Today's society is laden with a myriad of technological means through which an individual may voice his or her opinion. However, it has been the advent of the internet which has played a paramount role in the development of this technology-centred communication revolution. The internet has changed not only the way that individuals communicate with each other but has also impacted significantly upon the professional wrestling business, to a previously unfathomed depth. Nowadays, any 12 year old wrestling fan can find out what 'insider terms' like 'heel' or 'shoot' mean by running a simple Wikipedia search. Certainly, I am no exception to this. I don't claim to be a 'wrestling expert', if there can be such a thing, but I too have been made aware of previously secret, insider aspects of the business at least somewhat as a result of the internet. The internet has allowed for fans to convey their displeasure with the current state of the wrestling business, and the WWE in particular, through means such as YouTube, Facebook and blogs such as this, and as of late the majority of displeasure seems to be centered upon what is being called the 'PG era'.
First and foremost, it is ridiculous to me that the term 'PG era' has caught on, and only further highlights how little the majority of the most vocal 'internet fans' really know. Wrestling has always been a child/family oriented business, and has always been 'PG', even if that particular television rating has not officially been applied. Anybody who thinks that a 'sport' in which men who parade around a ring in trunks, after first making a grand, spectacular entrance, isn't oriented towards kids may be intellectually challenged. Don't get me wrong, I love wrestling, but lets not beat around the bush, so to speak. I love wrestling because I grew up watching it, and I'm willing to assume that anyone who is reading this right now and who is over the age of 20 did also. Traditionally, wrestling has always been PG. Yet people point to PG as the reason as to why wrestling is not as successful today as it was 12 years ago.
People look at the success of the 'Attitude Era' and assume, for some insane reason, that it was due primarily to the TV-14 rating, which is ridiculous. Smackdown has always been a PG show, yet it was successful during the attitude era also. How can this be? Simply put, the attitude era was such a successful period in wrestling because it blurred the lines between reality and storyline, and provided entertaining characters that people could invest in. It had nothing to do with Sable showing her expensive breasts, or DX pointing to their genitalia, or Austin using middle fingers. The character of Stone Cold Steve Austin was one who was rebellious and who did things that the audience wished they could do in their actual lives. The concept of flipping your boss off and assaulting him while thousands of people cheer you on is one which is fairly relatable. The success of Stone Cold has less to do, in my opinion, with beer, middle fingers and swear words as it does with the essence of the character itself. Furthermore, the character of 'Mr. McMahon' is one which is easy to hate, and which blurred the lines between reality and storyline. It's safe to say that the majority of wrestling fans already viewed Vince as a cocky, vindictive bastard, so it was easy to invest in the character of 'Mr. McMahon'.
In addition, the success of the attitude era can also be attributed to the level of depth in the talent roster at the time. There existed a plethora of top name stars at the time, which allowed for an entertaining show each and every week. While the edgier segments did provide for some of this entertainment, the influence of some of the edgier stuff the WWE was doing at the time is overplayed, in my opinion. Rather than the antics of Mae Young and Mark Henry, or Val Venis's sexual exploits, it was the depth in the talent roster that allowed for a multitude of realistic fueds to ensue and ensured that the same familiar faces and matches weren't just being cycled on a weekly basis.
The attitude era was successful, but not (in my opinion) due to its ridiculously edgy content so much as the caliber of the performers themselves. Despite this, people often wonder why the WWE stopped using the same edgy, adult content in their storylines, and suggest that if they were to return to this style of programming, that ratings and the overall performance of the company would ultimately improve. This is the wrong attitude (pun intended) to have. When addressing the first part of that statement (why the WWE moved away from the Attitude Era), there is a simple explanation. Simply put, there is a limit to the extent to which the WWE, or any wrestling company, can "push the envelope". When you have a man have sex with a corpse on television, there's not much else you can do to try to shock the audience. Thus, the only place to go once one has reached the pinnacle is downwards. The WWE has deliberately toned down the nature of their programming in recent years, knowing it would spark controversy, knowing it would not be a popular decision, so that eventually when they did return to "pushing the envelope", it would deliver the degree of "shock value" that is intended. A prime example has been the CM Punk storyline. The very first time CM Punk said "ass" in his promo, it mean't something, whereas a few years ago that would be tame. If CM Punk had delivered the same promo at the height of the attitude era, I doubt it would have been as impactful. Another example is that of TNA, who try each and every week to shock the audience. TNA has excessive blood, sexual references and profanity, yet it doesn't deliver the shock value that I'm sure TNA executives would prefer. By deliberately toning down the nature of their product, the WWE has ensured that when the time comes, the WWE can begin its ascension again.
The second part of that statement refers to the general belief that if the WWE would return to the same types of storylines they did during the Attitude Era, that business would immediately pick up. While I have just pointed out the success that individuals such as CM Punk have had when pushing the envelope, the envelope (as of yet) has not been pushed anywhere as much as it was during the Attitude Era, nor should it be. Society is different in 2011 than it was in 1999, on a number of different levels. Shows like South Park were extremely popular, music was different, scandals ran rampant (*cough Monica Lewinsky *cough*), pop culture was different overall. Just because x worked before, doesn't necessarily mean it will work today. In 1996, when the WWE was in a slump, I'm sure Vince McMahon wasn't looking back at 1985 and thinking to himself that the WWE should be more like it was back then. To even assert such an idea, today, is laughable. Pro wrestling is constantly moving in new directions, and to think that implementing the same strategies that were used 12 years ago will deliver success for the WWE in 2011 is absurd.
Despite this, I'm sure younger fans and those who are easily persuaded by the incessant ramblings of mis-informed marks will still subscribe to the theory that the attitude era is the key to all the WWE's problems. The Attitude Era, while the most successful period in wrestling history, was successful in the late 90's, and that success can be attributed to much more than simply the explicit nature of the storylines. I'm not advocating that the WWE should be sparkly clean and polished with absolutely no attitude whatsoever; I think the success of CM Punk has proven that slightly more attitudinal programming can be effective. However, by no means should the WWE ever revert to the same style of programming that was produced in 1999.