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Textual Chocolate: Rusev's Room

Just as soon as Rusev attacked Dolph Ziggler and revealed that his ankle was good enough for him to stand on in a wrestling match, a lot of males started chiming in on Twitter.

While it might not be true for everyone, all of a sudden, with one swing of a crutch the narrative, for some, became less about how annoying this angle had become and more about how they felt Dolph deserved it. About how it’s so easy to empathize with the love-lorn Rusev. Some men even went so far to call Rusev the top face on the roster right now.

I tweeted:

The tweet landed me on a minor debate—which I was prepared to make bigger—on how moral alignment is flexible and subjective. Simply speaking, the consensus among fans is you root for who you choose to root for, regardless of what they’ve done, as long as you can find a little facet to focus on. It goes the same way for hate: someone can be the most virtuous man you’ll ever find, he may have overcome a terrible past, but it doesn’t matter for the viewer if he doesn’t like that person. And it’s fine. That is your right as a fan, whether you paid to see the show or you didn’t. And I’ll be the first to own up to such behavior.

But there’s a bigger picture, and it’s slightly problematic, for now. This whole Rusev fiasco centers on this outdated sense of male entitlement that implies women, as partners, are little more than mere possessions of their boyfriends or husbands. Let’s be real: while Ziggler isn’t innocent, the only sin he’s committed is kayfabe falling for Lana and rubbing it in Rusev’s face. And Lana has every right to find and be with a man who treats her well.

In the bigger picture, does it really matter if people could empathize with the guy for whom karma is coming back around? Have we really forgotten that Rusev was the possessive boyfriend, the guy who dumped Lana and blamed her for his recent defeats, and the clingy, jealous, creepy ex-boyfriend who you would get a restraining order against in real life, if you were Lana and this were real life? To empathize with Rusev is to empathize with that, regardless of what you’ve been through in your own histories.

And I’ve been hit with the “people change” argument. It’s true. People do change. Daniel Bryan was the same kind of terrible onscreen ex-boyfriend to AJ Lee, and look at him now; everyone’s cheering for him. But here’s the problem with that line of thinking: when we cheer Daniel Bryan now, we no longer cheer an emotionally-abusive boyfriend, we’re cheering a scrappy underdog who fights against oppression and also values and appreciates his woman, as we’ve seen in his on-screen interactions with Brie Bella.

When you cheer—if you cheer—Rusev now, you’re not cheering for a man who has changed. At least, not yet. You’re still cheering for the creepy, immature ex-boyfriend. It’s possible that he can act better. It’s even entirely possible that we get a double turn, and believe me when I say I can see it with the way Ziggler just smarmily interrupted Rusev and Summer Rae (who also happens to be the only babyface among these four, because she was just trying to cheer Rusev up). This is where face turns come from. I know. How do you think Bret/Austin happened?

But he isn’t that guy yet, and his character needs to start acting better if he wants to be deserving of those cheers. No more creeping, no more stalking, no more going ham on random guys in the hallway and asking if they like Lana. (A free pass on beating up your ex’s new man, because this is pro wrestling after all.)

I guess what I’m really afraid of is that Vince and Creative isn’t going to go that route. They’ve always operated on an outdated sense of what’s right or wrong. This is why John Cena gets to slut-shame heel ladies for no good reason and still be a good guy. This is why Cena gets to be ruthless with Rusev and gets away with still being a hero  This is why Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter get to be the good guy while being unreasonably xenophobic against Rusev and Lana, just because they’re not American. And the more I roll it around in my head, the more I’m liking the idea of Rusev as a full-fledged, overt face, something that’s been denied him in the spotlight of aforementioned xenophobic feuds. People have been cheering him for a while now, so why not make it official?

Doubling back real quick to the “cheer who you want to cheer” argument, can’t we balance the right to a personal opinion and the right to respect the bigger moral picture? If you were dealing with an ex like Rusev in real life, this wouldn’t be a laughing matter, I’d bet.

Some of you will bring up Chris Benoit and the eternal debate of admiring the man’s body of work in the face of his final moments in life. But I put forth the opinion that this isn’t exactly the same thing as Rusev’s character. Rusev’s scary ex-boyfriend character is part of his body of work because it’s his current gimmick (unless he is actually like that in real life). There’s nothing to separate with Rusev here, and that character elicited some pretty real feelings on RAW.

I think the basis that it all boils down to is how we react to what we perceive to be real to us. It’s appropriate to feel revolted by Benoit’s double murder-suicide, because that incident is real to us, and it’s also appropriate to admire Benoit’s wrestling career, because that is also real to us. Those responses still align with what society deems appropriate with regard to those situations.

And I don’t think society, in this day and age, still appreciates the behavior of a jilted lover like Rusev. Again, that’s the type of thing that warrants a restraining order. And we can do better than that.

However, I will again concede that the way Dolph and Lana acted did warrant the emotional response from Rusev, and by extension the emotional response from Wrestling Twitter. But if the WWE is smart enough to recognize what just happened there, they should be smart enough to change course accordingly.

You all say people change. I agree. I’ll be the first person to agree. But Rusev’s gonna have to change too.


Romeo Moran (@roiswaris the Editor in Chief of Smark Henry and one of the three hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He gets by in this hard knock life through working in publishing. Smark Henry was his and Stan Sy's original vision of a watering hole for local wrestling fans. He roots for the undersized guys who hit hard, but really hates Davey Richards with his entire soul.


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