So it’s warm. You’re at a bar, one of those great bars where
you can sit at the entrance and drink beer with your partner, and watch the
street, spending an afternoon commentating on the world, eating nachos, and
generally wading through the day, stress-free. Your phone is in your pocket,
and you have no desire to check it for anything; no part of you requires
nervous distraction. In a few hours you’ll go home, make dinner together, clean
up together, and watch a really old TV show, something that aired before your mother
Two interactions with strangers happen before you leave the
bar. The first, a thin man with tattoo’s and cigarettes and a rolled-up movie
poster of the Godfather sits down at the same bench. He says aloud—you assume,
to you—“you got a problem?” You haven’t looked at this person. You haven’t
acknowledged his existence, and he’s already looking to pick a fight. You
shrug. He laughs. “Thought so,” as if to say he’s won something with your
indifference of a person you still haven’t looked at. When you hear him
interact with the server, you take a quick look. He’s smaller than you are,
wiry. He’s also belligerent to the server, asking for his pint with lazy
You hear him talking to himself. He’s on his cell phone. He
talks about this big house he’s going to, how he needs to get ready. He talks
about wanting to get into a fight tonight. In a few moments, he slams his fist
on the bar. You get the feeling that at any moment, you could be in a situation
you don’t want to be in, and you begin tooling options. You know that any
passive comment will likely be met with aggression. Then, you see the server
drop the bill next to him, only a few minutes after he’s arrived. This is how
bars deal with people they’d like to leave. This is the first step. He pays the
bill, and doesn’t take the hint. He leaves and comes back, smoking on the
patio, engaging everyone in proximity. He keeps sitting back down next to you,
and you’ve locked eyes and you see things going sour. Eventually, you speak to
the bartender. He knows what’s happening, and your complaint is enough for him
to use his thick English brawn to muscle the man outside. You hear the
bartender say to him “You’re making my customers uncomfortable,” and you wonder
if he’ll look over at you. He doesn’t. He leaves, threatening the air. In a
moment, he’s gone.
In a few moments, another man walks up to the counter where
your food and drinks and your partners’ cell phone rests. He’s gaunt and surly
and possibly homeless, and you assume things because he asks for money. You
refuse him. He asks again. You tell him to go away, that you’re not interested
in being solicited, and that you’d like him to leave right away. You take care
of this yourself. You feel tough for some reason. He tells you to go fuck
yourself, but after a moment he’s gone, too.
I’m telling this to you because I’m Canadian, and a few
weeks ago Rich Thomas, my podcast co-host, asked me if we have the same
class-based system that the English struggle with, or if we are more like the
American system, where wealth trumps heritage. I honestly don’t know the
answer. As far as I can tell, Canadians don’t seem to value either in any real
capacity. We are quick to mock our celebrity pool, and I wouldn’t know what any
of the 118,000
millionaires in Toronto might look like. We mostly leave one another alone.
But how I acted to these two men (twist! That second-person prologue was about
me—this was a cribbed version of an experience this week) can only be read in a
class-based way. With the angry man inside the bar, I took the polite, authority-based
approach. I handled the beggar with direct, cold derision, and I did so because
one was on my side of the bar, and the other was not.
Canadian politeness is something you’ve all heard of, and
you generally take it to mean that we’re nice.
But that’s not really true. Canadians are pretty much just like everyone else. The
politeness is two-faced. The truth isn’t something we want to talk about, and
what happened to me (or to you, to return it to second-person), is to realize
that Canadian politeness has its problems. There are class-based shards stuck
in there, just waiting to serrate. There are capitalist-based bombs, waiting
for you to cut the wrong wire. And you can’t help yourself but forget that it’s
a built-in, factory feature of your own personality, until it comes out raw,
and makes you back up and wonder just what the hell you just did.
There’s a class structure in WWE, but it’s pallid. There
aren’t really limits on who can fight who, at least not the type you’d normally
associate. There is no weight limit in WWE, and the gender limit is purely
contextual. There are no brackets or qualifications, as much as most wrestling
websites would like to think these exist. But, if you watch the show for a long
time, you come to realize that there are quiet, polite systems at play that
keep characters from one another. John Cena and Kofi Kingston almost never
appear together, for instance. You could say that it’s because they aren’t
fighting one another, or that they aren’t on-screen friends (though, really,
nobody is on-screen friends with Cena anymore). But it really has everything to
do with the fact that Kofi isn’t in Cena’s league. Cena only interacts with
characters who have made it to his level, or people WWE would like to reach it.
Kofi is situated at a certain station, incapable of moving forward without
strapping some kind of metaphorical rocket to his back. Maybe he should kick
someone through a window.
Daniel Bryan has lost to the Shield every time they’ve been
in the ring together. When it’s two on three, or three on three, they’ve never
pinned his partner. Okay, they pinned Cena that one time, but they mostly just
pin Bryan. This time they pinned Kane, but it doesn’t matter. Bryan got all the
taunting. We forget that this is only Bryan’s fourth year in WWE, because he’s
changed so much since NXT Season 1. He’s no longer the indie veteran hoping to
prove himself in the big leagues. He’s not even his second character, the delusional
world champion who used
the DENNIS system on AJ Lee. He’s this third thing, and he’s perhaps about
to become a fourth. Maybe this new version will be the one to propel him past his
current class, that fat roster of former World Champions with years left on
It’s tough to see these lines as fans, but it’s even more
difficult to break through them as performers. What the hell are you supposed
to do? Change your name? Change it again? Try out half a dozen different
character types? Pretend Kofi Kingston is a “pro” compared to you? Disappear
for years, only to return out of nowhere? Surely, some part of this had to set
sparks. Did it, Curtis? Did it, Michael? Did it, Joe?
The “Curtis” in “Curtis Axel” is great. The “Axel” is not,
because it’s supposed to be referencing an axe but it makes me think of a tool.
It’s not a good idea to make me think of tools when looking at fresh pro
wrestlers. Hey, why not just go with “Curtis Hennig”? The intro was solid, but
nothing compared to Lesnar’s original
introduction. But of course this isn’t an introduction. We know who this
guy is. We’ve seen him flounder. This is a repackaging, and a pitch, where the
interesting angle is not the product itself but what it’s up against. Axel’s
first opponent is HHH. That’s a different class.
The character of “Curtis Axel,” is simply Michael McGillicutty
with added Paul Heyman. Heyman has made a career as a kingmaker, but his secret
is seeing greatness and pushing for it. Heyman has never done much with guys of
meagre charisma. The idea here is that Joe Perfect is phenomenal, but only Heyman can really see it right now. If you
look into his tired,
dead eyes, do you see anything? I guess we’re supposed to have faith that
I’d like to think I see the best in people, but I can’t help
but give into context. I once had to listen to a man berate a cashier at a
Kinko’s, accusing her of treating him poorly because he wasn’t wearing a suit.
I interjected, telling the man that he’s being treated like everyone else, and
she was doing her best with his irrational requests (he was asking for items
Kinko’s would never sell). He was insane, so it didn’t end rationally. I don’t
know if they appreciated me chiming in. I never know when that’s the right thing
to do. I have too many life choices where I could go either way on charm or
aggression, and it’s never clear which way is right. Do you do what’s polite?
Or do you do what you feel is right? Well, do you, cowboy?
You’re not supposed to solve problems with aggression,
because sometimes you wear yourself out more than your opponent. You think you’re
winning, but then you’re on the floor, gassed out, old, out of touch, distrusting
the help around you. But what choice do you have? The last guy you tried to
reason with broke your arm.