Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Blurring the Lines Between Good and Evil

We talked a bit about this in class the other day and I had intended on doing my blog post about it, so here ya go!

In the early days of wrestling, the distinction between good and evil was very clear. The world that wrestling existed in was black and white. Lower and middle class citizens subscribed to the belief that if you worked hard enough, if you believed enough, you could climb up through the ranks and settle yourself among the elite. That was the American Dream that we all believed in. However, over time, we have become a jaded nation. The world transformed from black and white to grey. We realized that in order to win, sometimes we’d have to cheat or take shortcuts. And if we couldn’t do that, well, you better get used to the view from the bottom. And that’s exactly the view that wrestling began to take. We had wrestling icons like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Degeneration X come along and they would be cheered on and praised as if they were faces, but they would kick and fight and spit and “stick it to the man.” They played dirty, just like the heels, but they were justified in their actions. They were fighting for the voiceless; they were fighting back against an oppressive authority. And we realized that that was how the game of life had to be played if you wanted to make it out alive.

And yet we still have 100% babyfaces like John Cena that come along and a lot of those people who believe that you have to play dirty sometimes do not tend to care for him. To those people, he is naïve and in denial. He doesn’t understand how the world works. And that’s why those people get so much satisfaction from seeing him demolished and beat down by a brute force like Brock Lesnar.

And children love him. Why? Because he represents everything they know and understand. He’s a walking, talking, wrestling Disney movie. So of course they worship him. “Never give up. Hustle, loyalty, respect.” That’s what children are constantly told. And that’s not a bad message by any means. It’s good to encourage children to keep their head up and keep trying. Some kids really need to hear that. But some of those kids will grow up and get angry because they’ll come to terms with some harsh realities. They’ll feel lied to and cheated. But then there will be some that grow up, still holding those beliefs and values close to their heart. And you know what? Good. Because we will always need those people in our world if we want to keep seeing awesome matches.


Sam Ford said...

I'm glad you elaborated on this in your post, Katie. I thought your insight from class on Monday was a great one...and a succinct way to describe why, despite his deep dedication to wrestling and his consistently good athletic performance in matches by today's style, John Cena receives such a split reaction from the crowd. I think you're right that Cena's naiveté is part of it...and part of the split between those fans that believe in him and those that cynically "hate on him." That hate just becomes more a part of the narrative of John for the believers...and those believers even further fuel the hate. WWE has really capitalized on that this year, first with the feud from Bray Wyatt and then from the recent storyline with Paul Heyman. People are openly tempting John to break the rules...to give up his stance...to more readily "fight fire with fire." I also think, though, that there are the cynical fans who don't like John Cena because they think that two-dimensional innocence he portrays is self-righteous and hypocritical. As Tony commented in class, they look closely for the holes in John's persona...the inconsistencies that prove the "goodie" image isn't true...and who are annoyed by his smile and a shrug when bad things happen to him. Why doesn't he care more? How can he just shrug, laugh, and move on? It demeans the title that he doesn't seem to care that he lost it and he's back to cracking jokes and smirking...Yet, I'd guess, that attitude just further enforces what some of the "Cenation" like about John.

Tony Smith said...

I too am glad you elaborated on this and thought you had an excellent point in class. Your examples of DX and Austin are good ones too, but I would say DX was fighting a repressive rather than oppressive system, because their characters cared less about winning as they did about shocking the uptight elements of their system.
There are three things I thought about when reading this. First, referencing the discussion in class from Monday, isn’t the story-line system of the WWE one of “crony capitalism” and therefore enemies must be true libertarians (Stone Cold Steve Austin or CM Punk, both having an attitude that they must go in on their own and take down the evil empire) or Marxist radicals (Daniel Bryan, with the will of the people* and the “Yes! Movement” behind him)? John Cena’s character with all his innocence is one who thinks the system is ultimately fair, but with a few kinks, he would fit into the capitalist side of things, minus some of the cronyism. This makes him hard to deal with as a fan not just because he is child-like, but he really doesn’t want to change the system or fight against it too much. He is often content with how others are treated.
Second, my background makes me almost automatically think about what cognitive schemas drives a person’s behaviors. I think Cena’s character does not see the world as unfair. He is positive and works hard. If all people work hard, they’d be fine. People who don’t ponder the complexities of the world are typically “black and white” or rigid in their thinking. Your point is a great one in that this is how children see the world. However, this is also how many adults see the world. In fact, many who see the world in “black or white” terms often seem callous and demonstrate what many would perceive as a lack of appropriate emotional reactions to situations (see Sam’s point about Cena not being more upset about bad things happening). I think it could be argued, against my original point, that Cena is not inconsistent. In fact, he is very consistent. His character is just one that lacks emotional and social awareness to know how to respond in a complex world.
Third, your last sentence in this post is awesome! And, Cena has been in some great matches. Not only are stories aided by a naïve foil who tangles with a more complex character, it reminds me of a statement my old social psychology professor would often say; “The situation always matters.” I find myself appreciating and cheering for characters that I typically despise in different situations. If almost anyone fights Cena I will cheer against Cena. However, if Cena fights Randy Orten, I cheer Cena, because Orten is hedonistic without morality. I like naïve goody, goody better than hedonists without morality. If Orten fights HHH, I cheer Orten. HHH is an overly-confident, abusive, alpha male who is in a position of power. Few people I hate more than those folks. And if HHH fights The Miz, I cheer HHH. Miz should not be a wrestler.

*Not completely storyline given backlash from fans for not putting Bryan in a top spot at live events previous to Wrestlemania XXX.

Sam Ford said...

I very much appreciate these points, Tony. I don't know that WWE has been as successful as Vince's bravado can make it sound about creating a "shades-of-gray world" that goes beyond the simplistic "good guy versus bad guy" routine, but there's some range of truth to that...and I think you're right that, in some cases, there are characters who have maintained a certain consistency, despite face and heel turns, etc.

But I really like your points about the crony capitalist system being met with libertarian and Marxist heroes, for the most part, alongside--perhaps--anarchists or, as Tony has put it, those who somewhat simplistically believe the system in place could work, if it were just cleaned up a bit.

Gary said...

Especially after having seen Cena's match on Sunday, and the split of the fans towards him, in the setting of that Cena has been wrestling for a long time, I think he is being set up by WWE to go over to the dark side so they can get more years out of him. I think somewhere soon down the line, he will become a big time heel in the middle of a match.

Marshall Metcalf said...

I think the "good and evil" stories told throughout wrestling has been a point of interest in several of our discussions, but this blog post was especially insightful. You stated that John Cena is such a star because so many kids only know the "pure" parts of life. They haven't been exposed to the "evil" parts. You also mentioned that they are used to watching Disney movies, which of course always has the good guy winning. This is a great point. We were actually talking about a similar point in my Communication class the other day. Disney movies have a huge influence over kids. It's really all they watch. While Disney is not to blame for kids being fans of THE JOHN CENA, it's an interesting correlation. If a kid had watched the videos of John Cena that we watching in the van with him cussing and being very explicit, their views of him would really change.

Melissa Smith said...

I have been thinking a lot lately about wrestling and how it brings in characters who reflect what is important to society at that point in time. I keep wondering what a new heel might look like in today's society. Would it be some Middle Eastern terrorist figure? An over-reactive police officer that pepper sprays the peaceful (or as close as possible in wrestling) opponent? A really bad inspirational speaker (Why is this a good idea)? I couldn't really think of a foreign-menace-esque figure that would reflect today's concerns. What are today's concerns?

Like you all said, wrestlers nowadays are presented less and less as "Good" or "Bad" and more as somewhere on a scale from good to bad. I really think that this is true of our society, too. We don't know what's morally right and wrong anymore. We have lost sight of what is important; we no longer have a moral compass to guide us. We don't point out the wrongdoing in our life as Sin anymore; it has instead become "a mistake," or "a lifestyle choice." It's hard to pinpoint something that is universally Bad because people don't agree on what defines "bad." We live in a world of tolerance and complacency, where anything goes and each person has their own moral standard. Why the many shades of gray? Because we have forgotten what true Black and White look like.

Sam Ford said...

But, to play devil's advocate, what was ""white" to many in those past times when there was more moral certainty often looks more "black" in retrospect. I can't remember who said it, but I heard a quote on NPR that has really stuck with me...We live in a time where those who are most certain are often the least intelligent and where those who are most intelligent have never been less certain. Shawn Michaels, in a showdown with Chris Masters, once blurted out, "You don't know enough to know that you don't know." As you all go through your college years, I'm sure you're discovering week by week that the world is more complex than you knew before. But, to Melissa's point, does that ocean of complexity start to get us away from basic human truths? Can you explain as culturally relative the violation of basic human rights, for instance? Simplifying and simplistic thinking need not be the same, I suppose.