These are the three pillars of the John Cena philosophy. He works hard. He is a company man. He is a class act. This philosophy has served him well over the years, as he transitioned from dick-joke doofus to the unassailable, squeaky-clean face of the company. You could complain about his limited repertoire in the ring. You could complain about his color-by-numbers promos. But John Cena devoted his life to being World Wrestling Entertainment’s #1 representative. He shook hands and kissed babies and granted more wishes to the Make-a-Wish Foundation than any other human being. He worked tirelessly and without complaint. He made near-impossible comebacks from injuries, shed blood in the ring, and was inundated by fans’ hatred for his predictable, impenetrable image.
He has led the company in merchandise sales for years. Despite the deafening protests that meet Cena in every arena (and blog), there are plenty of people who love him, and show it with their wallets. As much as the haters would love to see John Cena make a big change and turn heel, logic dictates that Cena is far too valuable as a babyface. The women who love that all-American prototype and the kids who love that superhero persona would be a lot less likely to don their “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” gear (available in a different color each season) if Cena was a bad guy. There are plenty of adult male fans who love him too – Cena is practically an honorary member of the American military, and I’m guessing that most countries outside of North America don’t take exception to him the way we do here.
And by “we”, I didn’t mean me – until recently. As a long-time fan, I enjoyed Cena’s filthy rhymes 10 years ago. Then I had a crush on him for a few years. Then I rooted for him against The Rock, both times. I think he played a significant role in some impressive wrestling matches. Above all, I admired John Cena’s adherence to the Spiderman slogan, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” He took his duties to heart, showing hustle, loyalty, and respect in everything he was asked to do – and beyond.
So it has been very disappointing to see Cena’s (on-screen) character devolve into an underhanded, disrespectful jerk – not in service of a heel turn, but as a supposedly-commendable babyface.
The three segments that have stood out to me all relate to Cena’s current feud with Rusev. I’m sure that if I went back and scrutinized the past couple of months, there would be plenty more to criticize, but frankly I don’t want the aggravation.
The first segment involved Cena manipulating his way into the match at WrestleMania. When Rusev and Lana refused to give him a match for the U.S. Title, Cena physically assaulted Rusev, torturing him repeatedly until Lana conceded to give him the match. It was a cowardly, brutal act that made Cena look like the biggest heel in town.
WWE is known to pull this stuff – Sheamus was a horrible babyface too, making fun of Alberto Del Rio’s Hispanic roots while we were all supposed to laugh and cheer. The company’s questionable treatment of various ethnic groups aside, Cena’s behaviour completely undermines the values that he’s supposed to be standing for. It makes no sense, and it makes him a lot less likable. I can’t say it enough – if he’s supposed to be the bad guy, then fine. But you are doing John Cena (and the audience that loves him) no favors by worshipping a bully. Don’t you WANT to give fans someone to root for? It unifies people, fuels their desires to see the good guy win, and opens up their wallets even more at the merch stand.
The second segment involved Cena arguing with Stephanie McMahon, during which time he called her a “Bitch”. Stephanie seems to get called a bitch a lot – a cursory check on YouTube found the Bellas and Daniel Bryan all chiming in over the last year, not to mention years of it during the Attitude Era. WWE’s attitude towards women is embarrassing to me as a female fan. Sometimes it’s downright enraging. And I hate to say it, but I’m used to the likes of Jerry Lawler making demeaning comments, but John Cena is supposed to be better than that. Does he NEED to rely on these playground antics?
“Oh but Stephanie’s in charge! She would have to be fine with it. Can’t you take a joke?” The “Can’t you take a joke?” defense is one of my most-hated in the history of horrible excuses. Trust me, if someone is offended, it’s not funny. Be a grown up and admit that you made a bad choice, then try not to make that same choice over and over again. If Stephanie thought it was a good idea, and cleared it ahead of time, then it shows a legacy of bad judgment. There are plenty of ways to get heat, but WWE seems far too lazy to explore them. John Cena can’t be a hero if he’s being a despicable person on TV and you’re heralding him as the good guy.
The final straw came for me last night on Raw, when John Cena delivered this promo in the middle of the ring:
“I saw Rusev backstage [at Extreme Rules], barkin’ orders at Lana, forcing her to walk into The Authority’s office with some sort of crazy plan. And then 10 minutes later, she walks out of The Authority’s office with another rematch. Kinda makes you think what that plan was about, don’t it? Fleshly allegations aside, I gotta give big stinky Rusev the respect he deserves. Folks, he keeps his pimp hand strong.
I kid, I kid. He gets my respect because Rusev refuses to quit.”
Oh, he’s just kidding! All good. But I’m guessing that when he says “I kid,” he doesn’t mean, “I’m kidding about Lana being a prostitute whose services Rusev leveraged to get a rematch” but really, “I’m kidding about Rusev doing a good job of it.”
What the hell is going on? Why destroy one of the few longstanding heroes that you still had going for you? Why alienate the women and children in your fan base that still loved him? I now think John Cena is about as appealing as a diaper full of moldy shrimp, and I sure wouldn’t keep my kids up past bedtime to watch a Cena promo. Are they trying to claw back the male fans who don’t like Cena’s image, by portraying him as a more edgy cock-of-the-walk?
I can’t believe how this has turned me into a pearl-clutching “shame on you!” kind of fan, but something’s rotten in the Cenation.
They’ve got a ready-made story in that Rusev is “not American” and so Cena must destroy him. Give me flags and tanks and Lana wearing a mink stole because she’s so stupendous. Better yet, give me a victorious Rusev who proclaims that no one calls Lana a “ho”, and he will bring class to the title. And if John Cena wants to act like a bully and disrespect women, at least give him the heel persona that he so richly deserves.