In a month’s time, Linda McMahon will once again have lost another bid for the United States Senate. If we’re lucky, she’ll finally give up on politics and let the wrestling world return to order.
Sure, Brock Lesnar’s departure from the company to pursue a career in the NFL and then (more successfully) the UFC may have started the dominos falling. Then Eddie Guerrero—as a man who had conquered his demons but just couldn’t get away—died, stunning the wrestling world.
Then the big blow came that truly shook the bedrock of the industry. Chris Benoit's murder of his family and suicide changed the landscape of pro wrestling, leading to heightened scrutiny of how the WWE and other promotions operated. (As a side note, this is ridiculous. A single person's actions shouldn’t be used to label an entire industry, but people are repeatedly looking to take shots at pro wrestling, so this was the political arena’s big chance.)
Despite the Benoit tragedy, though, I’d still place Linda McMahon’s political ambitions as the most transformative factor in the way WWE presents its product.
We blame John Cena, but he’s just one piece of it.
John Cena is as much a part of the Linda McMahon political machine as any campaign ad or speech. He is the new face of the WWE. He is a squeaky clean, baby-kissing moral authority who is supposed to put the seedy goings-on of days past in the rearview mirror.
He’s a symbol. He’s Batman—if Batman wore goofy colors, lost the most important fight of his life and laughed about how his job is a big joke and nothing really matters.
We in the IWC sit and wonder why WWE hasn’t built Cena a rival. Why doesn’t Cena have an Austin to his Rock? If Cena is a cash cow, then two Cenas would be double the cash, right? In the Attitude Era, midcarders were selling as many, if not more T-shirts than main-eventers. And there were more main-eventers, despite there being half as many title belts.
Financially, it makes no sense not to have more household names. Politically, it makes perfect sense.
For Linda McMahon to be presented as a serious political candidate, she needs to be able to show that WWE has changed from its trash television ways into something wholesome. That is on screen and off.
Professional wrestling, unlike other forms of entertainment, requires performers to live their character and present themselves well in public settings.
Hugh Jackman doesn’t show up to Comic-Con as Wolverine. But you better believe that when WWE’s panel opens up, C.M. Punk walks to the table with the WWE Championship over his shoulder. He’s not Phil Brooks on that stage.
And this is why WWE only wants one star.
They can control Cena. He’s the be-all, end-all of their outward facing, mainstream presence. They trust Cena. Linda trusts Cena. She knows that Cena isn’t going to shoot his mouth off on Twitter and tell a fan to kill himself (See: CM Punk). He’s not going to turn to the live audience and give them the bird on national television (See: Randy Orton).
Placing another individual front and saying, from a programming standpoint, that he or she is equal to Cena creates risk. This is a risk Linda isn’t willing to take.
Is it a coincidence that one month from Election Day we see Cena suddenly sporting pink, telling people to Rise Above Cancer and pushing that message throughout the broadcast? It’s also not a coincidence that nobody else is alongside Cena in spreading this message. He can be trusted to deliver the message with an apparent integrity.
We keep being reminded on a weekly basis that the WWE Championship isn’t important, that being the champion for more than 300 days doesn’t mean anything and that if you sell more merchandise to little kids, that you deserve respect (for the hustle and loyalty).
All of this contributes to the degradation of the WWE product, where few people have characters, individual success is frowned upon and the entire booking universe revolves around “What’s John Cena going to do this month?”
When Linda loses (and if there is a God, may S/He make sure she loses), she may give up on this pipedream. Linda McMahon does not have anything that qualifies her to be a state senator.
She’s a more than adequate executive for an entertainment product, but this doesn’t mean she can craft national policy.
Not only would it set my political mind at ease knowing she’s not in the nation’s capital casting votes, but it may mean we can finally return to programming as usual. Perhaps we can ease up on the PG rating and begin to offer more progressively violent and edgy storylines. Maybe we could actually see a Cena heel make the talented performer interesting for the first time in half a decade.