This is simply an extended reponse to my previous column dealing with the wide-open subject of John Cena. “Bored Wrestling Fans” very own Jana always provides a good read and I thought that her opinions were so great that it’d be a shame not to share them with the rest of you! Couldn’t fit THIS into one measly comment!
The current anti-Cena attitude can be traced to several factors.
The easy thing to do, which is also incorrect, is to make blanket assumptions, such as “The IWC hates Cena,” or that only women and kids cheer for Cena. Both of those statements are demonstrably false. Show me a fan of ANYTHING today who doesn’t spend time on the internet, researching and seeking to connect with others of like mind. I don’t remember anyone ever claiming that only women and kids cheered for Hulk Hogan back in the 80s, and if it were true for Cena, it would almost have to be true for Hogan. The argument that Hogan was a star in a more innocent time, where older kids and guys would have felt comfortable supporting him, and that we today have already experienced the age of the anti-hero, making the more traditional hero less attractive, doesn’t stand up either. Hogan’s heyday in the 80s was the time of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, the X-Men comics (which I know were created earlier, but were still very popular), the golden age of hard rock and heavy metal, and a host of other tv, movie, and comic book characters who were as dark, edgy, and of the anti-hero vein as anything that we have today.
Wrestling fans have grown up accustomed to “cool” heels. The nWo holds much responsibility for this, as does DX, the original ECW, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and the Rock. We’ve almost been trained to be contrary, cheering for heelish characters and booing babyfaces. The example of the Rock is always trotted out, and the comparison has some merit. Rocky Maivia was too goody-goody and boring. The Rock was everything that we wanted to be. Cena was quite popular all around when he first started the rapper gimmick, largely because he was unpredictable on the mic. He would cut down anyone, including Vince McMahon. Nowadays, he grunts and makes rather constipated-looking facial expressions while repeating lackluster catchphrases like “Never give up.” Cena is doing exactly what he is supposed to do by playing the indestructible super hero that every kid loves, but in doing so, he has completely alienated the rest of the audience that is not part of the PG demographic.
This leads me to the next point. Whether it really happened because Linda McMahon decided to run for Senate or not, the shift to the PG product and tightly focused marketing on kids is, to a degree, a very sound business decision. The golden age of WWF in the 80s (I consider the Attitude Era a completely different creature from any sort of “golden age.”) targeted kids. Business boomed. Now those very kids are grown and have their own kids. It’s a basic business concept to “get ‘em when they’re young,” and then you have customers for life. It certainly worked before. The problem with catering to a new generation of fans is that the previous generation of fans, who have supported the product with time, money, and passion, feel slighted and even cheated. The resentment and hatred over that is transferred to the company’s poster boy, John Cena. The thing that WWE seems to have forgotten in their new business model is that the kids aren’t paying for anything. Parents and guardians, adults, in other words, have to take the kids to the shows, buy tickets, t-shirts, masks, and all the other merchandise that gets created, and sit through the shows with the kids, both live on on tv. If the parents think that the content is stupid, or embarrassing/insulting to human intelligence, they won’t want to spend the time and money on WWE that they once did. Basically, there has to be something in it for them as well, and WWE is ignoring that.
This ties in with my final point. You were dead-on about having a company that has a bit of everything. That’s why I (and so many others, by the sound of it) feel so disappointed and let down by both WWE and TNA. I wouldn’t mind sitting through a John Cena match if I knew that I would get an Alex Shelley match somewhere else on the card. The most effective and profitable concept for pro wrestling has always been, and always will be, what I call the circus model. It has a little bit of everything, and all of it is good. Comedy acts, like Santino Marella and Hornswaggle. Over-the-top epicness like the Undertaker and Kane. Special attractions like the Great Khali and the Big Show. True tag teams like the Hart Dynasty, the Usos, Beer Money, and the Motor City Machine Guns. Legitimate women’s matches with actual wrestlers like Beth Phoenix, Natalya, Mickie James, Daffney, Sarita, MsChif, and Sara Del Ray. Mat-based technical wow-fests with people like Douglas Williams, Nigel McGuinness, Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, Davey Richards, KENTA, and Roderick Strong. Powerhouses like Drew McIntyre, Samoa Joe, and Sheamus. Super-athletic high-fliers like Brian Kendrick, Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne, Justin Gabriel, John Morrison, and Austin Aries. That would be every wrestling fan’s dream.
The company with the broadest appeal does the best business. ROH caters to a very specific audience, and that’s great for that audience. They specifically say that they aren’t interested in the casual fan, and that they provide serious wrestling that has nothing to do with sports entertainment for fans of real pro wrestling. Fine, that’s their thing. The big two aren’t much better. WWE hates tag teams, most of the smaller and more athletic high-fliers, and legitimate female wrestlers who don’t look like Barbie dolls. They focus on children at the expense of the adult audience. TNA prides themselves on being a more adult product, but Eric Bischoff mocks the hardcore wrestling fans and says repeatedly that they don’t matter, that the casual fans were the target audience. As you said, TNA has tried so hard to be WWE that they have lost almost everything that made them different. The X-Division, the six-sided ring, the legitimate Knockouts division, the focus on true tag teams, and the international talent are all gone.
How does all this tie back in to John Cena? While there are a given number of douchebags who have to make sure that everyone knows that they are far too cool to ever like something that is popular or mainstream, most of it, I honestly believe, stems from frustrated and disappointed fans who feel that there is nothing in the WWE product for them anymore. They resent having devoted so much time, money, and passion into something that has essentially ditched them. Because John Cena is the embodiment of the current WWE product, all the negative feelings are transferred to him. Booing and criticizing him is easier than actually getting the desired changes from Vince and the WWE. It’s rather like spending huge quantities of time, effort, and money on dating someone, and then you get kicked to the curb for someone else. Of course you hold that individual up as the epitome of all that is wrong with the world. It’s how human nature works.
My thoughts, at least.