Dissecting The Music:
John Cena (No Likes Superman Anymore)
In a business in which fancy costumes, dramatic lighting and carefully-constructed motifs are all the range, it takes a lot for one man to stand out more than any other as a superhero. Though with his powers of drawing seats, overcoming all forms of adversity and keeping cancer at bay for longer, John Cena is the superhero that the WWE deserves, but to many fans, is not the one it needs right now.
As fans, we find something in these larger than life characters that we either like about or wish to apply to ourselves. To name a few examples, Mizfan has countlessly recited why he adopted the former Real World Star into his name; his pride and passion for the business helped him to excel further than possibly imaginable, and when you read Mizfan's work, his own passion is undeniable. For Bear, I can only imagine that two of his wrestling heroes are Dan Severn and Brock Lesnar: fellow Beasts by name, and were two great MMA fighters to boot. What about Cult Icon? As his name suggests, he is an icon to the #LuchaKliq in the same way that the legendary Blue Demon and El Santo are to fans of Lucha Libre everywhere. I'll also say that Al and Mickey Rourke are one and the same. Like Randy "The Ram", our fourth judge is an established veteran who is still working extremely hard and like Rourke himself after his performance in The Wrestler, he has recently earned an accolade (COTM) that his comeback deserved.
Speaking of comebacks though, it is to zzzorf that I grant some of the greatest praise. I could compare our final judge to Murphy, an Australian superstar who is making it big in a predominantly American landscape. I think I owe this judge a compliment though by bringing back a style of column that himself and I have used before, in order to illustrate exactly why many fans cannot relate to the superhero-like nature of the Cenation leader.
Notably, I have opted against looking at John Cena's personal theme song as it is a remnant of the man that he used to be. This man is no longer a rapper whose time is about to begin. He is a watered-down real-life action man who has became one of the most decorated athletes to ever grace the sport.
With that being said, I turn you towards I Fight Dragon's 2009 hit No One Likes Superman Anymore. You see, this band provided the theme song Money for the WWE Money In The Bank 2010 PPV, which, as you can imagine, was a very apt choice. Strangely though, I consider this song to be the most relevant of theirs to compare to our product, as not only is the happy-go-lucky instrumentation a perfect reflection of the Cena character, the lyrics perfectly depict the John Cena problem, and that is the part which I would like to explore in great detail today.
My lords and ladies of pain, I advise you to use the audio below as a reference as we look further into this larger-than-life character.
+1 Point for Superhero artwork, right?
Strong hands, strong mind
Strong all the time
Straightforward and kind
Too simply defined
These first two couplets form a call and response mechanism of endorsement and criticism. Superman, or Cena in this case, is praised for possessing both strong hands and mind, we cannot fault him for the fact that he has worked hard physically nor can we fault for him for the attitude that he applies.
The problem with the heroic John Cena is that just like the caped crusader, he will always end up looking indestructible. Sure, just like Superman is weakened by kryptonite, Cena is often stunted by storyline injuries to overcome, though when all is said and done, the hero looks stronger than ever.
The second couplet presents an even bigger problem. Though John Cena is very marketable by being the faultless goodie compared to previous starring protagonists such as CM Punk, who arguably portrayed Batman, Cena's role is too set in stone. We know of his principles and we know what action(s) he will take in each situation; where is the progression?
'Cause no one wants to know the man who stands for things we outgrow
He's too noble and too blind
We're all older now and we don't need someone to care about
The innocence we left behind
This is why the majority of adult fans have become truly disconnected from Captain Fruity Pebble. With his consistent shorts, bright coloured tees and matching hats, Cena conforms to a familiar uniform. He looks every bit like the GI Joe's that we abandoned as kids, and his actions are far too hard to relate to as we've reached an age of understanding, knowing that no one can ever be right all of the time. The fact that he continues to act so noble alienates the modern adult audience as they realise exactly how far they've strayed from the innocent child that they used to be. That's why, even though many of us still support superheroes, we are drawn in by the more complex unreal characters, as there are less good intentions available to illuminate our own failures.
(Don't touch that dial)
It's just that goodness is out of style)
Hidden by the use of panning and vocoder are these two crucial lines. It's an instruction for us not to support the Champ because heroes are not in fashion. When we think back to wrestling's true "superheroes", we picture the likes of Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart, who also adorned bright colours and had their principles tested, later showing their true colours. After them, the WWE would provide us with an obvious Attitude Era anti-hero as an admittance that times had changed. Is this line a warning that we shouldn't support a superhero because we'll only be let down again? Should we support villainous characters because their heinous actions are expected?
Be dark, be cold (so conflicted)
No hand to hold (heart constricted)
Dark Knight, bright soul (we're addicted)
No room here for the bold
The main vocal lyrics of this verse do not need a lot of analysing. In the case of Cena, they are instructions from the IWC to forego his hero nature and to become the heel or villain that they've always dreamed he could be. It's the backing vocals that bring to light a more interesting dynamic: they spell out the process of a fan realising that it's wrong to turn on their hero but by the end of it, they know exactly what they desire.
And what if he can fly?
Hey, well so can I
Jet Blue or United Airlines
And who cares if he's strong
All we see's the wrong we've done
Reflected in his eyes
Lastly, we come to the final unique part of the song: the bridge. This section can be looked at in two different parts.
The first few lines showcase the adult fan's disgust at Cena's heroic antics. Crucially though, the other three lines spell out the main problem that many fans have with the Cenation leader, and it is one that I have already tried to stress. It doesn't matter how well he is portrayed, the more that you try to create a hero, the more the adult audience identify themselves as villains. The world that we know is one that is much darker than the one that we knew as a child: we know of work, stress and personal weaknesses. John Cena, the superhero, is not a figure that represents the true world.
To put it simply, wrestling, just like superhero comics and movies, is an art that features unbelievable characters. In some ways, it can be seen as a form of escapism for the viewer, as they are drawn into a very different type of universe. The fact that a supremely noble character exists accidentally draws light on the negativity of their own life and actions.
It's too late for John Cena. If he was to embrace some form of anarchy or other side now, he would be turning his back on all of the sick kids that he tries to cure with his morals. That is where the real world comes in. The WWE is a company that in this day and age relies upon positive press. That is why he is the hero, and there's no way to escape that now. The capitalist society that we live in undoubtedly also clashes with the wrestling world. In a comic, would our heroes really be determined by their costume sales?
Cena is forever doomed to be a superhero to children, but in being one, will always be a true villain to our own faulty selves.
That's not to say that the WWE haven't learned anything since allowing their John Cena experiment to get too out of hand; the answer to their failure goes by the name of Roman Reigns.
Before Wrestlemania, Reigns was portrayed like an Alternate Universe Man of Steel. If you apply his mid-2014 to early-2015 character to those lyrics, you would witness the same result.
Thankfully, the higher-ups have learnt from their mistakes. Unlike his smiley Cenation counterpart, Roman Reigns has looked vulnerable by losing repeatedly to the likes of Bray Wyatt, giving him a genuine adversary to try to overcome.
As for his image? The WWE have continued to pair him with a former partner from his very own Justice League, a man who is certainly anything but vanilla, Dean Ambrose. My old colleague Rob Simmons once expertly described The Lunatic Fringe as a Batman and Joker hybrid, which certainly makes a fine contrast to the WWE's latest Krypton incarnation. By being paired with Ambrose, Reigns has been allowed to transition from a Man of Steel into a Man of Real, becoming a man that we can relate to.
Greater sections of the audience are starting to believe THAT.
So what does all of this mean my friends? Whether you're a Marvel or DC Fan, superheroes are allowed to exist in your world. By comparing John Cena to both Superman and Reigns, it appears that in this particular Universe, heroes are in fact permitted...
It's just that the super are no longer celebrated.