09th Jul2019

Opinionated: Why I Don’t Want a Return of the Attitude Era

by Chris Cummings

opinionated-attitude-era

So, I grew up watching wrestling. It’s been part of my life for most of my days. I started watching during the Hogan era, with guys like The Hulkster, Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior on top of the WWF. I saw the New Generation arrive, with guys like Bret Hart, Diesel and Shawn Michaels in the main event scene. I watched as The Attitude Era arrived, bringing with it a creative peak for pro-wrestling, and names such as Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock, D-Generation X and The Undertaker driving the late 90s to incredible heights and creating an era that fans adored and still, in many circles and in many ways, long to see return. I still watch wrestling as much as I always have, and I love it.

The Attitude Era had so many good things going for it. I lived through it. I was a teenager and everything WWF did back then was aimed at my demographic, and I ate it all up. The bad language, the beer drinking, the sex, mayhem and violence. Hardcore matches, scantily-clad women, wrestlers attacking management, wild brawls in the crowd. It was so very 90s, and it was so very exciting to experience. The roster of men and women back in that era was also something to behold. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is one of the biggest names that pro-wrestling has ever seen. DX were a huge deal. The Undertaker, Kane, Mankind, Sable, Edge & Christian, The Hardy Boyz, The Dudleys, Ken Shamrock, Goldust… it was a roster packed with Hall of Fame talent and memorable characters that it’s impossible to think about without smiling. It needs to be said though, the Attitude Era was of its time, it worked because it was the late 90s and the world was in the place it was back then. People responded to the product like they did then because it fit with what society was dealing with at the time. It wouldn’t work today, not in the same way, and it wouldn’t be a positive thing. I know some will disagree, but I’ll back up my opinion, so hear me out.

There are certainly elements that could and would work today, but let me begin by talking about why the era as a whole wouldn’t work.

The violence.

Now, we all watch wrestling for the violence. I know that. You know that. Still… the ultra-violence is another thing altogether. People longing for the return of matches involving extreme amounts of chair-shots to the head and pints of spilled blood aren’t looking at things from the correct angle. The damage that has been proven to be done from these shots to the head makes them unthinkable today. Sure, promotions on an independent level still do this, but WWE, a publicly traded company with sponsors needs to care about its talent enough to not allow these situations to happen. Mick Foley taking dozens of hard shots to the head back at Royal Rumble 1999 is sickening to watch now, especially with what we now know about the longterm effects of concussions. I don’t want the return of ultra-violent WWE. Do I want a more edgy product with violence that feels less produced and more spontaneous? Yes.

The sex.

This is a big one. A return of women marching around in bra’s and panties, merely there for the amusement of the male audience? Nope. Not today. The women’s roster in WWE now is the best it’s ever been, full of incredibly talented women wrestlers who are making waves. Sure, there can be sexuality in wrestling from both male and female talent, but it has to make sense. The things women like Sable and Sunny did in the 90s wouldn’t work or fit in today’s product. It would be harmful to the future of women in wrestling as performers in the ring, and hey… don’t we all want kids to have role-models? Female wrestling fans today have some strong and talented women to look up to, and that’s great. Now, I’m not saying Lita and Trish didn’t do some awesome things in the early 00s, but the sexual elements just aren’t necessary anymore. It should be about talent, about skill and about well-written characters.

The characters.

Some of the Attitude Era characters could work today, but others couldn’t, for obvious reasons. The late 90s Goldust wouldn’t work now, and for good reason. It wouldn’t make sense to represent portions of your audience in that way. DX wouldn’t work in the same way now either, and any characters that brought in any elements of racism, homophobia, sexualisation of women or abuse would not work in 2019. The Nation of Domination would have to be booked in an entirely different way to the way it was back in the 90s. Bubba Dudley putting helpless women through tables each week? Nah, wouldn’t work the same now, with women finally being given a chance to appear strong and in control of themselves. There were angles involving miscarriage, murder, domestic violence, incest and religious abuse back in the Attitude Era that, for obvious reasons, shouldn’t be repeated again. The general haphazard way WWE did things back then wouldn’t work now, not in the way it did then. The wild characters were fun back then, but the matches they had, and runs they ended up having, didn’t really match that memory. Some of the weird ones, from Beaver Cleavage to Meat, lasted hardly any time, and had crappy in-ring showings. The in-ring product in the late 90s was a different beast, but it was definitely a poorer beast too. The wrestling of 2019 is much better, basically.

The edge.

This is something I do think should come back to WWE. The edgy programming we got in the 90s was glorious. A product where we, as viewers, genuinely felt like “anything could happen” made for a product that was exciting, mysterious and fresh. Edginess doesn’t always mean blood, nudity and beer, though. It means camera angles, it means fresh stories and contemporary character representations, it means promos that feel off-the-cuff and not scripted, it means a less glossy and perfect “look”, and a more gritty production. This is all possible today. WWE could implement all of those things. Commentary that doesn’t just spew marketing slogans and sponsorship ads, matches that feel different each week, promos that come out of nowhere and don’t feel like they were penned by somebody else. These are all important things that could help the WWE product. WWE needs the edge back, for sure.

So, while I don’t think many of the elements of The Attitude Era would work in 2019’s WWE, I do think there are shards that could be picked and tossed into today’s product. A character similar to “Stone Cold” would work now, for sure. A little more bad-language and spontaneous promo work would be a good thing. Modern characters with long-term booking and interesting arcs would be a good thing. But, a return to Val Venis having his pee-pee capped off? A return to Vince McMahon having Trish Stratus barking like a dog for him while she’s in her underwear? A return to Mark Henry impregnating an elderly female wrestler who goes on to give birth to a mannequin hand covered in translucent slime? I think some things are best being left in the past, only to be looked back upon by those of us that see the charm of them. Times have changed, and many of the things that have changed are for the better. I don’t want to see homophobic, transphobic, sexual or racist angles in wrestling. I don’t want to see wrestlers with vast skillsets being smacked in the head with chairs. I don’t want to see that. I want to see the best version of 2019 pro-wrestling, and implementing some of the sentiments of The Attitude Era, with its beer baths, its Hell in a Cell matches, its wild brawls, its crazy factions, its huge moments…. that would be a damn good call, and that’s the bottom line.

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