The Monday Night Wars between 1995 and 2001 were a fascinating time for the World Wrestling Federation and professional wrestling in general. For the first time, there was someone else stepping up to challenge the then-WWF on a global scale in WCW, which was victorious in the ratings for over a year.
During that time, though, the WWF launched what it called the "Attitude Era" at the 1997 installment of Survivor Series. It was that show that was the sight of the infamous "Montreal screwjob" that saw Shawn Michaels defeat a departing Bret Hart in the main event. Then, on the December 17 episode of Raw, Vince McMahon made the dawn of the Attitude Era official, for better or worse.
"We here at the WWF think that you, the audience, are, quite frankly, tired of having your intelligence insulted," he said during a pre-taped segment. "We also think that you're tired of the same old simplistic theory of good guys versus bad guys. Surely the era of the superhero who urge you to say your prayers and take your vitamins is definitely, passe. Therefore, we've embarked on a far more innovative and contemporary creative campaign, that is far more invigorating and extemporaneous than ever before."
While he was throwing around words like "invigorating" and "extemporaneous" to sound professional, the message was clear: attitude, whatever that means, was here to stay. With it came breakout superstars like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, D-Generation X, Mankind, and so much more. These characters and WWE's creative direction certainly helped the company rebound in the fight against WCW, but reexamining it, it's hard to have fond memories about the Attitude Era. Why? Well, because it was mostly awful, especially compared to today's professional wrestling standards.
It's easy to look back at the period between 1997 and 2002 as the best in the company's history. It was certainly the most popular, in terms of mainstream acceptance of professional wrestling. In hindsight, though, it's a bit surprising to me what this was the era that helped WWE come out of a downward spiral and reestablish their dominance. After all, someone thought the character Beaver Cleavage--a lewd character based on the TV show Leave it to Beaver that also lusted after his mother--was a good idea. This was before Beaver was rechristened Chaz, by the way, in an equally-stupid attempt to get the former Headbanger Mosh over.
In truth, that's the Attitude Era in a nutshell. For every D-Generation X invasion of WCW Nitro, there were a few horrible moments, like Yamaguchi-san screaming "I choppy choppy your pee pee" before taking a swing at Val Venis with a sword. Those are the types of things nobody ever wants or needs to see. In the Attitude Era, though, they were a fairly common occurrence. From Mae Young giving birth to a hand to the Big Boss Man being hanged by the neck inside the Hell in a Cell cage, the WWF's goal to be "edgy" and, in Vince McMahon's own words, "innovative," instead led to crass and cringe-worthy moments that are a pox on the company's high-profile era of the late '90s.
And that's before you take the Divas into question. The Attitude Era was the reign of pudding bowl matches, Mr. McMahon making divas strip to keep their jobs, and--the ultimate lowlight for women's wrestling in that era--the bra and panties match, in which the goal is simply to rip off your opponent's clothes.
In 2019, when women have their own Royal Rumble and it seems incredible possible the Raw Women's Championship match will headline Wrestlemania 35, looking back on the Attitude Era is tough. While it slowly got better thanks to the likes of Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly, and their peers, so much of the Attitude Era's treatment of female superstars is embarrassing. It's the epitome of programming for a hormonal teenage boy and it has not aged well at all.
It wasn't just the women's division and mid-card talent--raise a hand if you remember Naked Mideon--that were the victim of being driven by such absurd content on Raw and Smackdown, though. The garbage regularly infected the main event. Yes, the Attitude Era gave us memorable moments like Steve Austin's beer bath and the debut of Chris Jericho. However, it also assaulted audiences with the likes of D-Generation X wearing blackface to imitate the Nation of Domination and, perhaps the worst angle of all time: The Katie Vick story.
Oh, you don't remember Katie Vick? The year was 2002, the tail-end of the Attitude Era as Kane and Triple H feuding for no apparent reason. Triple H told the world he knew Kane's "secret," which was that Kane murdered his old girlfriend, Katie Vick. Kane admitted that Katie was killed in a car accident while Kane was driving drunk. He swerved to miss a deer in the rain, and suddenly his definitely fictional girlfriend was dead because the masked half-brother of the Undertaker, whose father was a supernatural mortician because that all makes sense in wrestling.
As if this entire thing wasn't in enough poor taste, the storyline continued when Triple H dressed up as Kane in a pre-taped segment and went to "Katie Vick's funeral," at which point he "had sex" with a mannequin in a casket. This aired on primetime TV in 2002 and was, by far, the lowest WWE ever sunk to tell one if its bizarre stories. Kane, the drunk driving hero of our story, reacted in the only way he could. He had his own pre-taped segment in which someone wore a Triple H mask while getting rectal surgery. I'm not making any of this up.
This entire fiasco somehow lasted a month and is the absolute worst angle in WWE history. And it sums up the Attitude Era well. Two incredibly gifted performers like Triple H and Kane were saddled with what was a truly disgusting story to tell. Thankfully, both men would go onto bigger and better, but the Katie Vick story is a massive stain on their careers and one that longtime fans will never forget.
That's the problem with the Attitude Era. It's hard to forget the worst aspects of it. The thing about wrestling fans, though, is the rose-colored glasses are strong. So many look back on that period of time in the WWE as cutting-edge and revolutionary. I defy those same fans to jump on the WWE Network and sit through a few weeks of Raw from 1998. While there are moments that are thrilling, they're all bogged down by convoluted storylines, 90-second matches, and likes of "Marvelous" Marc Mero and the "Real Man's Man" Steven Regal. Though, if I'm being honest, The Oddities' theme song remains a total jam.
Listen, the Attitude Era was a product of a different time and while '90s "extreme" culture may excuse some of it, it doesn't do any good to look back on it as professional wrestling or sports entertainment at its peak. I, for one, would much rather have insanely competitive matches between the likes of Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, and whatever member of The Shield is being pushed at the moment, as opposed to a Kennel from Hell match. I'd rather watch Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch tear down the house, than see them rolling around in an inflatable swimming pool filled with mud.
Today's wrestling product, not just in WWE but in companies like Ring of Honor and the newly-announced All Elite Wrestling, flies high above what fans were given on a weekly basis during the Attitude Era. And while certain aspects of modern pro wrestling has clearly looked to that period of time for inspiration--What's the Bullet Club without a Too Sweet and a Monday Night Raw "invasion"?--the athleticism and talent on display every single night on any given wrestling show from any major company is hard to compete with. Even Impact Wrestling is putting on entertaining shows with wildly talented rosters, if you can figure out what the hell the Pursuit Channel is.
To put it simply, I'd rather watch just about any era of WWE than live through the Attitude Era again. Except for The Brood's entrance. Who do I have to talk to about getting that whole ring-of-fire elevator thing back on TV?