Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Opinion: Rose Tinted Glasses - The Attitude Era (Craig Hermit)

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While fans are awaiting the return the WWE brand split in the coming weeks, the most recent Monday Night RAW episodes just aren’t hitting the right spots with many fans. This has caused those same followers of the promotion to once again state their wish for the Attitude Era to return or at least proclaim why the Attitude Era was by far superior to anything that came before or, especially, anything that will come after it. When you think about it, WWE (WWF back then) was a critical and commercial success between the years 1997 to 2001 thanks to the direction of producing an edgier and sexier content to encourage the adult males and teenage audiences to watch the show. After all the heroes drank beer, attacked their boss, spouted infectious catchphrase style insults and nothing like it had ever been seen in main-stream wrestling.

So remembering this, I sat back on my chair as someone who lived through it before, recalled the memories, then began to watch the VHS’s, the DvD’s and then the BluRay’s going back further remembering of why it was such a glorious time for WWE and for wrestling itself. I mean how could it not be right? You had the main roster of wrestlers battling regularly, the Ratings were at least 4.0, the war with WCW was ongoing, the atmosphere from the crowds was always electric, there was the Women's Championship and plenty of "puppies", phenomenal tag teams and who can forget the Hardcore Title. How can anyone say it wasn’t great or even argue with the notion that was simply better than any other Era in WWE’s history?

Well…let’s take off those rose tinted glasses, now think if you were sitting down on a Monday night ready to watch this weeks episode of RAW and it was the Attitude Era’s RAW presented before us what would you make of it? Would you be still proclaiming it’s brilliance or would you chastise it after you saw it?

Case in point, the main event of RAW is advertised as the Austin versus Mr McMahon match. It’s been advertised, it’s been building to this, tonight fans will finally see the two clash. Erm, no they won’t, there was a run in from Dude Love. Next week the story continues and again Austin versus McMahon doesn’t happen…again. I’m damn sure social media would be pouring scorn over the WWF for that booking if that was made today. Then for every must see Triple H or Rock promo, fans would have to suffer through a Tiger Ali Singh match or endure The Headbangers, Too Much, Leave it to Beaver Cleavage parody or The Mean Street Posse or even Naked Mideon as some sort of punishment in exchange.

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With that being said, how would you also react seeing how WWF treated women back then? As I said the target demographic was adult and teenage men so WWF placed women in bra and panties matches whenever there was an excuse, have bikini contests and wrestle in the mud, you know because that’s wrestling right? Perhaps less said the better about Vince McMahon making Trish Stratus bark like a dog on all fours and Jerry Lawler operating as the ‘acceptable’ mouthpiece by shouting ‘Puppies’ every time a woman was in camera view…actually no, it was let’s say what it was, damn embarrassing to watch and shocking when you think about how degrading it was when you had athletes of the calibre of Ivory, Lita, Jacqueline and many more who were just as talented as their male counterparts. Could you imagine Sasha Banks, Paige, Bayley or Charlotte dealing with that crap, I think not and nor would their fans. What about Chyna? Yes, she showed that women could be just as strong as the men but have you watched the matches when she was Women’s Champion, she destroyed the competition. Chyna was the exception. 

After several viewings of different RAW episodes, I wonder if anyone noticed how repetitive it was becoming and how little there was of any actual wrestling occurring? Early on it would be Mr McMahon coming to the ring cutting a promo then getting interrupted. Followed by a match, a behind the scenes segment, then a promo, a match and then concluding with the main event being a tag match that wouldn’t end by pin or submission to further the storyline to the next episode. Replace Mr McMahon with Stone Cold, The Rock, Triple H or Stephanie McMahon and that would be RAW for the duration. Sadly the only thing unpredictable about the show was about how often it was become predictable every week. But no one would notice this because of the charisma of WWF’s key players involved in the big storylines. That is the key word storylines, matches would be cast aside in the focus of promoting a story to conclude at a PPV, that when you look at the key moments of RAW, it isn’t so much the matches you remember, but the promo’s, the confrontations and behind the scene moments.

Now one thing that everyone can agree on is that The Attitude Era pushed everything to breaking point. Unprotected headshots, concussions and straight up violence with weapons was the idea to making matches popular and it worked. The greater the danger equaled the greater the popularity and with the popularity bought more money. Knowing what we know now about the long term risks of constant head shots, concussions and working with injuries, there could have been a possibility of extending wrestling careers or even perhaps a way to have saved some lives in the process by reducing the amount of so much violence. So when fans ask for the return of this style of wrestling and this level of risk, I doubt they realise the danger they are asking the wrestlers to put themselves in because in doing so, it’s not just the risk of during that match, it’s their career and their future possibly in peril if something goes wrong. I do understand is that many say that blood is necessary in Steel Cage and Last Man Standing matches to hype up the drama, to further the storyline in the feud that two men are having and I get that, but don't forget children go to the WWE shows more so with it being PG. WWE won’t risk their public image being tarnished because of children crying at what they saw and also face the risk of merchandise not being bought. To put a finer point on this children will make their parents buy anything they want from WWE and for a lot longer than a teenager or adult will individually. Regardless of how WWE is about wrestling and sports entertainment it’s also a business, and as a business it’s focusing on the long-term and it’s image.

So what happened to The Attitude Era, during 2002 something happened, something changed in the mainstream market suddenly ‘Attitude’ wasn't mainstream anymore. The perception of wrestling had changed again. Perhaps another way to look at the end of the Attitude Era is of the conclusion of the Austin/McMahon storyline, the beginning saw the two as furious rivals, the end saw the two unified, then at odds, then unified again only to have Austin leave the promotion altogether. Before Austin left, The Rock departed to Hollywood, Triple H sadly became injured and Mick Foley’s career in WWE had finished. The Attitude Era’s key players had gone and the Era disappeared with them. 

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For fans calling of the return of the Attitude Era or something very similar, it won’t happen. The simple answer is that Era is gone and doesn’t belong in this day and age. The world has evolved, attitudes have moved on (Editor's Note: Pun intended, Craig?) and times have changed. The wrestling world should remember that time with fondness but should also remember that there is more than a few reasons why it should remain in the past. Before fans criticise the current product while glamorising The Attitude Era it too had it’s flaws. So when you watch a PPV, and you think the mid-card is okay, the big matches are phenomenal, congratulations you just witnessed the equivalent of a Attitude Era PPV modified for this day and age. 

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