THE DECONSTRUCTION OF JOHN CENA by Andrea Gregovich
“Family' are not just those that share bloodlines, Family offers unwavering love and support. Sending a thanks + I love you to our #Family”
That’s what John Cena tweeted the day after the post-Elimination Chamber RAW, as he was just coming off his loss in the champion vs. champion match with Kevin Owens.
This was the RAW when Owens delivered his game-changing promo, laying bare the uncomfortable truths about the nature of the Cena character, and the way it lures children like his son into blind hero worship with “marketing, catchphrases, and bright colors.” Cena’s rebuttal was full of bluster – he called Owens a jackass, told him to “shut up”, said he was wasn’t a real man -- but he eventually got around to mounting a reasonable defense that seemed to please his loyalists. He pointed out that Owens’ own fifteen year independent wrestling career exemplified the concept of “Never Give Up”, suggesting that Owens was cynical and shortsighted in calling it a catchphrase.
Cena made the case that he has genuinely lived a life modeled on his own motivational catchphrases – devoting his life to the wrestling business, never turning heel despite often brutal heat - and that this sort of hustle, loyalty and respect is what makes him such a popular role model for his followers. And finally, to drill home his point, he played the “Kid With Cancer” card, which is admittedly a difficult card to trump. Cena left that RAW with a tentative upper hand, having challenged Owens to a fight right then and there that Owens declined as he left the ring.
But then Cena came out with this Tweet about “Family”.
Even though Owens let Cena have the last word on RAW, Cena’s Tweet looked like a desperate scramble to regain the moral high ground as WWE’s premier, untouchable role model.
Why would he need to cast doubt on the literal definition of "family"? Just look at what he did in the tweet: “Family is not just bloodlines, Family offers unwavering love and support.” In other words, Cena’s “Family” buys his T-shirts and chants “Let’s go Cena!”
This is what he considers unwavering love and support, right? He didn’t Tweet “my (lower case f) family”, he Tweeted “our (hashtag, capital F) #Family.” Cena is trying to highjack the timeless family paradigm of fathers and sons and replace it with himself and WWE (which I’m assuming is the “our”) as some kind of corporate family role model.
Instead of undermining Kevin Owens’ authenticity with this Tweet about Family, he called attention to the very problem Owens has pointed out: John Cena’s character lacks substance beyond the bright colors and the catchphrases, and is essentially a tool WWE uses to sell merchandise planned for quick obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence functions in such a way that we are forced to keep spending money if we want to remain in fashion. Young children worshipping a hero feel sad, left behind, and disloyal in the face of planned obsolescence, so the caregivers of Cena’s young fans feel pressure to buy his latest T-shirts and other products every few months, lest their children, many of whom are underdogs themselves, feel sad that they’re out of date and can no longer match the man in whom they see hope and salvation.
Here’s the big thing John Cena apparently failed to notice: it is largely the parents - like Kevin Owens - and other literal family members who purchase his merchandise with money they make exemplifying hustle, loyalty and respect as they punch a clock day in and day out in jobs that exhaust them, doing what they have to do to brighten their children’s lives.
John Cena is a dependable entertainer and an icon for the young and downtrodden of the WWE Universe. He generously donates his time to bring joy to the lives of Make-a-Wish kids, Wounded Warriors, and other struggling souls who take comfort in those bright colors and catch phrases.
But John Cena is not “our family”.
He is the personification of a set of ideals that the WWE determined, long ago, would create a product that is “best for business.” John Cena is, in essence, the commodification of wrestling’s heroism and the subversion of a wrestler’s organic character development, in which he must evolve through various moral ambiguities, i.e. heel and face turns, as the narrative twists and turns over the course of his career. A character who never gives up and always succeeds has been an interesting experiment, but it's an experiment that has ultimately caused narrative gridlock and alienated scores of fans who want something different from their professional wrestling product.
But now that the WWE is allowing Kevin Owens, an authentic character with an authentic chip on his shoulder, to deconstruct the John Cena marketing machine, the “Cena Sucks” chanters finally have a champion for their cause.
Even if Kevin Owens isn’t the final antidote to the Cena problem, he has spoken his uncomfortable truths for all the Cena children to hear.
As a parent raising two kid-smarks who haven’t yet developed an immunity to the siren song of WWE’s marketing strategies, Kevin Owens is my new role model.
NEW & FREE EPISODES EVERY SINGLE MONDAY!
The opinions expressed in editorial submissions to The Work of Wrestling are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the stance of the editor.