Lutz's Blog: The Rock doesn’t owe fans a rebirth
By Jeffrey Lutz
One of my favorite television shows is Happy Endings, a unique sitcom about six 30-somethings in Chicago. It’s not always laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s constantly entertaining in a way that leaves me captivated. It’s easy to forgive one line that misses because I know the next great line could immediately follow.
I feel the same way about The Rock. His presence on Raw gets me in the moment, and I never leave the moment because no matter what happened to that point I know something innovative or groundbreaking could be coming next. This dynamic occurred last Monday during The Rock Concert, when his first song fell flat before the second and final one lured the audience back in. All in.
Some don’t share that opinion. They feel The Rock should break away from the one-liners and catchphrases that made him popular in the 1990s, from the trash talk that some perceive as bullying, and that he should evolve. He’s an A-list actor, after all. If he can’t dramatically change his character on the fly, who can?
The Rock doesn’t owe fans an evolution, however. If he was an up-and-coming full-time character, it would be a different story. We lament characters that never progress, such as Randy Orton. But it’s unfair to hold The Rock to a different standard than other returning legends just because he is more globally popular. When "Stone Cold" Steve Austin returns, fans know they’ll see some beer drinking, a mild swear word or two, a few “What?” chants and a Stunner. The Rock brings more to his act than his baseline elements, but he still can’t win with some people.
The Rock doesn’t need to evolve because he already has, perhaps more than any WWE character during the last 20 years. He went from personality-deprived Rocky Maivia to a militant member of the Nation of Domination to the leader of that faction to the People’s Champion to the Corporate Champion, and that was all in his first run with the company. Since his appearances have become more sporadic he has continued to progress. This isn’t a character that is still trying to fill in the cracks, it’s a finished product with The Rock combining all of his previous elements into a persona that always feels fresh.
All The Rock owes us is effort and investment, a dedication to a business that doesn’t earn him the worldwide fame of one of his big-budget movies. Dwayne Johnson’s decision to return to WWE was made tactfully; it’s an opportunity to expand his brand, but he should lose himself in the world of wrestling without outside projects in mind. As far as I can tell, he has done that. His backstage segments and in-ring promos make me feel like the Rock believes he’s home, like this role is as important to him as playing Hercules or the Tooth Fairy. In fact, it sometimes seems like he’s trying too hard.
The Rock doesn’t need to change because he already brings out new facets of characters he’s opposing. John Cena thought he was stepping up his game by trying to make The Rock look bad in the buildup to their WrestleMania match last year, but the petty jealousy involved in that feud kept it from reaching its potential. The Rock’s three faces aren’t as diverse as Mick Foley’s, but they’re still integral to the appeal of his character. For it to succeed, Dwayne Johnson the person, Dwayne Johnson the actor and The Rock as a character must convene in a way that allows all of them to excel.
The feud with Cena didn’t allow any of The Rock’s elements to flourish. While Cena was doing his best to make The Rock look bad, he was stunting The Rock’s creativity, originality, and effectiveness. Yes, the idea of the feud was to get across that Cena and The Rock legitimately hated each other, but Punk and Rock are accomplishing that without undercutting each other and nullifying each other’s strengths. The hangover from the Cena rivalry may have worn on some fans, and Cena’s sabotage efforts had some feeling as if The Rock had lost a step. The program with Punk, at least so far, is proving otherwise.
As a 40 year-old part-time star, The Rock is under no obligation to re-invent himself yet again. He’s an updated version of previous characters - his insults are fresh, his social-media presence is ubiquitous and the charisma that made him a global icon remains. WWE didn’t pay for The Rock version 2.0 or 6.0 or whatever this would be. It’s unfair of fans to expect The Rock to change just because he can. As we’ve seen in pay-per-view buyrates and television ratings, business is best when The Rock can be The Rock.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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