“There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way.” — Christopher Morley
When did simply going home and staying there become a thing we sought after? I don’t remember, but I certainly feel it. A lot of people feel it. Maybe the last generation wanted to punch out their boss. Maybe back then Stone Cold Steve Austin made them feel really good, because they could imagine what it would be like if they could act like he did. But today, these days, it’s about going home. That’s all any of us want, it seems. We want to sit on our couch and cuddle our girl and watch HBO. We want to lazily wander around at home and chat with our friends and Tumblr for hours. We want to be left the fuck alone and only dip into society when we goddamn feel like. So of course CM Punk is a hero.
CM Punk left. He beat John Cena for the WWE Championship, blew a kiss to Vince McMahon, and ran off into the beautiful Chicago night. The last five minutes of the show was a beautiful silent short. In retrospect, what a strange thing to present us. A villain wins, a villain leaves, a villain gets everything he wants, and in that moment we all wish we were him. We all wish we could grab the prize and walk away. We all wish we could go see a damn ball game while our dictator employer is fired on live television.
CM Punk left. Even twenty-four hours after Punk ran up the stairs past the shocked masses, nobody knew for sure if he was part of WWE anymore. We didn’t know if he’d signed a contract. As far as anyone could piece together, Punk was actually gone. They were going to crown a new WWE Champion and pretend he never existed.
CM Punk left, and in leaving truly defined his principles. The strongest wrestling characters are ones whose principles never waver, who are loved or hated due to circumstance and well-tuned conflict. Punk had always been strongly defined—a straight-edge asshole, a tattooed degenerate who insulted your heroes for their hypocrisies — and those by themselves would have been fine. But by leaving, Punk evolved. He is now, and perhaps from now on, a man who wants to go home. He is a man who loves his friends, his city, his couch. You can see it in his eyes, in his step. He’s tired, and he wants to just do this thing. So of course CM Punk is a hero.
CM Punk left, but then he came back. He returned because the new boss talked him into it. Presumably, HHH did whatever he could to make Punk sign. We don’t know the specifics of the deal, but we also don’t know what the WWE Championship means, either. WWE likes to leave these kinds of thing open — not because they’re lazy, but because they like the audience to fill these kinds of things in themselves.
The WWE Championship means something different to different people. Hell, it means different things to different performers. Sometimes it’s a thing you win. Sometimes it’s a thing you steal. Sometimes it’s a thing you break with a hammer. Sometimes it’s a thing you almost forget on someone’s sofa. Sometimes it’s a thing that more than one person gets to have, if only for a few weeks.
CM Punk left, but we’ll probably never know if he left “for real.” Though Punk has insisted that he was going to go home and stay there, we don’t know the particulars of his contract, when he re-signed, and whether his contract was ever in danger of expiring. If I had to guess, I’d say Punk re-signed before they ever began the story. I’d like to think WWE is a little better organized than to let someone actually main-event an important show without signing a contract, but I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. And we likely never will.
CM Punk left, but he came back and immediately became the anti-authoritarian figure to the new, shiny authority figure. It’s likely that the next few months will be about that struggle. It’s an old story, and one that so far hasn’t produced new beats. Whether they do or not is the true test: does WWE acknowledge the true desires of their fans? Do they realize just how much Punk speaks for us? Do they realize the changes they have to make in order to keep this story relevant? If they do, they know this: It is vitally important that the threat of Punk leaving is always there. It is paramount that Punk’s goal is to get on his couch, away from the road, the toil, and the performance. Punk needs to go home. They can throw all the roadblocks in his way that they want, but he needs to keep that couch as a goal. If they let him forget that, if they let him just be another superstar competing for a metaphor-filled macguffin like everyone else, then they’ll have lost our desires, too.
The best wrestling characters have strong principles, but they also need strong desires. Sometimes, winning the belt is that desire. Sometimes it’s becoming a myth. Sometimes, like the case is with Punk, it’s the desire to go home and be able to stay there. Punk wrestles so that one day he won’t have to. He left, and he will always be leaving.