Why TV 14 should not come back in the WWE (and why it won’t)

Since 2008 World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) television has been rated Parental Guidance (PG). Before 2008 – during the “Attitude Era” and the subsequent “Ruthless Aggression Era” the WWE was rated TV 14. Now a lot of wrestling fans don’t like the current PG rating and want to go back to the Attitude or Ruthless Aggression Era but (a) they are wrong and (b) there is no chance of it happening anyway.

First of all people who regard the Attitude Era as better are guilty of the same mistake as the people who think British football was better in the 1970s. Both suffer from selective memory and only remember the good points rather than the rubbish. Yes there were good points about the Attitude Era – Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, Triple H, the Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle and Mankind – but with probably the exception of Mankind they would have been stars in any era.  But there was a lot of rubbish in the Attitude Era too and here is some of it.

Val Venis. Vince Russo. The Godfather. Vince Russo. A woman giving birth to a hand. Vince Russo. A wrestler – Perry Saturn – becoming friendly with a mop. Vince Russo. A wrestler – Al Snow –  coming to the ring with a mannequin head. Vince Russo. Katie Vick. And did I mention Vince Russo?

But by far the worst aspect of the Attitude Era was its treatment of women. The reduction of female talent to being judged on “T & A” rather than wrestling ability started here. Evening gown, bra and panties matches, women wrestlers posing in Playboy and being forced to have breast enhancement surgery before they got into the WWE all first occurred in the Attitude Era. As did Jerry “the King” Lawler and his appalling “puppies” catchphrase.

And when women were not treated as sex symbols they were being beaten up by men. In one horrific incident Lita was beaten up by two men. Not just any two men but Austin and Triple H. That would be ridiculous for a male wrestler to go through never mind a woman. True Chyna did win the Intercontinental title during this period but it just showed that the attitude of WWE to women in this period was bewilderingly contradictory. By having women in inter gender matches, taking chair shots from Stone Cold and Triple H and being put through tables I presume they were trying to show they were as tough as men. And yet they also showed them parading around in their underwear at the same time. In effect they were being both feminist and sexist at the same time! Thankfully both T & A and inter gender matches have been consigned to the bin of history and the WWE is finally giving women’s wrestling a fair go as Sunday’s Wrestlemania showed.

People say the current PG era is rubbish and yet most fans (this one included) are impressed by the WWE’s developmental show NXT. And guess what? NXT is PG. While it is clear that WWE has problems if its development show is better than the main roster – imagine if Minor League Baseball was better than Major League Baseball! – being PG is not the problem. What they need to do is for owner Vince McMahon to retire – he is 70 after all – and hand over control of WWE to son in law Triple H (who runs NXT) and make the main roster like NXT. If NXT is PG and good the main roster could be like that too.

Now why WWE won’t get rid of PG. To my mind Vince McMahon never wanted to have the Attitude Era in the first place. At the time the Attitude Era started (which most people would say was sometime in 1997) WWE was getting stuffed in the ratings by WCW and was in danger of bankruptcy. I suspect McMahon’s view was “If I’m going down I’ll go down fighting”. Had there not been head to head competition with WCW McMahon would have just kept doing the same thing he’d been doing since the mid 1980s. Although ratings are low now there is not the head to head competition there was in the 1990s. Further more sex, nudity and men beating up women would be totally unacceptable now and would make the WWE toxic and be hated in the press (especially the UK press and if the UK press turn against you you are in trouble).

Some people think that the USA Network – which shows RAW in the States – might force WWE to make changes if ratings keep falling. Unlikely. McMahon could just move RAW to another network. After all RAW started on USA, moved to TNN (later Spike TV) and then moved to USA again. And there is another option. The WWE has its own network – called the WWE Network. It would not surprise me if in the future RAW became Network exclusive in the States (like the Pay Per Views already are). Then McMahon would not need to listen to what the TV networks think.

So basically stop pining for the Attitude Era. Like 1970s UK football a lot of it was rubbish, too violent and totally sexist. And also like the 1970s it ain’t coming back…

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