It’s Day Four of #StylesWeek, a celebration of all things Phenomenal and the sixth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. We started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better, gave you the finer points of the Mr. Olympia oeuvre with some Essential Viewing, then marched through Hump Day with a GIF parade. Today, we make our “Amazon.com on steroids” dreams come true with Juice Make Sugar Recommends… before finishing everything off tomorrow with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Pele kick-fueled civil war.)
Based on a True Story…, Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton is unapologetically country. Tune into to any episode of The Voice, and you’ll hear about it within the first 30 seconds. If you somehow missed “Boys ‘Round Here” in spite of its in-your-face amount of radio play, the song is literally about guys “talkin’ bout girls/talkin’ bout trucks” with liberal references to chewing tobacco and beer sprinkled in. Shelton has risen out of country — a field famous for producing its own stars but not always being a part of pop culture consciousness — and become a huge star without having to hide or divert attention away from his country roots. (Looking at you, Taylor). Based on a True Story… embraces the tropes of both country music and country living, but blends them into something has been fresh and relevant to nearly everyone.
Styles, is as unapologetically southern — and not The Help Southern — as Shelton is country. Just as Shelton has thrived in a business dominated by people who thumb their nose at his genre, A.J.’s made his money in industry run by a man who seems determined to legislate out southerness altogether. Both have crafted a character that is true to their southern roots without pigeonholing themselves into simply being seen as “the southern guy” with an earnest, downhome charisma that has made them crossover stars.
In a macro sense, Pixar’s game-changer animated classic obliterated long-held preconceptions about what kind of stories so-called “kids’ movies” could tell. A.J. Styles changed long-held preconceptions about what a main event match was. Even though each had to deal with the establishment telling them “You can’t have an animated movie where the characters don’t sing songs/a main event angle built around match quality, not personality,” both proved “them” wrong.
And on a smaller scale, A.J. Styles has played Woody to every shiny new Buzz Lightyear action figure that’s come through the door. Like Pixar’s lovable cowboy, Styles has had his moments of bitterness and self-doubt, but in every single case he’s put his objections aside and worked with those brought in to replace him for the sake of his friends and coworkers. He’s consistently done the right thing for the group, even when it’s not the right thing for him.
Sons of Anarchy
Just like Jax, A.J. is a babyface hero for an era of moral relativism. Styles recognized and rejected the violence and corruption of the motorcycle gang Aces & Eights, and he is currently rebelling against his domineering (kayfabe) mother figure Dixie Carter. Along the way, we’ve seen A.J. take steps forward as well as back. Just when he approaches being a perfect angel, he’s forced to do something that’s been established as against his moral code.
And while Sons of Anarchy hasn’t always been mind-blowing; many of the episodes are either exposition dumps or exist simply to reinforce aspects of a particular character’s personality. SoA has survived and thrived because of the devotion of its fan following and the unbelievable action and drama it provides on good days. The Phenomenal One has also stayed afloat, even when there were times his character seemed to have run its course, because of the tremendous devotion of his fans and his ability to come through with big matches at important moments.
Jeff Garcia was a very successful NFL quarterback whose perceived lack of personality and big market appeal made people see him as less than he really was. Change “quarterback” to “professional wrestler,” and the same could be said of A.J. Styles. Both men were reliably above-average to the point of greatness: very good quarterbacks who never had the charisma or spotlight to be recognized as the very elite of their industries, even when their production put him in that category. Unfortunately, writers (of both the journalistic and creative variety) had more fun accentuating their weaknesses than strengths, which made both their careers an uphill battle against being perceived as “very adequate.”
Both possess the lovable, albeit dopey face makes audiences say, “this guy is probably good at heart.” Both have had tremendous critical success, but each has been in his share of Bubble Boy’s. Gyllenhaal’s roles have seen him play the gamut from “misunderstood nice guy” to “troubled nice guy” to “nice guy pushed to the brink.” A.J. Styles has played many of the same characters throughout his journey as a professional wrestler.
The common thread that makes audience keep coming back to both men, however, is their brutal emotional honesty. In Brokeback Mountain, the audience sees Gyllenhaal cheat on both his mostly likable wife and his extremely likable lover, then devolve into cruising for whatever kind of tail he can get. As much as the audience sees Jack Twist slip, however, Gyllenhaal brilliantly communicates Jack’s crushing emptiness and need for love to the point that the character deep sympathetic. A.J. Styles’ career has had its ups and downs, and it has plain to see at times that he is not enjoying being The Phenomenal One. In spite of the tough times he’s been through professionally, his consistent effort and emotional honesty with the fans have kept him highly-supported by the TNA faithful.
Atonement, Ian McEwan
The plot twist that ends Atonement forces the novel’s reader to consider how petty, ordinary people can derail the lives of exceptional heroes. McEwan’s Robbie is a working-class hero, raised up out of poverty by a simultaneously altruistic and dangerously clueless wealthy family. Just as Robbie is about to make it at Cambridge, the rug is pulled out from underneath him by his paramour’s moralistic family, and the fabulous life he full-well deserves is denied to him. While Robbie suffers many indignities, he overcomes them to become an unquestionable hero, although he loses his chance for lifelong happiness in the process.
A.J. Styles’ journey mirrors that of Robbie, plucked from low-budget obscurity by the Jarretts, put on the fast-track to be one of the defining stars of a generation, and then pushed to the back of the line when he was rightly next. For TNA, the question still remains: can they do right by A.J. without holding against him the damage to his character and career that are their fault, or will they ultimately only be able to make an empty, far-too-late gesture of atonement, like Briony.