Professional wrestling has been a cultural staple in the United States, particularly in the South and Mid-Western parts of the country, for decades. Being a 90’s baby and the son of a huge professional wrestling fan, I grew up watching wrestling during what I believe to be the best time in the history of the sport. During a significant part of my childhood, wrestling was everything to me. I idolized the wrestlers. I collected the action figures (to this day, I still have literally hundreds of them boxed up in my garage). I proudly wore my replica championship belts. I watched WWE programming religiously. Wrestling was my greatest childhood passion.
However, wrestling gradually began to lose its appeal to myself and many other fans. At the time, I blamed my loss of interest on my discovery that the outcome of the matches were scripted and the departure of some of my favorite wrestlers from the sport. My recently rekindled love of wrestling has led me to reconsider this. I believe that a cultural shift and the industry’s attempts to keep up with said shift are more to blame than anything else.
Wrestling was arguably never more popular than it was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The sport was at its peak during the “Monday Night Wars”. The Wars were actually a competition between the country’s two top wrestling promotions, World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) for superiority over one another. The Monday Night Wars led to the beginning of the Attitude Era in the WWF. The borderline vulgar, often profanity-ridden, and violent storylines that came from the Attitude Era are some of the most entertaining content ever created by a wrestling promotion. Not only were the storylines great, but the characters were iconic and the viewer could really identify with them to an extent. Who didn’t want to give their boss the finger and pound beers like Stone Cold Steve Austin? Who didn’t want to have the charisma and swagger of The Rock? Who didn’t want to be as rebellious and controversial as the D-Generation X faction? No other point in wrestling history could even hold a candle to the Attitude Era.
However, the sport took a drastic decline in the years following. After the demise of WCW, World Wrestling Entertainment stood as the only major player left in the world of professional wrestling. This led to a noticeable decline in quality. The crude, bloody action sport that wrestling was gradually declined into a series of watered-down matches between mostly goofy, generic characters. The change was undeniable. Ratings and house show numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years. These loses cant be blamed completely on the decline in quality, however. Even the less violent matches between the lower card wrestlers during the Attitude Era were great. So what is the issue?
I personally believe that much of the problem is the change in culture in the last two decades. Ultimately, political correctness is a good thing. Simply put, it basically promotes common courtesy and respect being expanded to everyone regardless of who they are. It makes the community a better place. But, wrestling is not about that. Wrestling was so great during the Attitude Era because it provided viewers with an escape from all social norms. Fans could live vicariously through the wresters and experience things that are not plausible in the real world. As WWE became more mainstream and family friendly, it strayed further and further away from what made it so great. While trying to move in a safer and more commercially acceptable direction is commendable, this alienates a vast percentage of the sport’s core fan base. The proof is in the numbers. The sport just isn’t the same.
With that being said, it is important to note that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. That light comes in the form of a man named Paul Levesque. Better known by his in-ring name Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H), Levesque was a focal point of the Attitude Era. As a member and eventual leader of, the D-Generation X faction, Triple H played a key role in some of the Era’s most controversial moments. Levesque is also the son-in-law of WWE owner Vince McMahon. Many believe that Helmsley will eventually take over the company. This could lead to an instant resurgence of the things that made pro wrestling the cultural icon it is today.
Only time will tell if WWE will return to its attitude-filled roots, but the future of the sport is certainly bright. Regardless of all of the flaws in the current WWE product I mentioned above, the current roster is arguably more athletically talented than ever before. With the right kind of help from the creative team, the wrestling promotion could easily return to its former glory. While the Attitude Era deeply contrasts what political correct culture is about, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Professional wrestling is scripted and predetermined. It is done for the sake of entertainment. Entertainment needs to continue to push boundaries. The world of professional wrestling can do that by bringing back what made it so edgy and exciting, despite pressure to conform to social pressure. While it does not need to turn to the gory, uber-violent, and often outright offensive content of a promotion like Extreme Championship Wrestling, WWE does need to recapture some of the grit it exhibited during the Attitude Era. This kind of sports entertainment could succeed, and even thrive, in todays culture. It is time to bring the attitude back to professional wrestling and that’s the bottom line…….
Twitter: @ BigRedAFerg