On Tuesday, Apple announced the new iPhone X, an updated smartphone which will include a sophisticated facial recognition system formally known as FaceID.
Questions will certainly arise regarding the effectiveness of FaceID in the near future, but for now just one person has a right to complain: 15-time WWE champion, human meme factory, and actual good guy John Cena.
Shortly after Apple revealed the iPhone X, the wrestling superstar and actor joked on Twitter about the FaceID.
The joke is this: Cena’s long-time catchphrase, “You can’t see me,” means that even Apple’s FaceID won’t be able to recognize him. If you’re not a wrestling fan who didn’t see Cena’s rise over the last decade and a half, you may be lost as to what in the fresh hell “You can’t see me” is supposed to mean. Does John Cena become invisible? How is this intimidating in a fight? And why do people find it funny?
The simple answer to all of that is: “He’s John Cena.” But the longer answer is that “You can’t see me,” which has become a popular internet meme, goes back to Cena’s early days in the WWE when he was a no-name talent struggling to get attention.
In various interviews, including a 2016 biography, Cena explained that the whole thing — the hand gesture, the phrase — all came from goofing off with his younger brother while dancing to an old school hip-hop song. “[W]e started dancing around and my brother Sean did this dance from a video where he moves his head around his hands,” Cena said. The phrase, “You can’t see me,” was born when his brother, unemployed, was laying around on their couch. When Cena urged him to get a job, his brother muttered, “You can’t see me.”
In a radio interview from 2012, Cena said his brother dared him to do the gesture on TV. At the time, Cena was languishing on WWE’s little-watched Saturday night show Velocity. Since no one cared, Cena was afforded freedom to experiment. So all of the Cena family’s inside jokes made it on the air, including “You can’t see me,” which Cena found compelling to do to opponents in a vulnerable position.
“It tells my opponent they are not where I am as a competitor, that I am on another level,” Cena said. In some meta way, “You can’t see me” was also a declaration from the former body builder turned wrestler: You can’t ignore me.
Cena’s stock began to rise when he adopted a white rapper persona, which originated in a Halloween episode of WWE SmackDown where Cena came dressed as Vanilla Ice. No one knew Cena could actually freestyle rap, which inspired WWE brass to finally promote their young asset. With the taunt’s rap origins and its obvious homage to a Tupac song, the whole thing just made sense for Cena, who thrived in his new image. “You can’t see me” even became the title of Cena’s 2005 rap album. (Yes, John Cena has a rap album.)
But it wouldn’t be until 2014 when “You can’t see me” became a meme on Vine and Reddit. People started splicing John Cena’s theme music, cranked to the top possible volume, into unrelated videos like this Hunger Games clip below.
At 6 feet 1 inches and wielding 200-plus pounds of pure muscle, John Cena is hard to ignore. But at a NASCAR event in Daytona last summer, Fox Sports reporter Jamie Little was on the field when she “ignored” the WWE star. Her ponytail, whipping Cena’s face, generated a stunned, priceless reaction from Cena.
GIFs of the scene went viral, and fans were quick to make jokes inspired by Cena’s catchphrase. Because this is the internet, even non-WWE fans finally caught on. Combine that with the other big meme, and everyone seems to know John Cena.
They just can’t see him.