I have a very complicated relationship with John Cena’s Twitter account. I often take screenshots of his tweets and text them to my friends. I had copies delivered to multiple people’s homes on the day his book of tweets was released. This is my attempt to understand why.
In case you’re not one of his 12.9 million followers, the Doctor of Thuganomics’ tweets fall into two categories: promotion of his various business enterprises and baffling inspirational quotes. It is the latter of these that Cena recently compiled into a book for mass consumption. What follows is a serious literary deconstruction of Be a Work in Progress and perhaps even Cena himself.
The first thing you notice about much of the advice and affirmations in the book is that they are unthinkably optimistic and often confounding. It’s like someone applied William S. Burroughs’s cut-up technique to a bunch of graduation cards.
For instance, “Control the controllable. The disorder of others is only your chaos if you make it so.” Elsewhere, Cena writes, “Respect is reciprocal. You get what you give.” That’s not even a new concept. That’s the New Radicals. But what happens if we carefully deconstruct Cena’s words in the style of influential French philosopher Jacques Derrida? Something profound.
Cena advises readers to “Give of yourself to those you love. Expect nothing in return,” before saying “Be who you are regardless of who you are with.” Later he recommends, “Be brave enough to embrace humility. The reward will be confidence.”
“Love you. Be you,” is followed by “Do the work. Commit to purpose. Constantly evolve.” When comparing these seemingly conflicting concepts, we strike at the heart of Cena’s book: the destruction of one’s self.
Yes, it’s surprising that Cena’s motivational book revolves around the concept of self-destruction, but such contradictions become more obvious when we broaden our examination.
Look at Cena’s Twitter account, from which the book was carefully curated. As I said earlier, it’s a mix of motivational quotations and promotional tweets for Cena’s movies, TV shows, and other business ventures. His bio literally says, “A forum of thoughts and perspectives designed to ignite conversations and actions leading to growth, and occasional self promotion.” Cena’s Twitter account is simultaneously altruistic and commercialistic. Much like the man himself.
As 16-time WWE world champion, Cena was known as the “Doctor of Thuganomics.” His five moves of doom and incredible success in the ring drew dueling chants of “Let’s go, Cena” and “Cena sucks.” Despite his career as a purveyor of violence, Cena also holds the record for most wishes fulfilled as a part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with more than 650 appearances.
Cena is an impossibly muscled man. He has the physique of the blocky mascot for a company that sells “Square jean for rectangular men.” Despite his incredible mass, Cena’s taunt and the title of his 2005 debut studio album is You Can’t See Me.
Cena will appear as the violently jingoistic antihero Peacemaker in both the upcoming release of Suicide Squad 2 and his spinoff series for HBO. Here he is announcing the death of Osama bin Laden at a live WWE event after defeating The Miz and John Morrison in a triple-threat steel cage match for the championship title:
Can you imagine being one of the 10,000 people attending Extreme Rules at the St. Pete Times Forum that night? You spend your whole life being taught that there is order and reason to the world. Then you learn that the man behind 9/11 has been killed from John Cena.
I point out all these contradictions as a way to support my thesis regarding Cena’s book. There is no order. There is no sense. There is no true self. This is the “decentered universe” embraced by Derrida, the father of Deconstruction.
So what can we gain from accepting this deconstructionist approach?
As explained in Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory, “If we have the courage, the implication is, we will enter this new Nietzschean universe, where there are no guaranteed facts, only interpretations, none of which has the stamp of authority upon it, since there is no longer any authoritative centre to which to appeal for validation of our interpretations.”
In times such as this, I can’t think of a more useful philosophy to adopt. Facts are irrelevant because people choose to ignore them or even actively work to corrupt the sanctity of knowledge. Facing such circumstances, John Cena writing, “Don’t take someone else’s word on what you can accomplish” in a book based solely on him telling you what you can do is the perfect literary expression of our times.
We both are and are not what John Cena tells us we are. One’s concept of “self” is just as unfathomable as Cena himself. Or as he would say, “You can’t see me.”