It’s easy to get nostalgic and look at the past and claim that everything was better in the old days. This is often a recurring theme no matter what medium you discuss. Football was better because the players were paid less and cared more about the club, music is all about marketing now rather than talent, Hollywood is unoriginal and lacks substance, e.t.c.
How about the world of wrestling entertainment? Having watch a recent episode of WWE’s Monday Night Raw I was left unimpressed by the lack of action and poor character development. The scripting was extremely poor and the lack of wrestler promos – where wrestlers usually create dialogue or back stories amongst themselves – bored me to tears. When wrestlers did get a chance to speak the content seemed sterile and uninspiring. Even a return of the once charismatic Chris Jericho landed on deaf ears.
So what has happened? Have i just grown older and cynical? Yes and no. Even when watching wresting at the height of its powers I was fully aware that it was fake violence and matches were scripted all in the name of entertainment. The difference was that there were true characters that had been self-cultivated. Characters from the 80s and early 90s like Macho Man Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Yokozuna and The Undertaker were totally believable. They had their own personas and they played their parts, portraying themselves as nothing more than their stage name suggested. This was only the first stage.
The mid 90s was a floundering era for Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment (then named WWF World Wrestling Federation). The gimmicks were running dry and the older wrestlers who paved the way were losing their shine. Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon (mainly the Kliq) kept things afloat but WWE was struggling with competition from WCW.
Something needed to be done to attract the new generation of fan to WWE. Enter the unapologetic and uncompromising Stone Cold Steve Austin. This man took it upon himself to make a mark and change the game. Steve Austin was a new breed of performer who used his words and actions to convey a persona never seen before. His bad ass ‘I don’t give a f**k’ attitude was totally fresh, making him unlikeable. His rants seemed made up, off the cuff and controversial. Armed with a list of slogans and one-liners, his redneck style soon won him fans because he felt like a real person. WWE seemed edgy.
The excitement and fandom he brought had never been seen prior – this gave birth to the Attitude era. Steve Austin deviated from script and acted out in accordance to his character. Nothing felt staged with him. Soon the likes of The Rock would follow in his footsteps, using slogans, one-liners and a bag full of attitude to win over the fans. This was the golden era of ‘sports entertainment’ and the drama behind the scenes was just as fascinating as the drama within the ring. And so we had John Cena and CM Punk, similar to the aforementioned wrestlers in that their charisma and storytelling attributes put them head and shoulders above their peers. They could play heel (bad guy) or face (good guy), but either way they attracted attention.
However things changed dramatically when WWE went PG-13. The scripts are now written by Hollywood writers, there is nothing divisive or considered counter-culture, and all the wrestlers look, talk and act exactly the same. Vince McMahon bought WCW and ECW so there is no competition and all the action is directed at kids, alienating the older demographic. The Divas roster is just there to sell magazines and calendars, and there is nothing for no one to relate to or grab onto. Everything is clean, shiny and predictable. Everything is PG-13. When there is a big pay-per-view event McMahon has to wheel out a superstar from the older era to stir up excitement for the main event, wrestlers who haven’t even bothered to fight for a year or more.
This certainly happened when Kane and The Undertaker came in to take part in last year’s Survivor Series by defeating Bray Wyat, who is actually the only wrestler that stirs any feeling from anyone and has an interesting character angle. Wyat’s promos have been great, his persona good, his theme tune entrance walk-in brilliant, but there is a strong sense that more could be done with him and his family of ‘brothers’. Had he been in the era before he would be allowed to express himself far more and become more controversial. We would be able to see more Pagan / counter-religion themes that would really ask questions. Instead, he can’t even beat the original man of darkness, an elderly Undertaker. Why? Because it was The Undertaker’s 20th anniversary and the script would not have it.
The current WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns is the epitome of the new era. No one is really sure why he is there but there is no one who could really challenge him who is available week in week out. He has zero chat, zero likability and zero relevance other than the fact he’s related to The Rock. His closest challenger is Sheamus The Celtic Warrior but neither really extract an once of care from your body. It’s so uninspiring that Vince McMahon has now put Reigns in the 30-man Royal Rumble event (where every wrestler must be eliminated over the top rope), stating that his title will be on the line. So whoever wins it will win the title. Again, due to a lack of storyline, character development amongst the rest of the roster and competition, McMahon has had to force the excitement.
Perhaps these are ramblings of an ageing man hypnotised by nostalgia, but even the network ratings reflect the disappointment of many want-away fans. WWE need to go back to its roots. it needs to remember that it began in a hall somewhere behind closed doors because that’s where the hardcore fans came from. It needs to remember the Attitude Era, and allow characters to be fleshed out and not controlled by political correctness. The truth of the matter is McMahon caters for kids now and they are far easier to sell to, just ask McDonalds, they have modelled their whole business on it.
Still at least New Day made me laugh.