AEW: Cody Rhodes, Hard Times and the myth of millennial entitlement


Last night, Cody Rhodes delivered a modern Hard Times promo on AEW Dynamite that channeled father Dusty Rhodes perfectly in the modern era.

I’ve seen responses to the cornerstone promo delivered by Cody Rhodes on this week’s AEW Dynamite range from “ok, boomer,” levity in a neutered solidarity, to “if he is saying this, he IS that entitled millennial.” I think both of those responses and many in between not only miss the point, but miss the gravity of the point.

Maybe those people don’t have familiarity with The American Dream Dusty Rhodes and his Hard Times speech, which is perhaps the best promo in wrestling’s history. Perhaps they don’t recognize that professional wrestling in it’s modern context came from both forced fighters of the Greeks AND the carnies of Vaudeville. From men who risked death to prove themselves and be honored in sculpture, painting, and mythos as heroes regardless of their birth status to men who sold heightened and dramatized versions of themselves in sideshows to be able to eat.

It would be easy in the internet age of inside jokes with your favorite performers to overlook or never think of learning more about what pro wrestling means to the working class. If you’ve never had to unlearn those social constructs, then it’s easy to miss what violent representation in a highly dramatized but easy to comprehend medium does emotionally for people with little time for or access to therapeutic and intellectual pursuits.

So let’s talk about it. What Hard Times is, what Cody Rhodes has added to the lore, and how the downtrodden and working class have changed in the modern wrestling audience.

Dusty Rhodes was the every man. A good southern man, hardworking. He didn’t have the over muscles and overpowered physique of Hulk Hogan or Billy Graham. He didn’t have the flamboyance or apparent wealth of Ric Flair (the top heel and direct target of the Hard Times promo). He was a regular man for regular people. That’s why he was the American Dream. He was himself. He was doing okay. He was having a good time.

Millennials don’t have textile mills or steel mills or paper plants or leather factories that pay us in their money for goods in their store. We don’t have briefcases that we carry door to door as we try to sell the latest home life enhancing product.

We have freelance writing, internships and work for exposure. Due pay after due pay after due pay. It’s always come due. How long and how much do we pay before we’re allowed personage?

That’s true for Cody Rhodes. Cody left WWE because it was the only way to regain his agency.

"…it’s about the fourteen years it took me to go from undesirable to un-goddamn-deniable!"

Hard Times, in the now, is not about being laid off. There’s nothing to lay millennials off from. It’s all gone. Hard Times, now, is exactly what Cody Rhodes has risen above. He fought and struggled to stay relevant at a place with somewhat stable pay: WWE.

He begged to be allowed to be himself after years of being an easily palatable and desired brand version of himself. He is in an entirely new world that is and is not the world of his father. How does he honor himself, make the industry better, and still honor who came before him? That is Hard Times for millennials.

Desperately begging someone to retire so you can step up to the plate, hoping the people younger than you don’t make the same mistake you did, the mistake of assuming a mentor is necessary or that a mentor will teach you, elevate you, and leave you with anything.

Cody Rhodes used exposure, used the internet, used the art of branding to offer something else. The “Ellis Island for a professional wrestler.” Cody Rhodes is the golden heir of the Everyman. His silver spoon came from blood, sweat, and tears. That filigree was hard fought and hard won. It matters that the silver plating happened AFTER Cody Rhodes was born. He was born in the summer of 1985. Hard Times hit us in the fall.

"[…] Ric Flair you put hard times on this country by taking Dusty Rhodes out, that’s hard times. And we all had hard times together. And I admit I don’t look like the athlete of the day’s supposed to look. My belly’s just a lil’ big, my heiny’s a lil’ big, but, brother, I’m bad and they know I’m bad."

Dusty Rhodes made it okay to be poor, fat, and colloquial. His visibility meant so much to people that the heart of his ire towards Ric Flair came from being taken away from the people.

He didn’t just exist. He existed unapologetically. Every match he was in, it was for everyone who couldn’t be in that ring, every man who couldn’t square up with their boss or neighbor who thought they were better than them.

"I’mma reach out right now. I want you at home to know my hand is touching your hand for the gathering of the biggest body of people in this country, in this universe, all over the world now. Reaching out because of the love that was given me and this time I will repay you now. Because I will be the next World’s Heavyweight Champion on this hard time blues."

AEW and Cody Rhodes are much more than an “ok, boomer”. In fact, AEW exists in opposition to entitlement. Cody Rhodes took his name, his drive, and his power, and created a sanctuary. AEW is a well of potential.

"The dirty secret about you? The dirty secret: You need this generation more than it needs you and you’ve surrounded yourself with impressionable youth. This isn’t about my dad it isn’t about the dead, it’s about the living."

It’s too early to know if it will truly change pro wrestling for good. It’s too early to know how far Cody Rhodes’ reach will extend. The promises of a dream land, of equal opportunity have yet to come true. Women and LGBTQ wrestlers are invisible or an inclusion highlight at this point. But we have opportunity. For the first time in a long time.

Next. AEW Full Gear: Full match card preview and predictions. dark

And that’s entitlement? Nah.

That’s hard times, baby.