal so much about the current state in which these United States find themselves mired.

Welcome to KO Country.

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