A very salient and time appropriate point was recently made by L.E.W.D.’s resident truth telling aficionado Corbin Macklin:
You can make an argument that my generation grew up spoiled by seeing The Rock, Stone Cold, HHH, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, Undertaker, Kane, Big Show, Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho etc every week…
One would be hard-pressed to argue with the fact that thousands, if not millions, of today’s most vocal pro wrestling fans today were indeed spoiled by the capers and athleticism of the aforementioned stars from more than seventeen years ago. These men, along with a bevy of women as well, left an indelible mark on this business we call pro wrestling during the highly acclaimed “Attitude Era,” that legendary and almost mythical time period where it was cool and acceptable to watch and indulge in all things pro wrestling. This era was defined by brash attitudes and vulgar language, rampant soft core pornography, controversial storylines, and in-ring actual that seemingly always ended with someone profusely bleeding. The risqué, “too raunchy for prime time” rated-R product of the late nineties provided countless hours of entertainment for viewers; from the middle-finger flipping, boss beating, beer swilling shenanigans of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to the crotch chopping, anti-establishment antics of Degeneration X, the spirit and ethic of the Attitude Era spat in the face of polite society and took no prisoners as it steamrolled over all things pleasing, polished, and polite.
These things alone did not make the Attitude Era what it was; in hindsight along with Brother Corbin’s point, we can see that the Attitude Era was made possible and popular by a unique cast of characters, scores of wrestlers, writers, bookers, producers and owners from three different organizations (WWF/E, WCW and ECW) who were in the right place and right time as the stars aligned to create a legacy that has yet to be duplicated in any form or fashion. The Attitude Era was truly defined by the brilliance, work ethic, and passion of the men and women who gave their all plus some every time they stepped inside the ring or represented their respective promotion. The Attitude Era, with it’s politics and the unregulated obsession with blood, boobs, butts and four-letter words, was successful because there existed a communal desire among all vested parties to be the best in the pro wrestling world and within one’s own promotion. This is to say that any given wrestler during that period of time not only wanted to be the best in their promotion, but was intentionally committed to doing whatever was necessary to make sure their promotion was the best in the world.
The raunchiness, crassness and politically incorrectness was only a tool of the Attitude Era, which ultimately served as a tool used by the WWE during the Monday Night War period against WCW. Behind those tools, however, was the rich and deep talent pool filled with solid athletes and creative minds. Speaking specifically of the WWE, not only were the main event stars mentioned earlier (Stone Cold, The Rock, Mankind, Eddie Guerrero, Undertaker, etc.) battling one another for ring supremacy, but lower tiered talent such as Val Venis, Mark Henry and D’Lo Brown, Savio Vega, Luna Vachon, Goldust, Droz, The Big Bossman , Crush, Taka Michinoku, Chyna, Sable and Mark Mero, Ken Shamrock and The Godfather also held their own in the ring, providing just as much entertainment and excitement as those superstars heavily featured in the promotion. Everybody fired on all four cylinders and did so for their own good, each other, and to keep the competition from stomping them into oblivion.
The Attitude Era effectively died when that desire no longer existed, ushering in subsequent periods where all vested parties became increasingly interested in their own personal goals and desires. With a communal desire to succeed no longer permeating through the actions of wrestlers or the intentions of the bookers, writers, producers and owners, pro wrestling slowly morphed into the static, spiritless state it is today, where individuals from the bottom to the top appear more concerned with their own varying ambitions and aspirations than anything else. Today’s product is defined by incessant complaining of individual stars being held back, “buried,” mistreated or disrespected by the system, coupled with the constant criticism against the system’s alleged refusal to kowtow to the desires of “the fans.” Communal desire has been replaced with persistent protesting, and that along with a lack of true competition makes a divided roster and hierarchical structure even more uninspired, insipid and lackluster.
There are some fans whose persistent protesting contains the wish to return to the days of the Attitude Era, explicitly seeking to satiate a craving for a more “adult” themed product from days past. There exists the notion than the current product has been watered down too much by the politically correct, family-friendly PG politics of the day, rendering the WWE’s content a shell of the ratings juggernaut it once was. What’s not understood by those clinging to this notion is that the Attitude Era was an anomaly, an aberration of what once was the standard in the world of pro wrestling that coincided perfectly with the culture and circumstances of the time. A product today saturated with swearing, scantily clad women, and socially unacceptable storylines would not and could not float with today’s generation of pro wrestling consumers.
What fans want, however, is the same level of passion and dedication that was expressed by the populace and the promotion several years ago. The magic of the Attitude Era cannot be recreated; the type of change that’s needed cannot be found in the endless cycle of recreating what worked seventeen years ago using today’s generation of wrestlers and wrestling minds for a minority within fans that can’t reconcile with the past long enough to truly appreciate the superstars wrestling today.
There within lies the curse of the Attitude Era; the hype and the euphoria found in reminiscing on those violent, angst-filled nights casts quite the looming shadow over today’s pro wrestling landscape. We want so badly to hear dirty words and to see blood in every match masked as “real wrestling,” all while pretending as if the rosters, creative teams and executives today could carry those principles as a promotion or unit and not as loosely associated entities seeking singular fame and glory. The Attitude Era had writers with their ears tuned keenly on the pulse of society at the time; it had executives who were hell bent on staying in business and thoroughly crushing their competition in skirmishes that determined whether or not revenue and publicity would flow easily into their own promotion. The Attitude Era had endless lists of wrestlers who all wanted their own promotion to succeed and, at the time, did their best to lift up their fellow wrestlers as they attempted to climb the ladder of success. The Attitude Era had fans who were just as passionate about the business as the men and women working in it, and no matter what, would support a promotion and its wrestlers no matter what…especially through their financial support.
Today’s fair weather fans can’t even be bothered to support the WWE Network and feel less inclined to spend their money on anything related to the product no matter whether it’s good or bad. Only a handful of wrestlers stand out among fans as those who are worthy of a main event push, and those wrestlers change as often as a newborn infant needs a new diaper. Some of those stars phone in their in ring performances or tend to “play it safe” as a means to avoid rocking the boat or causing too much trouble for themselves. The writers work with dated material and executives are preoccupied with accounting irregularities and pet projects to truly be focused squarely on the state of the product. A ridiculously violent and vulgar product under or against these circumstances would barely make a dent in the problem that exists today.
It is without question that the Attitude Era changed the business dramatically and had a profound effect on how we view pro wrestling today. But to insist that a promotion returns to that era without considering what truly made it spectacular would be a categorical waste of time and energy. Promotions filled with individuals, from the bottom up, who are willing to work together for the good of the promotion and the passion to succeed as a promotion is what’s needed. A solid roster of talent giving one hundred percent or more at all times is what’s needed. Fans who’ll pay for the pay per views and merchandise and who won’t fall off the radar when an episode of RAW doesn’t feature Titus O’Neil in the main event is what’s needed.
Those things are way harder to come by, but there aren’t enough tables, razorblades, swear words and bare boobies in the world to recreate the magic of what happened almost two decades ago.