Lutz's Blog: Save the cynicism for WWE storylines, not the company's goodwill
By Jeffrey Lutz
It takes a lot for John Cena to appear in front of a live WWE audience without getting booed, but he accomplished that rare feat during the Make-A-Wish segment on Raw last week. While the cheers were mostly aimed at the three children on the stage with Cena, the crowd was all in to show Cena the support and admiration he has earned through his exhaustive work with kids.
It seems, however, that the good feelings ended there. Much of the discussion this week hasn't been focused on Cena's acts of goodwill or WWE's investment in numerous good causes, but on how WWE, by continuing to publicize its charity work, is giving of its time and money for all the wrong reasons.
Older fans, perhaps because the product is no longer aimed at them, have a cynical view toward WWE these days and the simplistic storylines that bring in younger viewers. I'm fine with that perspective, because WWE should be held accountable for an inconsistent product by the fans who have invested the most time in it. When the criticism extends to WWE's motives for its charity work, I take exception.
This is a difficult viewpoint at which to arrive. Like many, I see the possibility -- and even the likelihood -- that WWE does so much charity work because it wants to appear favorable to potential shareholders and corporate sponsors. I see how WWE's numerous mentions of that work on its television programs can come across as the company patting itself on the back and having no real interest in the causes they support.
My conclusion, though, is that there is never a bad reason to give money or time to charity, especially the amount of money and time offered by WWE.
To fans and others with no direct interest in the causes WWE supports, its easy to become cynical when the company knocks us over the head with seemingly constant celebration of its goodwill. If I had a terminally ill child or a family member with cancer (which I recently did), I'm not asking questions of WWE about its motives. If John Cena arrives on my doorstep to spend time with said child, whose literally dying wish was to spend time with WWE's biggest star, I'm not wondering how that affects the company's bottom line.
Cena's presence as the face of many of these initiatives probably adds to the fans' displeasure. He seemed to be the only WWE star who could mention the campaign with Susan G. Komen late last year, when WWE was raising money for cancer research, and his prominence in the B.A. Star campaign is a dichotomy from a wrestling character that occasionally bullies opponents. Even though Cena is lauded for his seemingly selfless acts, it can be difficult to separate the character from the person, who obviously gives his time because he wants to, not to get ahead professionally.
If someone tells me Cena or Vince McMahon are shady characters and I ask why, and their only response is, "Because they publicize their charity work too often," I'm laughing in that person's face. I liken it to a high school senior volunteering at a soup kitchen in order to put an act of kindness on a college application. Obviously that student is getting something out of doing that work, but that doesn't make the time spent any less valuable or appreciated.
Even though WWE is mostly targeting children who don't care about the company's image, WWE desperately wants to appear cool. It's not enough to just mention the B.A. Star campaign, WWE also has to show the handful of minor celebrities who have joined the initiative. WWE can't be cool, and it often has no tact when attempting to do so, but these efforts to get more people involved in their chosen causes shouldn't go unnoticed.
WWE probably thinks that showing the child actress from Modern Family at a B.A. Star event will prompt fans to join the cause. Maybe it will. Mick Foley gives money and time to RAINN, which raises funds for women who are victims of rape and abuse, and he mentions it on social media to help get others involved. WWE announced the Make-A-Wish website last week, likely with the idea that its fans will contribute.
Charity work can be a slippery slope. People and organizations who give are considered selfless if they participate without fanfare and selfish if the work is publicized. I say go ahead and make it public. Having the numerous charity efforts to publicize in the first place is good enough for me.
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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