wrestling / Columns

Wacky Wrestling Theory 4.03.08: Is the Hate for John Cena Homophobic?

April 3, 2008 | Posted by Jake Chambers

Don’t you wonder why more than half of the live WWE audience has such a negative reaction to John Cena? The simple answer you might get from a fan is “because he sucks,” or maybe a more learned fan might claim that Cena “can’t wrestle/work.” Hard to argue with such brutally simplistic opinions, but I would put forth another theory as to why John Cena is so widely hated by WWE fans, a theory that some might say is a bit wacky, but never the less here it is: male WWE fans hate John Cena because they are homophobic.

Homophobia in wrestling fans has been exposed historically by reactions to extravagant, button-pushers such as Gorgeous George, Adrian Adonis and Goldust, which was always successfully exploited for good business. On the other hand, unsolicited anti-gay remarks are casually strewn throughout audience heckling of any wrestler, as I’m sure anyone who has attended a live pro-wrestling event in their lifetime could validate. If pro-wrestling is a sport then this behavior may be common and potentially acceptable to the culture of the Western athletic community. However, if pro-wrestling is not a sport but scripted ‘sports entertainment’ then can a connection be made between this ingrained bigotry and the negative reactions to John Cena? I would argue that many adult male fans are critical of John Cena not due to his lack of skill or ‘cool-ness’ but because they subconsciously fear that his nice guy personality and idealized body type represent a shift towards a less masochistic pro-wrestling universe.

Let’s be clear that it is the adult male audience that dislikes Cena. This of course is not a fact, but simply a justifiable generalization made in order to support my theory. The audible ‘boo-ing’ of Cena on television comes from deeper male voices while the cheering comes from the high-pitched tone of women and children. Adult males, late 20s and 30s, most likely watch WWE programming today because they grew up watching pro-wrestling. This means they were weaned on a WWF product that was a wild west of bodybuilding and (alleged) steroid use where the ultimate symbol of heroism was the muscle bound, cartoon-ish Hulk Hogan. Near unbelievable male physiques were eroticized to millions of young boys; tanned, hairless, and unrealistically shiny, this body type came to epitomize the ideal model of success in the WWF. This particular trend stalled in the mid-90s due to politics that forced the WWF to go with smaller, drug free wrestlers. Coinciding with the explosion of information on the world wide web, the remaining wrestling fans matured and accepted that pro-wrestling was an art-form and not a childish fantasy realm. These men grew to appreciate the professionalism of the wrestling craft and at the same time vicariously live though wrestlers who looked more like them. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and the ECW, among others, forged a tangible and psychosocial connection between fan and wrestler.

The incredible success of Undertaker, Stone Cold, Mankind and the nWo epitomized this clothed and dramatic arts era of pro-wrestling, but it was The Rock who began to transition wrestling back into the preferred physical genre of the WWF (especially now that the government pressure over steroids was gone) by combining the body of Hogan-prime with the attitude of Stone Cold. The night of Wrestlemania X-8 was when the pro-wrestling universe reverted to the image ideology of the 80s; Stone Cold was kept hidden on the under card, the WWF capitalized on the passionate nostalgia in the adult male fan base with the popular yet ‘technically’ lacking Rock vs. Hogan match, and Chris Jericho lost the WWF Title to a newly super-ripped Triple H, pinpointing the end for the small bodied, ‘storytelling/craft’ wrestler and the dominance of the super-body. Whatever the reasons the WWE enjoy this body type is the topic for another wacky theory, but right now it must be considered a fact that the most prominent pro-wrestling promotion in history pushes as modern mega-stars jacked-up wrestlers like Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Cena and Lashely, while an apparent glass ceiling exists for the success of smaller, arguably more ‘technically’ sound, superstars like Kurt Angle, Edge, Rey Mysterio, RVD, Christian and the Hardys. Men in the audience, I think, ultimately resent this cycle in pro-wrestling and resent themselves for paying to let it happen. As more impressionable kids flock to the product it becomes harder to hold onto the hope of a return to those more realistic and relatable times. That’s why it’s so hard for adult male fans to accept John Cena.

But is this homophobia?
Technically no, since John Cena is not a gay character. But it does show that a guy with an extraordinary physique and a nice demeanor will be rejected as a top star by a certain segment of the audience, a personality trait that is possibly forged in insecurity and resentment towards the male body. Bulked up bodies are thus only acceptable when they are on wealthy, cocky supermen or athletically gifted freaks of nature, because the average bodied (or perhaps out of shape) male fans believe all the hard work necessary to attain that physical status cannot be done by a regular person. John Cena is surely ‘booked’ to have the record of an unbeatable superman, yet his character is that of a life-long pro-wrestling fan who has no record of outstanding collegiate athletic achievement and comes from a humble, middle class family. Opponents such as HHH and Edge have even literally berated Cena on TV for having sub-par in-ring skills. Adult male fans have thus begun to fear what the glorification of the John Cena image means to their view of their own bodies. To men, Cena is not the super-hero character that Hulk Hogan was to them in their youth, but an overachieving pretty boy who just makes them look out of shape. Unlike the beer drinking, rule breaking, leather vest wearing and average bodied Stone Cold of their early adult years, Cena comes out with a shirtless, well-defined upper body and wants to shake hands and compete fairly. So as women cheer for Cena and children idolize him, the male fans want to irrationally tear him down out of fear that his image contrasts greatly against their safe notions of masculinity.

Take the well built, scantily clad Randy Orton for example. The Evolution mode Orton was a huge fan favorite to the male live audience when he defeated Chris Benoit for the WWE Title. The next night on RAW, Orton did not change his jerky demeanor yet he was still stabbed in the back by his Evolution teammates. Although he technically did nothing ‘good’ he was irrationally out evil-ed by Triple H, making Orton a hero by default. Almost instantly after this the adult male support for Orton turned to Cena-like distaste. And perhaps there is no better example of eroticized image consciousness than in Triple H. When appearing in goofy, regular guy DX mode, Triple H will come to the ring in a t-shirt and hat, but when he is his bad-ass, cerebral assassin character he comes out in small tights and sprays water all over himself. Whereas the second image is more homoerotic, it’s ‘okay’ for men to raucously cheer because this version of Triple H is more monster than man. The reactions to these images cannot simply be coincidental but the exposure of an attitude within the male majority of the pro-wrestling fan base that it’s ‘cool’ to like a guy with a ripped physique who will indiscriminately kick ass to prove his manliness, but it just might be ‘gay’ to cheer for a good-looking guy with no shirt who wants to be your friend.

The potential homoerotism of regular pro-wrestling is something often ignored by fans. Being that it is now too passé to argue for wrestling against people who say it is fake, there is a much more difficult discussion to be had when wrestling is then attacked as being gay. Insecure pro-wrestling fans may want to combat this viewpoint by overcompensating and therefore acting super-macho when confronted by a character that might impinge on the safe, masochistic world they’ve been conditioned to accept. This is why I believe that the hatred for John Cena by certain wrestling fans may in fact be rooted in homophobia. But hey, that’s just one wacky theory.


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Jake Chambers

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