On Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena

The following notes I composed before having a chance to watch Payback. I just can’t keep up with all of this archetyp-y goodness. It will be interesting to see if my thoughts are still relevant after the big showdown.

John Cena: man of the people, street poet, ever a baby face, literally and figuratively.  Up until now, I’ve never had much to say about him. I don’t dislike the man; populist folk heroes just aren’t my bailiwick. But Cena is suddenly interesting to me, now that his particular heroic alignment is challenged by a formidable anti-hero.

A considerable portion of the crowd is now booing for John Cena at the behest of Bray Wyatt. I don’t recall seeing anything quite like it before. It’s not that Cena is turning heel, it is the crowd that is turning, against a face. They are willingly following a brilliant cult leader as he deconstructs Cena’s heroic stature, urging us to question our blind devotion to a hero of no small stature who always seems to find himself in the convenient position of underdog. Wyatt says Cena “plays the role of hero while everything around him burns.” Could Wyatt be right, that Cena is the manipulator here ? Unlikely, but this is in fact wrestling, where the goal of the storyline seems to have become subverting the expected paradigm.

Even if Cena is correct and Bray Wyatt is all talk, the crowd is not wrong to hold up their lighter flame apps in the darkness and sing Wyatt’s spiritual with him. We owe him mad respect for breaking up the stale old black and white alignment of wrestling’s heels and faces, and for teaching us to confront what lurks in the tween of our own dark shadows. Just as Bray Wyatt’s hurricane lantern casts its LED glow on Wyatt himself, the people in the crowd flick their electronic Bics to illuminate a small sign of themselves in the dark sea of humanity.

Cena might well be a hero still worth holding up a sign for, but it’s about time we examine his legitimacy. For Cena to avoid the baby face stagnation of a Hulk Hogan or a Hacksaw Jim Duggan, he must weather these affronts to his heroic stature. In my opinion, he has the chops to become more complicated, nuanced. He did, after all, muster up his own Shakespearean veneer when he came back at Wyatt: “My name is John Cena. I am not a god, I am a man.”

UPDATE:  I ponied up $9.95 last night for the network and watched Payback.  Indeed!  Cena, in fact, is a far more interesting wrestler when he’s not an easy face.  Much as I revere Bray Wyatt for weaving such complexity into the narrative, I was gratified to see Cena descend into real darkness and weather the storm.  Plus, I love it when guys get put through tables, and when they destroy shipping containers for a coffin metaphor.  And the unspoken heroes of the night were the Usos, diving into the fray only to offset Wyatt’s stacked deck of redneck cronies.  The Usos demonstrated dogged loyalty and pureness of heart amidst all the dark complexity as they refused to fall for Wyatt’s sociopathic mind games.  And now the ball is in Wyatt’s court — does he have what it takes to build on his defeat here?  Is he more than just a cult leader, or has Cena exposed fatal flaws the hurricane lantern couldn’t illuminate?


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