On the Baffling Kevin Owens Narrative Snafu

I’ve been working on keeping my cool. Not letting disappointments bring me crashing down, maintaining a consistent vibe when everything goes into a tailspin. I also caught a spoiler that Kevin Owens lost to John Cena as I was running about an hour behind in my watching of Battleground, so I was prepared for the unfortunate eventuality. Kevin Owens’ #1 fangirl here didn’t riot when Cena won, because I’m practicing non-attachment, rising above the fray, breathing deep and enjoying the scenery as I watch the world go all hell in a handbasket.

So oddly enough, I’m completely unemotional about this sudden Kevin Owens fall from glory. But I can’t understand it at all. This tremendous push for Owens — the immediate rise to shocking championship victory in NXT, the rapid call up to the main roster, and the powerful threat to the Cena empire — felt like a breakthrough, a generational shift, the dawn of a new era. It was a paradigm shift, with Owens laying bare the truth about John Cena’s manipulation of children and Cena scrambling with much bluster to reclaim his moral high ground. Cena graciously put Owens over in a major way, and Owens made Cena more interesting in the process. Owens was a perfect compliment to Cena! Hated by Cena supporters, adored by Cena dissenters! He was a champion for the booming chorus of voices in the arena that yell “Cena Sucks!” He represented an acknowledgement from the company that a large segment of their audience holds wrestling not as a cartoon superhero show but as a serious art and craft worthy of scholarship and critical analysis, even if the legion of smark journalists, bloggers, podcasters and assorted talking heads wouldn’t think to describe themselves that way.

And yet, once again, they couldn’t just let us have an antihero in these trying times. Like Rusev and Bray Wyatt before him, Kevin Owens was too admirable for those of us who appreciate moral complexity in a character. The carny-corporates wanted Owens to be a clearly loathed heel at all costs. I’ll bet they were wringing their hands over the way Owens represented the valor of wrestling’s thriving independent circuit all over their own mainstream programming. They couldn’t stand the fact that Owens mustered the spirit of such a feisty and cantankerous segment of the audience, the people they’ve openly disdained for so many years. They couldn’t leave the delicious polarizing tension of a rogue audience well enough alone.

But why run us through this emotional roller coaster to begin with? Why push him like the company depended on it, only to pull the rug out from under him in such a critical moment? Was this a political thing? Did it happen because Kevin Owens debuted on a RAW right in the thick of the last Mercury Retrograde? Was this all just the handiwork of a power-mad old SOB with paranoid visions showing signs of early onset dementia after suffering a few too many concussions over the course of his life? Or is it all my fault for holding off on buying a “Fight Owens Fight” T-shirt because I’m trying to be frugal in this difficult economy?

In the aftermath of this narrative car accident, Kevin Owens is left terribly damaged. After the way it all played out he is now a severely flawed character. He took a bold, uncompromising stand as a guy who does what he says he’s going to do because that is what strong role model does. He repeatedly harped on the idea, “When I say I’m going to do something, I deliver.” He was more than just a bully with a chip on his shoulder — he was a working class hero, a regular guy who had come up the hard way, a character in whom we the flawed recognized our own potentials. But then, like everyone else, Cena knocked him down (cute blond girl, middle fingers, “SPOILER: I WIN!”) and Owens landed with a plop in the midcard without fanfare or logic after tapping out to a submission maneuver he had tolerated a number of times before. Kevin Owens didn’t deliver a single thing, so now he’s a guy who writes checks his ass can’t cash, which is a character trait that squanders his clear potential to be a breakthrough unorthodox superstar. He’s reduced to a contrived morality tale: don’t be a bully or karma will get you, kids. I hereby throw my hands up in the air.

It was senseless for the carny-corporates to give Kevin Owens such an epic push, to let him dominate their stage in a campaign to tear down wrestling’s stale paradigms and usher in the new era, and then for them to chicken out and refuse to let him deliver. It was a decision motivated by fear and greed, not the love of wrestling, but I can’t even see how it was a financially sound thing to do. I now fear the NXT women are in jeopardy.

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3 Comments

  1. July 22, 2015

    Here ya go: https://33.media.tumblr.com/6da3895401bb1b7f7944a08c6c21733d/tumblr_nlcnhmHd7u1qjj817o1_r1_400.gif

    While I completely disagree about Owens’ character, I do concur that the feud unfortunately went nowhere. Creative spent too long having them trash talk and fight instead of developing them as characters and adding nuance. I feel like these recent Cena trends are an awkward hybrid of “have him elevate the midcard and give heavyweights more time to shine because his career will be over soon-ish” and “but he’s still gotta be Supercena”. They aren’t choosing one or the other and as a result our hopes get raises when it’s still mostly the Same Old Shit.

    After the interview with Michael Cole, I fail to see Kevin Owens as anything other than an incredibly talented, incredibly insecure athlete who doesn’t like what he sees in the mirror. He convinces himself that everyone from John Cena to Michael Cole to the WWE itself is out to get him because it excuses the reality that he isn’t perfect and life isn’t fair. Owens doesn’t like the sadism and brutality that lurks within him, so he tries and justify his actions by citing his family and shifting blame to the world around him.

    Owens is a wonderful character, to be sure, but I can’t envision him as heroic without ignoring half the things he does onscreen. The more I think about it, the more he seems like a rudimentary Macbeth.

  2. July 22, 2015

    You know, I think you are much more right than I am. It’s clear that he’s a man with filled with explosive rage who behaves badly. Your Macbeth idea totally plays out after this recent loss, he has fallen to his hubris. But I resist that narrative for some reason, insisting on an alternative reading. Maybe I’m just stubborn? I think it has to do with my interest in the moral ambiguities of wrestling — it’s an industry thick with cruelty and cronyism that puts a lot of stock in its facade of benevolence, and then is quick to hide or gloss over its darkness when it bubbles up (like pretending Chris Benoit never happened, for example, or doing “the show must go on” after Owen Hart died in the ring). So I can’t help myself, I’m compelled to embrace this character who fronts a more honest, if deeply flawed, persona. I’m writing more about this soon, in which the moral ambiguity problem overlaps my other big writing project about my fascinating/fearless/creative/mean SOB grandfather.

  3. July 22, 2015

    Oh, and thanks for the Cena girl! I added a link to her.

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