Look at that smile. That beaming, megawatt manifestation of everything that is good about what America thinks of itself. An insanely hard-working national treasure, a man whose mountains of muscle are only outweighed by his oceanic reserves of charisma, Dwayne Johnson is the closest thing that America has to royalty. In a nation that defines itself by the stories it tells, by the oversized heroes it projects onto a giant screen, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has few peers.
Shit, I’m an austere European socialist who disdains consumerism and has a natural distrust of anything too polished or well-packaged—but when that flawless grin turns my way the defensive walls are reduced to rubble and in a second I’m ready to embrace whatever he might be selling. The comedian Dylan Moran once said that despite all the bombs and the flexing of military muscle America really maintains its empire—one built on cultural as well as financial capital—not with outright force but instead by co-opting and neutralizing any opposition to it by simply building a Starbucks around it.
But that was before the wrestling star The Rock metamorphosed into uber movie star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Now you don’t even need the Starbucks. Insurrection brewing? No problem, just parachute Dwayne Johnson in. He could probably suplex any opposition if the need arose, but you know that won’t be necessary. Everyone will just line up for a selfie and an autograph instead. AK-47s will be getting traded in for pre-sale Baywatch tickets within minutes. Natives getting restless? Worry not—have Dwayne Johnson bench press somebody’s house while he sings a Pixar number. Now the only demands being shouted are for more Fast & Furious movies.
In other words, the man’s near enough untouchable. He seems to put every foot in the right place.
In terms of movies, he has walked a deft road: Paying his dues in supporting roles first, he slowly morphed into a franchise revitalizer who was brought in to revive flagging properties, creatively as well as financially. Then he finally graduated into a fully-fledged leading man in his own right. Dwayne Johnson can seemingly do no wrong, even enlivening otherwise weak films or shows with his verve, presence, and commitment. Put him in a shit movie, somehow he will still be eminently watchable. Like, that new Baywatch is coming out for some reason. My bones tingle with ominous predictive power: it’s gonna be a turrrrrrrrrrddddddddd. But Dwayne Johnson? He’ll be luminous in it. You know he will. That motherfucker.
The bastard gives great SNL too.
But it’s not only in raw star power that Johnson reigns supreme. In this era of 24 hour celebrity access and the micromanagement of perception, it is our understanding and assumption of who we believe the man underneath the star to be that propels him into a rarefied stratosphere of likability. Alongside what we glean from his performances that understanding comes from, yes, another other old world medium—interviews—but an arguably much bigger part of the amiability war is played out on a newer battlefield: social media. As a celebrity you either embrace and master social media, or you accept a glass ceiling to your likability ambitions. And Dwayne Johnsons’s social media game?
Bought my dad a Christmas gift and surprised him. He's had a hard life. This one felt good. My dad, Rocky Johnson is a minimalist. Always has been. Never asks me for much and over the years his needs are always the barest. Crazy story, my dad's dad died when he was 13yrs old. That Christmas, my dad's mom had her new boyfriend over for Christmas dinner. Her boyfriend got drunk and pissed on the turkey. My dad went outside, got a shovel, drew a line in the snow and said if you cross that line I'll kill you. The drunk crossed it and my dad laid him out cold as a block of ice. Cops were called. They told my dad's mom that when her boyfriend regains consciousness, he's gonna kill your son so one of them has got to go. In front of the entire family, my dad's mom looked at him and said get out. He was 13yrs old and now homeless. That f*cked up true story happened in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1954. He needed the bare minimum then, just like does now. Over the years, I've moved him into a big home, got him trucks to drive — which he'll literally drive into the ground until I get him something else. Hell, I'll get him anything he wants, but the SOB just won't ask;). Every Christmas, I always think about that story and my dad having every odd stacked against him at 13, but he fought thru it and still made something of himself. Makes me appreciate his struggle and hard work. Also, makes me appreciate the fun times he would beat my ass in the gym so bad when I was 13 and say "If you're gonna throw up, go outside.. and if you're gonna cry, then go home to your mother". I hated it then, but I embrace it now. Made a man outta me. Without pissing on my turkey. 😂👍🏾. Just a small way of saying thank you dad and Merry Christmas! #DwantaClaus🎅🏾
Are you kidding me with that shit? Good looks, talent, a mythical physique, humor, charisma, and seemingly bottomless reserves of essential human goodness? It’s almost too good to be true.
Because it is.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that Dwayne Johnson is hiding some terrible skeleton in his closet. Nor am I purporting that what we see is entirely an illusion—or at least not a much stronger one than what we all maintain via social media as a matter of course. But we, the consuming public, are a fickle fucking bunch. The tides of that likability war can turn on a dime, with the smallest prompting. We are not afraid to tear down one day what we have spent the previous year building up. We are eager to forget that the people shoved into the spotlight remain just that: people. Flawed, multifaceted human beings who, by virtue of the colossal and unfathomable hall of mirrors that is 21st century fame, have become repositories for our hopes and dreams—as well as our anxieties and hatreds. Twas ever thus of course, but today the needle can flick between the two poles faster than ever. Think of someone famous who was once beloved, and almost without fail you’ll also be able to think of a backlash. Then of a backlash to the backlash. And of redemption. And contrition. And absolution. It is of course the case that sometimes someone really does do some heinous shit, and they deserve to be cast out from the garden of our good graces. And then again sometimes that’s emphatically not the case. Thus we amuse ourselves to death by tearing down the edifices of those of whom we have built monuments to, all before rebuilding them again.
All that is to say: poor Dwayne Johnson. Poor hard-working, hyper-successful, super-in-shape Charisma God Dwayne Johnson. Sooner or later we are going to turn on him. And the longer he jogs down that sun-kissed beach, carrying us aloft in his arms in this honeymoon phase of ours, the worse we’re going to bite him when we do.
WHY DID YOU MAKE US BITE YOU, DWAYNE?!
No wait no, wait! We’re sorry Dwaaaaaaayneeeee, please forgive us for not forgiving you for that thing you said where you meant that thing but we thought it was the other thing because we didn’t know that you didn’t know that-…
Petr Knava lives in London and plays music