I'm Just Sayin': A Dissenting View of the WWE's PG Era
Recently, Iam D Real Deal yo penned an excellent piece that painted the WWE’s kid friendly PG Era as the worse thing to happen to professional wrestling since Vince Russo.
In typical Ashley Morris fashion I would like to tastefully disagree with this notion, a notion that is widely shared amongst wrestling fans and B/R members alike.
In fact, there is nothing wrong with the WWE’s PG Era. In the long run, I surmise that the PG Era will lead fans into the next exciting and thrilling era of wrestling.
I want to point out that Iam’s article was well written and stated several facts that I agree with and will mention here in this piece. If anything this contribution will in a way piggyback off of a few things that he stated.
However, I cannot bring myself to look at the PG Era as a great big evil that hovers over the pro wrestling universe like Galactus hovered over the Earth in the second Fantastic Four movie. While not the most entertaining or life changing era, the kid-friendly WWE product serves a definite purpose that will only benefit the company and fans in the long run.
Around and Around We Go
The one huge glaring factor in this equation that most fans tend to forget about is that the wrestling business runs in cycles. Anyone associated with this sport of champions will easily admit that there are periods of time when fans will be hot, cold, or lukewarm towards it.
The same goes for any business that offers a service or a product to consumers. Do you think massive hordes of people crowd H&R Block offices the week of Oct. 27 ? Is Wal-Mart known for having huge Christmas sales on May 1? Hell, can you find a McRib sandwich between August and April?
Consumers are willing to invest in a product or service at different times of the year, and the same can be said for long spans of years as well. It really depends on the mood of the consumers at large, as well as the resources available to the consumers and those supplying the product or service.
Depending on the social climate of the time, and depending on the resources available, businesses will offer their consumers whatever they demand or are willing to pay top dollar for. So even though we may not want to admit it, the Attitude Era would not work to day because it spoke to the social climate and mood of fans during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Therefore, although the PG Era of today is not really all that unique or different than everything the WWE was doing during the heyday of Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and Mr. Perfect. The fans of today that are paying top dollar to watch pro wrestling are paying to see what they want to see and what they’re being offered.
After all, this era would not have lasted this long if there wasn’t some sort of profit to be made from it.
Step into the Creative Side
Since we can understand simply that the PG Era is at least making money for the WWE currently, we can also acknowledge that pay per view buy rates and TV ratings have tanked compared to the numbers from last year or two years ago.
With this logic, one could easily argue that the edginess and raunchiness of the Attitude Era would surely bring these numbers back up and return the WWE to its former days of glory.
To that, I say no.
Not long ago, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon was quoted as referring to TNA’s product as “tawdry” in an interview .
Vince said the following in the interview:
“It doesn’t speak well for the type of product they’re trying to present with the tawdry, blood-soaked action. I don’t think that’s what the culture wants these days.”
Flabbergasted by the man’s hypocrisy, both TNA President Dixie Carter and Eric Bischoff responded to Vince’s shoot with shots of their own, essentially calling the pot out for referring to the kettle as being black.
Eric Bischoff took things a step further by posting a video on his Facebook page of an angle during his WWE tenure, where he and resident redneck “Stone Cold” Steve Austin bantered about a pie-eating contest that only involved semi-voluptuous and somewhat attractive women.
I bring this up to point out that Bischoff used an angle from the WWE Bad Blood pay per view from 2003, an era of pro wrestling that was much more edgy and blood-soaked so to speak.
Bischoff didn’t dare touch one of McMahon’s more recent angles, as they may have been morally corrupt (Randy Orton’s skull punting on a 64-year-old man and his family), they were definitely not edgy or blood-soaked.
So who better than the King of Tawdry to point out that someone else’s product is tawdry? I’d think it very apropos for an HIV victim to tell me the dangers of unprotected sex, especially if he/she contracted the disease in such a manner.
But is this tawdriness that Vince McMahon referred to in the interview synonymous with the edginess and thrilling excitement of the Attitude Era? Unless proven otherwise, I would like to believe so. The real question is, however, how has this edginess and excitement attracted fans?
The last month of ratings for TNA will give you the answer to that question.
Let’s not sit here and engage in useless palavering by blaming the low ratings on a botched move to Monday nights, Wrestlemania, the NCAA finals and all the rest.
If fans were really interested and intrigued in all that is edgy and risqué, then none of those factors would have mattered and the ratings would have been way higher for the company than what they’ve been.
Yes, there are other factors that have to be considered in making such a generalized statement, but the dramatic shift from one to the other should have been way more noticeable if so many fans were truly disgusted with the WWE's PG product.
I would think that all those clamoring for more “attitude” in their wrestling would have turned away from the WWE and into TNA, and that has actually happened as of late with TNA gaining ground in demographics that the WWE has dominated for the last eternity it seems.
If this risqué and edgy product is what fans want to see the most, then why have companies like Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) or Xtreme Pro Wrestling (XPW) gained prime time nationwide television deals? These promotions showcase matches that would make Mick Foley and Abdullah the Butcher cringe.
However, the WWE’s kid friendly product does not appeal to the same demographic that TNA’s product appeals to, and that raises another stone cold truth that fans have to face concerning the PG Era.
Show Me the Money
No matter how much we love pro wrestling, the industry is a business . In fact, it is often referred to as the business , and is in business to make money.
From my limited knowledge of the WWE’s financial results, it seems to me that the demographic that complains about the PG product is not the same demographic that is spending money on the actual product.
To look at it in another way, perhaps that demographic isn’t spending as much money on the product as other demographics are. Thusly, the WWE will work to appeal more so to those who are willing to spend their last few dollars on the product.
Welcome to capitalism, my friends.
Think about it for a second. Why does the spinner WWE Championship belt still exist after John Cena has lost it at least 400 times? Why is Hornswoggle still a mainstay on RAW even light years after his gimmick should have died a tragic and graphic death? Why was it cool to have two 40-year-old men crotch chopping?
Look at the legions of little kids wearing all sorts of DX and John Cena paraphernalia to find the answer to those questions.
I do believe that there are other practical reasons for the company to have gone PG (Linda McMahon’s U.S. Senate run, for starters), but I feel the primary reason is because the company is appealing to children for the long term benefits of the company.
Home Grown Fans
I was in the eighth grade when the WWE’s Attitude Era hit full stride. I can vividly remember discussing Stone Cold’s antics every week with a friend of mine as we played during recess or talked during a break in our classes.
However, I’ve been a wrestling fan since Hulk Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling , and I even recall a time where I used the address on one of the merchandise catalogs to write a letter to the WWF telling them the matches I would like to see and the people who should receive pushes (sound familiar?).
Unfortunately, all I got back was another merchandise catalog and a letter thanking me for my enthusiasm and assuring me that the merchandise department had nothing to do with the creative direction of the company, and neither did I.
The point I’m making here is that I really spent real money on the WWE during the Attitude Era, and I’ve been a fan since the late 1980’s during what can be considered the WWE’s first PG Era. Now, in my mid-twenties, I’ve gladly dropped $40 for the Hart and Soul and Shawn Michaels: My Journey DVDs, and I will also gladly drop $1,000+ for Wrestlemania 27 here in Atlanta next year.
Is it so hard to believe that the WWE is doing the same thing with its current pre-pubescent demographic?
What we fail to acknowledge as we complain about the product is that the WWE is more than likely building its next wave of rapid teenage fans who will shriek loudly for the risqué and raunchy as delivered by the WWE and the WWE only. The difference between those fans and us is that while we will still complain about the product ten years from now, they’ll still be paying to see it.
It is also turning casual fans into staunch supporter of its product. As painful as the Guest Host format is on RAW , the WWE has successfully forced Hollywood to pay attention to the product and to consider it as “sports entertainment” and not “pro wrestling.”
The WWE’s production value and quality has grown tremendously since the Attitude Era days, and this has given the company and the product the ability to appeal to more people than just the male 18-49 demographic.
Here’s an example: my girlfriend, who absolutely dislikes wrestling and the fact that I’ll turn down spending time with her to watch wrestling, commented that she hated watching TNA because “it just doesn’t look good.” Those were her words, not mine.
But doesn’t TNA offer a TV-14 product that is “edgy” and “blood-soaked?”
So here you have someone that’s not a fan of wrestling comment on an Attitude Era-esque product, and while it can be argued that TNA’s product just doesn’t appeal to her, it can also be argued that TNA’s product doesn’t appeal to the casual fan. And that was the whole reason why Hogan and Bischoff were hired…to make the product more marketable and appealing to casual and die-hard fans.
So I feel that the PG Era is not the real problem with the company, but if this is so then why does it seem that so many die hard fans are dissatisfied with the current creative direction of the WWE’s product?
The Current Creative Direction of the WWE’s Product
Siva Prasad recently penned an excellent article here that talked about TNA’s Knockout Division and the fact that last week’s striptease segment scored big with key demographics for the company.
It’s one of Siva’s comments in the discussion thread that really drive my next point home:
“TNA needs to use the X Division and Knockouts matches as a way of setting themselves apart from WWE. There's more to it than lingerie and blood.”
Die hard fans are clamoring for exciting matches and storylines that keep them engaged in the product. So in effect, as Iam D Real Deal yo stated in his piece, it’s not the PG Era that’s the problem but it’s the lack of thrilling storylines and seat-gripping, action-packed matches that cause us to yawn and change the channel.
Also add to that the fact that the WWE has failed in raising new main event stars in the last few years, and what we have is an equation for “staleness” and insurgency.
This current creative direction was spawned in part by Vince McMahon’s desire to hire Hollywood writers to craft his product. The writing was clearly on the wall when Freddie Prinze, Jr. was hired to write for the WWE.
While these writers are well-equipped to appeal to demographics outside of the pro wrestling universe, we can question whether or not they have the skills to appeal to the fans that have seen it all and have grown hungry for more.
Let’s go back to Siva’s comment for a minute: “ There's more to it than lingerie and blood.”
When you get the chance, watch the movie Gladiator starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. There is a great scene in the movie where Russell Crowe, as the recently enslaved Maximus Decimus Meridius, is forced to compete in a small time gladiatorial game.
Having been a Roman General, Maximus uses his knowledge of combat to quickly dispatch his opponents. The crowd sits in awe as he proceeds to murder his foes quickly and precisely, and in a moment of frustration Maximus turns to the silent crowd and yells…
“ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!”
Sometime later his captor, Antonius Proximo, confronts him and explains to him the tactics and drama that can be equated to “ring psychology.” People didn’t go to gladiatorial games to watch people die, but to witness the excitement, drama, and suspense that lead up to the gladiator’s deaths.
Given the efforts of Chris Nowinski’s work in bringing to light the effects of concussions on athletes, the tragic and horrific double murder and suicide of Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy and his son Daniel, do you really want to see gallons of blood and scores of unprotected chair shots to the head?
If you want to hear something disturbing about chair shots to the head, listen to Mick Foley talk about his I Quit Match versus The Rock at the 1999 Royal Rumble . What was supposed to be one unprotected chair shot to Foley’s head ended up being 16 unprotected shots to his head while his hands were handcuffed behind his back.
Is that what we really want to see?
The lack of brutality in the PG Era is not what’s sending fans away from the WWE, but it’s the drama, excitement, and suspense in the matches that we yearn for. Unfortunately, the younger generation that the WWE now appeals to could care less about an epic clinic taking place in the ring. Their concern is that John Cena wins and Legacy loses.
But, as older and die hard fans, we can appreciate matches outside and inside of the WWE because of this PG Era. This is why TNA’s product at times is very much more appealing than Sheamus versus anybody. This is why we can boost ROH’s DVD sales and break our necks to catch their Monday night show through ROHBrazil on YouTube.
This is why we can begin to really appreciate stars like Shelton Benjamin, Evan Bourne, Ted DiBiase, Yoshi Tatsu, Beth Phoenix and Mickie James, Daniel Bryan and Kaval, a slew of others that are making their way up the WWE’s ranks.
So really, the pros and cons against the WWE’s PG Era are much more than the violence and sex that popularized the Attitude Era. Diehard fans long to see the product that kept them engaged, entertained, and spending large amounts of money on everything the WWE placed its name on.
However, die-hard fans must keep in mind that the WWE appeals to a wide variety of people. If one does not care for the campy, Hollywood-esque antics of RAW , then why not tune in on Friday nights to catch the young, athletic and engaging storylines offered on Smackdown ?
If one yearns to see new superstars hone their craft in the WWE, why not tune in on Tuesday nights to WWE NXT ? If one wants to see underutilized superstars who can really give a five star match, why not tune in on Thursday nights to WWE Superstars ?
So effectively, the PG Era isn’t bad because it appeals to kids. The PG Era is bad because it’s not the exciting, non-stop thrill ride that once made the WWE a force in the pro wrestling industry. But that’s not just the fault of the company; it’s also an effect of the times.
Much like the seasons, pro wrestling will have its highs and its lows. However, my friends, that is the beauty of this sport that we love so much.
We wouldn’t be able to appreciate the Attitude Era, EVOLVE, ROH, TNA, DragonGate USA, and other organizations if not for the WWE and their lackluster storylines and constant appeal to diaper clad, future diehard wrestling fans.
So I say we should take the Tyler Reks Method of understanding this PG Era and sit back, collect our figurative CPCs (Chuck Palumbo Checks), and drift along the stormy pro wrestling seas until we come across that perfect wave that we’ll all inevitably ride into the sunset.
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