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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

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WIRTB Review: The Attitude Era

Well, looks like I'm about to piss most of our readership off with this one.

I'm Speed on the Beat and welcome to another edition of WIRTB Review, the EyesontheRing.com column where I go through something wrestling-related, parse out the details, and render a verdict on whether it was really that bad, or that good. Today, I'm going to talk about one of the sacred cows among wrestling (because fuck "sports entertainment") fans. So, sit back, crack open some Steveweisers and ramble along with the Raw is War theme song, because we're going to determine if the Attitude Era was really as good as advertised or if we're just looking at it like the Final Fantasy 7 of professional wrestling (in other words, we hold it in such a high, potentially overrated, regard for what it represented, not how well it holds up today). I will not bore you with a history lesson, because let's face it, if you need one, you probably shouldn't be reading this post to begin with.

For starters, let's look at some of the storylines that came out of the AE. We had Austin versus McMahon, one of the greatest rivalries in wrestling.

However, the feud overstayed its welcome and ended up devolving into ten different offshoots, encompassing everyone, and led to countless heel turns, face turns, "SONUVABITCH!" calls from JR, and so on. The feud lasted somewhere, depending on who you ask, between 1996/1998 and 2001. Three to five years on one feud, on and off, is way too damn much. "But Speed," you're probably asking. "Austin versus McMahon made stars out of Stone Cold, The Rock, Mankind, Triple H, and countless other legends. Either that or it helped solidify their status, such as with Taker." That's true. But, look at the train wrecks we had to go through to get to that point. And that's even before we get to the quality of the matches (more on that later).

In the Attitude Era, we had pregnancies (hi Mark Henry's handbaby), miscarriages (hi Terri), sexual assault (hi Val Venis and your "choppied pee pee"), blatant racism and sexism (hi Sable, Trish barking like a dog, and Lita being powerbombed through tables--well, that's just kind of equal opportunity clusterfuckiness), and everyone seemed more "real." That was great. The era of saying your prayers and eating your vitamins was dead, kind of. This realism, however, also led to uncomfortable line-blurring, such as the time that Big Boss Man desecrated Big Show's father's coffin.

Anyone who thought that this storyline (or the final match that came from it) was a good thing should consider checking themselves into an outpatient facility. This isn't "Eddie's in hell," because at least the "Eddie's in hell" promo, while pretty tasteless in its own right, had some semblance of a point behind it. Batista hated Rey, Batista thought Rey was abusing Eddie's memory for his own gain, Batista heeled it up to over 9000. The end. Big Boss Man versus Big Show was coonery. Because, for real, were we supposed to feel sympathy for either character? Even as a kid, I couldn't bring myself to side with Show. Maybe that's the result of shit acting, or maybe I'm just a psychopath. Either way, fuck that storyline.

Hey, remember the time that Undertaker was going around sacrificing people? Pepperidge Farms remembers.

All in all, many storylines from the AE were cringeworthy (Al Snow "eating" his own dog, anyone?). It wasn't necessarily because of the "raucousness" of them, either. Some just didn't make sense. For instance, Hawk's alcoholism/attempted suicide/Puke's replacing me angle. Let's...nah. Aside from the storylines, the in-ring product was not that good. Do you remember how Rock sold the Stunner?


How about the fact that outside of the names I mentioned earlier and, of course, HBK (even if he didn't wrestle much, he was still a part of the Attitude Era through the early days--and the creation of DX), Taker, etc., many Attitude Era talents had/have "for-life midcarder" scrawled over them like a Billy Ripken "fuck face" bat. No, screw your "D'Lo Brown was underrated" chants. He was mediocre at best and dangerous at worst (and I'm not even talking Droz/Puke). Because of the Attitude Era, people still consider X-Pac to be a great heel. Hell, because of the Attitude Era, "X-Pac Heat" is considered a good thing in some circles.

The "hardcore" matches were more "hey, Vince. Let's see what ECW did in 1996, water it down, take out New Jack, and have people fighting in ball pits at fucking amusement parks" than Hardyz versus E&C versus The Dudleys. People seem to forget that about the "hardcore" aspect of the Attitude Era. It was more of a comedy segment than something people took seriously. Why the fuck else do you think that the Hardcore Championship changed hands more than...[resisted urge to make a Sunny joke here, even though I technically just did]. Yeah, we got Al Snow versus Big Boss Man (hot "dog" be damned, it was some decent wrestling). But, we also got Crash Holly, may he rest in peace, holding the Hardcore Championship 22 times before it was retired (mainly due to the 24/7 rule). 22 times in about four years. If that doesn't scream diluted trainwreck, I don't know what the fuck does.

How could you have people such as Dean Malenko, Jericho, and Benoit on the roster (not to mention people such as Jerry Briscoe working backstage) and still have so many matches revolve around spots and just "holy shit" moments which were mostly only holy shit moments because WWF fans weren't used to ECW, Japanese wrestling, Lucha Libre, etc. Again, notice I said "mostly." Mankind being put through the HIAC is, by far, "holy shit"-worthy. But, let's think about some other WWF spots on this nature. Yeah, Shane O'Mac imitating Jeff Hardy on a regular basis was great. But, it wasn't all "holy shit"-worthy. Most of the schmozzes which went down in 1999 were not "holy shit"-worthy (in fact, most were unneeded. Thanks Vince Russo!). New Jack and Vic Grimes surviving the Danbury Fall with little to no padding, fucking around, and doing a similar spot years later? That's "holy shit"-worthy. Muta versus Hase? That's "holy shit"-worthy. Seeing announcing tables implode for the 9000th time? After seeing it happen the first 8,999 times, it loses a bit of its luster--especially if it's happening numerous times per event.

However, through all its wackiness and aged-horribly feel, the Attitude Era delivered a notice to the world from the WWF. "We're not dead yet." And with those first salvos from Montreal or the first "SUCK IT!" or wherever you place the beginning of the AE, we were off. Authority figures, for better or worse, started getting their hands dirtier. The Monday Night Wars got grittier and more insane. We all saw a bit of ourselves in a Stone Cold, whether it be with parents, teachers, coworkers, or whomever. Wrestling was a cultural phenomenon. Does that outweigh the fact that the aforementioned wackiness, in-ring ineptitude, and the fact that the Attitude Era has aged horribly?

Eh...not exactly. But, was it really that bad? I think that many of us, we place a great emphasis on the Attitude Era being the pinnacle of pro wrestling because many of us grew up with it. Therefore, there shall always be a bias towards it. But, we can't let our biases and our memories cloud the fact that the Attitude Era was not the greatest era in pro wrestling. Was it good? For moments, yes. For memorable characters, regardless of their abilities in-ring. But overall, is the Attitude Era overhyped? Is the Attitude Era overrated? Is the Attitude Era, in some ways, really that bad?

As always, these are just my (fact-based) opinions. I'm always open to discussion about them, so feel free to converse with me about them at @SpeedontheBeat. Be forewarned, though. If your conversation starts off with anything along the lines of "you stupid nig, you don't know shit. Stick to basketball," we won't be having a conversation and you shall be ignored/blocked/banished.

Next up? A WIRTB Review of John Cena.


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