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Tom Dean




It seems to have become a cliche among wrestling analysts recently to say that the era of "WWF Attitude" is over. The Attitude era was symbolized by Stone Cold Steve Austin. Stone Cold did whatever he wanted, to whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Austin took gleeful pleasure in repeatedly giving the finger (literally and symbolically) to any authority that sought to make him conform. Then he would routinely turn around and treat those who thought they were trying to help him in exactly the same way. Austin's actions were completely typical of the old-school heel... and yet, during the Attitude era, he became the biggest face in wrestling history. He was loved BECAUSE he followed no rules. In this era of the "antihero", WWF programming soon took on a darker tone, which led to a more risque program. 85 year old women were put through tables. Wrestlers were crucified and threatened with castration. For the women, pudding matches and evening gown matches came to be a regular part of the program. "Suck it!" became a popular catch phrase.

Today, we do still see the Rock and Chris Jericho utilize sexual innuendo in their promos, and T&A is still used to sell the product. But in comparison to a couple of years ago, the current product is often described as "toned down". No one is in danger of stripping on live pay-per-view, as the Kat once did. The women's matches do not feature demeaning gimmicks as frequently. Sexually tinged remarks are not nearly as common. Turning to storylines, we've got two wrestlers who think they're superheroes, and chide their colleagues in corny 1960s-"Batman" style. We've got a wrestler whose schtick is to run into things a la Wile E. Coyote. We've got a wrestler who is in love with a mop. Raunchy plots are nowhere to be found. "It's almost like we're back to the child-targeted style of the mid-'80s, or even worse, the overgimmicked style of the mid-'90s!"... you will often hear complaints along these lines. We also are now seeing a more defined face/heel dichotomy. Heels never seem to win matches cleanly. This clearly paints the face as "the guy who would win a fair fight." Faces tend not to escalate feuds; they usually respond in kind to the heel's latest dastardly maneuver. Faces don't normally fight other faces, unless it's to set up a heel turn by one of them. It's rare for a current fan not to be sure whom they're supposed to root for, and whom they're supposed to boo.

Some place the responsibility for Attitude's demise on the loss of certain personnel, most notably former head writer Vince Russo. Some concentrate more specifically on the composition of the current writing staff, which features some folks without an extensive wrestling background, and which is headed by the allegedly non-attitudinous Stephanie McMahon. Some trace the change in tone to the efforts of the conservative Parents' Television Council (PTC) organization. Some believe the change is due to the creation of Smackdown!, a show that airs in prime time on a broadcast network, and thus must be cautious about content. And others point to the fact that Vince McMahon OWNS HIS COMPETITION, and thus feels that he can and should "play it safe".

Well, I'm gonna put it to you that none of these theories are correct... because Attitude is still with us! Or, to put it more precisely, the current WWF product is still booked every day with the principles of Attitude in mind.

Here's the key point. (Maybe we should call it Attitude 3:16?) The WWF still acknowledges that a character who did whatever he had to do to get to the top, and who paid no attention to rules or to the feelings of others -- in other words, a wrestler who acted like "the old Austin" -- would become a face. That principle is still absolutely central to everything that the WWF books. And that, my friends, is Attitude at work.

Why is the Alliance such a bunch of wusses? Because Vince hates WCW? I don't think so, no. Remember that Austin became a wuss before the WCW invasion really kicked in. (If you ever wonder what the McMahons are bringing to the program, keep in mind that the WWF was at least partially successful in turning the biggest face ever into a heel... and that simply could NOT have been done without Vince.) No, it's because if the Alliance were presented as nWo-style "cool heels"... well, then they wouldn't stay heels for long. And the WWF doesn't want people to become faces when they need them to be heels. It screws everything up! The very last thing they want a heel faction to do is to go out there, take charge, start handing out beatdowns, and not take shit from anybody. That would, sooner or later, make them faces... Attitude 3:16. And Austin himself had to thoroughly establish his heel character as a butt-kissing, match-dodging, cheating, whiny coward before anyone would even think of booing him.

So, as a result, quite a bit of the current programming is devoted to demonstrating how dorky and simpering the heels are. That's the part that, in full accordance with the principles of Attitude, is supposed to get the heels over. WWF knows that we won't boo the heels because they cheat or because they hurt people. We will only boo them if they're not cool. So therefore, you have to showcase them at their very uncoolest. That's where the superheroes, 20 minutes of Steph singing, and all that comes in. People often treat these type of skits as if they were penned by frustrated comedy writers who don't really understand wrestling. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, it's the clearest sign imaginable that the writers *do* know their WWF audience. They know that's not what we want to see wrestling personalities doing... and that's the point.

I admit that it's funny to say that Attitude is alive when so much of the program is devoted to being anti-Attitude. But the key thing is the anti-Attitude moments are completely knowing and deliberate... it's essentially reverse psychology. This is clearly the next logical step in Attitude... the step that HAD to be taken if you still wanted to have heels and faces within the Attitude format.

I'm not so sure that it is good for WWF to be in this position. Deliberately putting on large blocks of programming that are SUPPOSED to be uncool is the type of thing that will really test the casual fan's patience. But Attitude basically mandates it. So if the WWF doesn't want to have to re-educate their audience, they don't have much choice in the matter.

The main exception to what I'm talking about here is Triple H. HHH *does* win matches cleanly, *does* pretty much beat up whoever he feels like, and is definitely not an insecure coward. And, by no coincidence whatsoever, Hunter could have turned face at any moment during his recent lengthy heel run, and the crowd would have LOVED it. In all probability, when he returns to the WWF, it will be as a top face... with the same exact character. Hunter is so good that he can get the crowd to restrain their "Attitudinal" impulses and boo him. But they know that they're "playing along", and will probably react even MORE fiercely when he's the guy they're supposed to root for.

So, here's something concrete that you can take out of this. Don't complain when a wrestler you like is portrayed as a total puss. It means that the WWF is serious about getting them over as a heel. Honestly.

You are still allowed to complain when a wrestler you like is portrayed as a total puss AND never wins matches.

Me, I just want Triple H back.

Tom Dean
from the ezboard: Teenage Riot

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