On Big Show’s Poignant Heel Turn (Through the Filter of the CM Punk Podcast)

Part of me wants to delete every post on my blog and start from scratch after listening to the CM Punk podcast. Punk’s revelations changed everything from a critical perspective. He pulled back the curtain on the company’s ugliness, which I submit we were all aware of and just didn’t know how to confront. Somehow we accepted it as part of the drama, but in fact there are real people sacrificing their bodies and being exploited for somebody else’s family legacy. There, I said it. This is sure to have an effect on the industry, even if Vince McMahon wants to bury his head in the sand. Not only that, but it casts a light on everything that came before it, changes what we thought we knew about the Authority narrative, the humanitarian posturing of the company, and a number of wrestlers. Everything I wrote before the podcast is very much naïve now. (And honestly, everything before now was me having not taken a close enough look at CM Punk. I watched him at a few points but I missed the highlights of his career, only knew of them.)

But ultimately I’m realizing we can only write about professional wrestling with the knowledge base we bring with us at any given moment. Consider the vast scope of this topic – there are numerous bygone eras with detailed histories, there are universes unto themselves of Japanese and Mexican wrestling, and there is the storied and far reaching independent wrestling circuit. WWE itself can be read from economic, historical, documentary, critical, and technical perspectives. And of course, each wrestler with a career of any length could be the subject of a book. I don’t think any of us can write about wrestling with a flawless perspective – the scope is just too huge, and each of us must specialize in some way. None of us can master all of it. We can only approach wrestling as it is meant to be watched: in the moment. Each of us contributes what we can to a growing dialogue of writers as we attempt to make sense of this strange spectacle, and disagreement, missteps, and naivety bring useful and informative dimensions to the discussion.

So let my pre-Podcast writings be old testament. Today is a New Day! Among other things, CM Punk has empowered me to express my serious concerns about the company’s sabotage of its talent, including the aforementioned New Day (though to be fair my four year old likes them), which you will see when I get a chance to post my RAW notes from this week.

But this post is supposed to be about the Big Show’s heartfelt promo on the 11/24/14 RAW. Show’s words achieved the caliber of theatrical monologue, in which the kayfabe wavered between character and wrestler as he made his case for why he turned on Team Cena in the numbers game of the moment at Survivor Series. His job was on the line, after all. And then he points a finger at the audience:

“How nice. For you to sit there and judge me on the decisions that I’ve made! How high and mighty all of you are to pass judgment on me! When you have nothing, NOTHING on the line! This is my life!

It was an attempt at reconciliation with the audience that in the end shifts into a reluctant, angst-ridden heel turn. This was a captivating performance by a guy who usually isn’t my cup of tea; I was impressed even before The Podcast. But CM Punk’s revelations brought his plight to the next level. I ask you, do we not in fact owe that man a mulligan after this many years? He has been a trooper. Plus, he’s a family man! Come on, people, what wouldn’t you do for your family?

In the end, this promo was a work of art that left me feeling uncomfortable in a way that successful art should. It also offered another perspective on the tensions between the company, the audience, and the wrestlers: we, the audience, are at times thirsty for blood and humiliation – John Cena’s, for example. We are not necessarily the injured party in the relationship here. We love to see these guys crash through tables, knowing full well that they are in a world of pain and concussion. Our role inherently drives the whole cruel model – we buy the T-shirts. And when Big Show makes a desperate decision so his kids can eat, we can’t cut him any slack. We are a mean privileged group, the audience.

Indeed, we are, but they can’t do this thing without us. And most of them still seem to want to do it, desperately, even though it makes them a certain kind of folk martyr.

Anyway, watch for CM Punk parallels in what Big Show had to say:

“Look I… I just wanted to come out here and make sure all of us were, that we’re all cool. Well I ah, saw some things online, and I saw some reactions back stage, and a lot of people are under the impression that I committed some horrible atrocity and now I’m a “bad guy”. Well, honestly that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I’m not a bad guy, I’m a human being. A human being that made a mistake. I did. I mean, human beings make mistakes all the time. There’s not one person watching me right now that can’t honestly say at some point in their life they haven’t also made a mistake. Don’t misunderstand what happened, okay, I despise the Authority. Last year the Authority took my job, they took my house, they forced me to do horrible things to people I care about, people I respected. People like Daniel Bryan. I mean, sure physically, physically I’m strong. I’m a giant. I didn’t ask to be born this way. I have a medical condition that makes me this freakishly large and powerful. But on the inside, on the inside I’m just like each and every one of you. I have feelings. I have fears. I have a family to provide for just like many of you. You know what you would do for your family!

Last night at Survivor Series, in the heat of the moment I made a snap decision and I panicked. I surveyed the scene, Dolph Ziggler was unconscious, John Cena could barely get to his feet. I look across the ring and there’s three fresh hungry guys staring back at me. At that moment, at that moment I thought my team would lose. I know, I mean… I did what I thought I had to do. And I’m sure that if each and every one of you could put yourself in my shoes, you would do the honorable thing, the right thing, and you would be able to forgive me.

I get it. You guys come to a show, you wanna cheer, you wanna boo, but right now this is not the appropriate time for this. It’s not. This is serious. I am a good person! Look, if I could have done it over again, if I could do it over again, if I could go back in time to Survivor Series knowing how things were gonna turn out, I wouldn’t have done what I did! You believe that, right? Hey, you know, look, not to sound like some kind of a jerk here, but, you know, quite frankly for the past twenty years I’ve been putting my body on the line performing for each and every one of you, and I kind of think you guys maybe owe me a mulligan. You know? Let’s just forget what happened at Survivor Series, let’s start over and pretend it never happened. What do you say?

[Crowd chants: “You sold out, you sold out…”]

“How nice. For you to sit there and judge me on the decisions that I’ve made! How high and mighty all of you are to pass judgment on me! When you have nothing, NOTHING on the line! This is my life! You think I don’t hear the whispers? Big Show is a traitor! I am not a traitor. I am the Big Show. And I deserve respect, dammit. You wanna boo? Let me clue you in to a little secret. I hear those cowards in the locker room whispering that sentiment, that I am a traitor. If any of you cowards in the back have something to say, come say it right now to my face! Don’t whisper behind my back!”

[Enter Erick Rowan]

“This is absolutely ridiculous. Are you kidding me? Are you absolutely kidding me? Erick Rowan, the upside-down Sheamus has something to say. I mean, I understand if somebody like John Cena came out here and wanted to talk to me. He at least has a legitimate gripe. You? What do you have to say? You know what, actually, I’m very surprised that you’re out here. I’m surprised you’ve got the courage without your big stuffed kitty cat with you! You’re so big and brave to come out here without your little kitty cat! Aw, you’re a tough guy, aren’t you? Look. Erick, this ring is made for men. Listen son, you have no place being out here. Why don’t you go back up the ramp before you get yourself hurt.”

Rowan: “I don’t like bullies!”

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