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The 7 - Pro Wrestling - "You Can't See Me ... or Can You?: Unpacking John Cena's Performance of Whiteness in WWE" Register and log in to post!
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Alessandro
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#1 Posted on 9.4.15 0806.04
Reposted on: 9.4.22 0844.39
If you have a copy of "The Journal of Popular Culture" from last April lying around, you'd find the above-titled article discussing the portrayal of race in World Wrestling Entertainment programming.

As far as I can tell, said article never made the rounds amongst the internet wrestling community, which is a darn shame ... You can read the full text here (subscription required), but I'd just like to point out two quick excerpts:

    Originally posted by Joy T. Taylor

    In 2003, World Wrestling Entertainment decided to boost the career of the former Prototype by redeveloping Cena's character as a white hip hop artist, with the goal of making the wrestler appear more visible in the television programming. To this end, WWE placed the
    wrestler in a feud with Brock Lesnar, who currently competes for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Leading up to their upcoming matches, Cena appeared in fitted caps and throw-back basketball jerseys as he "cut promos," or did pre-recorded interviews designed to
    add fuel to the fire between opponents. In one promo, Cena stated, "I'll break you down; watch you drown and not throw a rope. This is jail Brock - we inmates and you just dropped the soap!" (John Cena: Word Life). During this period, John Cena performed popular
    constructions of hypermasculine blackness, primarily through fashion, and even used a padlocked chain and brass knuckles to make it appear that Cena's character, like Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) and Eminem (Marshall Mathers III), had led a hardened life on the
    streets. As an up-and-coming wrestler, Cena regularly rapped to insult his opponents as a means of disrupting the established pecking order of male wrestlers.

    In spite of his youthful antics, Cena ultimately proved that he was mature and wholesome, and in the mid-2000s he began to speak publicly about his admiration for the US Armed Forces, thus supporting America's foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. In a
    documentary produced by WWE Studios, Cena states, "When it comes down to choosing my favorite freestyle of all time, I'd have to say it was when WWE teamed up with USO and went to Baghdad, Iraq to perform [...]. The amount of respect that I gained for what they
    do for me" (John Cena: Word Life). Moreover, the Make a Wish Foundation began posting stories about Cena's charitable activities, including his 2009 visit with a youth named Alan, diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma ("Wish Stories"). While these activities add to
    Cena's do-good persona, they also polish the image of World Wrestling Entertainment, which has been critiqued for promoting violence, mocking gays and lesbians, and encouraging poor role models for children (Battema and Sewell 268; Gerdes 8). In World Wrestling
    Entertainment's television programs, he continued to be loud-mouthed, but outside the squared circle he developed an alter ego that eventually would become the more respectful Cena emerging in the mid-to-late 2000s. In the post-9/11 period of increasingly visible
    patriotism, Cena began rapping less before wrestling matches, and in this manner, distanced himself from his earlier black persona. Collectively, the racialized performances attributed both to the "old" and "new" Cena characters in WWE can be read as a progress
    narrative equating blackness with troubled youth and adulthood with assimilation to white norms and values.



    Originally posted by Joy T. Taylor

    Professional wrestling is replete with frames, narratives, and racial ideologies, such as color-blindness, making it an intriguing site to analyze a new and flexible racism that is much more than dismissive attitudes, old-fashioned values, and offensive statements. In World
    Wrestling Entertainment, the re/presentation of whiteness is far from monolithic, and is not entirely "unmarked, unspecific, [and] universal," to use Dyer's conceptualization of the term in reference to cinema (45). Instead, whiteness in WWE is multiple. For example, the
    Irish wrestler Sheamus is coded as "hyperwhite," a quality which as Alastair Bonnett argues, is associated with destructivity (32). Not surprisingly, Sheamus is a popular "heel" (or "bad guy," to use wrestling terminology) among fans, who are shown on television holding
    up self-made signs referring to the Celtic Warrior as an albino. In particular, his villainous whiteness is presented through his striking red hair and a foreign accent, accompanied by the performance of the "Celtic Cross," a finishing move that Stephen Farrelly's character
    uses to defeat his opponents.5 Moreover, Sheamus is aggressive, a bully, and anti-social in that he does not appear to care much about what other people think of him; ironically, these personality traits describe former superstar "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (Steve
    Williams), who, in his role as a blue-collar, heterosexual white American, was embraced by fans in the 1990s. Yet, even ethnic white characters, such as Sheamus, are marketable in a post-Civil Rights era in which the appropriation of Irish culture by EuroAmericans
    grants them social value in a society bent on claiming heritage (Negra 2).

    In comparison with Sheamus, who appears to violate conventional codes of conduct to reinforce a hyper-masculine persona, professional wrestler Santino Marella exemplifies the "swarthy" white who speaks with a heavy Italian accent and is often shown in World
    Wrestling Entertainment patting, touching, or attempting to physically embrace other male wrestlers, gestures which frame him as possibly gay. As WWE's touchy-feely court jester who occasionally enters the ring wearing an Italian soccer jersey and sometimes
    cross-dresses - in one storyline he appeared as his fictional sister Santina - Marella is unable to win many matches in the squared circle dominated by heterosexual white American men.6 The subtext of Santino Marella the unsuccessful wrestler is that due to his foreign
    identity, he does not embody authentic masculinity, a performance that is reinforced by his lack of knowledge of the rules of professional wrestling, and his failure to win over female wrestlers, toned and tanned "divas" who repeatedly give him the brush off. Through these
    forms of exclusion, the space of the squared circle in World Wrestling Entertainment ultimately becomes dominated and defined by white, heterosexual male professional wrestlers representing the core American national identity.

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shinstrife
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#2 Posted on 9.4.15 0936.54
Reposted on: 9.4.22 0950.33
This is awesome. I'm going to try and get a hold of a copy asap. Thanks for posting this. I am always intrigued when pop cultural studies/academia tackles pro-wrestling.
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