Heel Honor Roll #9: "Best In the World" CM Punk
CM Punk, as "The Best in The World", is the Tea Party better than Jack Swagger or Zeb Coulter could ever hope. Not in the big, cartoon villain sense; that is the broad, immediately identifiable evil, and Zeb is killing it right now as far as that goes. No, Punk is the more insidious evil of the Tea Party. He's the faux-populism, the lie that sounds good enough to fool the rank and file of the movement to believe it is true and give themselves up willingly to exploitation. He smirks, and he cites Colt Cabana or Tyson Kidd in the way Lenin would name-drop Plato or Aristotle, pandering as he strikes the pose of nonconformity, basking in the adulation of the unwashed masses that disgust him. He is creating a world in which he doesn't have to care about any of them, the fans, and he's using their support to do it.
Maybe Punk is Hobbes. The "Summer of Punk" certainly had the cynicism of Leviathan all over it. Punk's saw a landscape contaminated with self interest and decided to overcome it by becoming the most self-interested person imaginable. Raven, who we have discussed here previously, demanded to be considered with cries of "What about Raven?!?", but for Punk even consideration was crime. He was the best wrestler in the company, the Best In The World, as he put it. And even though he "didn't care" about the rest of it, the money, the merchandise, the fame, the public recognition, it was still a damn atrocity that he hasn't been given those things and DAMMIT HE WAS GOING TO LET YOU KNOW ABOUT IT. Years of underground appreciation didn't create gratitude for the appreciation, but rather bitterness for having been underground for so long. The answer was to look out for number one, and in Punk's world, there was no question who held that title.
Is he Genghis Khan? Certainly Punk has the empire, the Cult of Personality growing around his successes. His work in the ring carried the sense of expansion, an offense constantly innovating and brutalizing. And making a statement. Whether brutalizing Jerry Lawler, throwing Ryback to the outside of the ring, or delivering a show-stopping, gasp-inducing piledriver to John Cena (on live cable TV, no less), it was always making a statement. Punk's every move conveys the weight of experience combined with the petulance of youth, a juxtaposition created by a life in the ring way from the hard camera. All of it is designed to draw his people in even as it lets them know the he doesn't really care about them. Classic faces are great because of their fans; classic heels are great to spite the fans. Punk is neither; his point is that he would be great if the arena were empty, if the fans weren't even there, because to him, they don't matter.
Punk is Chavez. The populism was never honest. Punk's saga as The Best In The World began with an attack on the ideals fans held dear, and it never really changed. He was just fighting people we wanted to like less than we wanted to like him. Daniel Bryan even told him to his face that his posturing as the Voice of the Voiceless was a lie, and we still cheered him on. Maybe we didn't event believe him, maybe we just wanted to believe him. Certainly he was only more disgusted with us for wanting to like him. Because really, that means that our love is as fake as his populism. We don't crowd around him as idol because we love the idol; we just love the crowd. And CM Punk just keeps spitting in our faces. He keeps clotheslining Rock, keeps sneak attacking Cena, keeps talking in Paul Bearer's voice out of Undertaker's urn. He hates us for wanting to like him as something he isn't, and he hates us even more for hating him for what he is. When John Cena called CM Punk "the biggest hypocrite of them all", he was right; Punk's masquerading as loving his counter-culture status begged the question as to why he was so angry at all of us for making him counter-culture. We just didn't want to like Cena like we wanted to like Punk.
Punk is Kim Jong-il. He even has the minister of propaganda to prove it. Hell, if there is one person who can understand CM Punk's anger at the crowds who want to like him, it would have to be Paul Heyman. Who better to sympathize with the fraudulent power of "critical acclaim" than the man who watched ECW die even as it became more and more widely praised among fans. Well, where were those fans when their dollars were needed? Where are those fans now, when Punk has held the WWE title longer than anyone in the modern era, and yet the WWE still sells pay-per-views with John Cena and HHH? Their words, their love, Punk's posturing as though none of it mattered, and Heyman's proselytizing as to what is and isn't true, it's all fake.
CM Punk is us. Not as we believe him to be us, the underdog, underappreciated hero that we want to embrace, that the world SHOULD embrace as such. He's the uglier side of that truth. He's the bitter reality that being underappreciated is only a badge of honor to those who aren't being underappreciated, otherwise it just creates anger. He's the ugly side of unrecognized talent, the one that we call entitlement in people we like less than we want to like CM Punk. That's just it, really; why do we want to like him? Why should it matter, according to Punk? Why should he need to change anything now, when he has risen to the top of the sport without us? Maybe the problem was us all along, and CM Punk will be damned if he's going to care what we think now that all eyes are on him. Our fake love is worse than our indifference, and certainly worse than our scorn, which he has turned into a strange validation. He has his title, he has Paul Heyman, he has his own credibility, and that's all he needs.
Except it's a lie, because he wouldn't be so angry if that were true. His validation is fake, posturing to put us in our place. Then again, our popular acceptance of Punk is no less fake; we love him fighting John Laurinaitis but bristle when he fights Rock, and if that's the case we didn't love him but instead loved the moment when the crowd gathered around him, when we could be a part of that crowd. We're fake. Paul Heyman is certainly fake, a master propagandist for whom lies are a viola, playing concertos to try and shame us for his own shameful behavior. It's all fake, we're all lying to each other. Faux-populism inevitably breeds this sort of lying, which inevitably breeds hate between leader and populous, because both were lying the entire time.
We hate each other because we deserve each other. We deserve CM Punk as false idol, and he deserves us as false fans.