WWE is a fascinating object of study for connoisseurs. The history of several of decades has given this company some amazing dimensions.
If we just gaze over the panorama of pro wrestling, we will realize that only one wrestling promotion has stood the test of time in United States: WWE/F. For well over three decades, this giant has prevailed over all the adversities and adversaries.
Challengers came and went down. Some showed promise, but reneged. Some delivered, and one of them actually defeated the WWE at one point of time. However, all these instances were momentary, and so was the fickle competition. Why it happened has many reasons, but the biggest of them all is the dynamism of Vince McMahon.
Vince McMahon has always had one stupendous knack of understanding times and its intricacies. His understanding of trends in U.S. pop culture and his ability to read national psyche always ensured that WWE remains socially relevant and vibrant.
If we look at it, being socially relevant and vibrant is the true magic of pro wrestling. Since storytelling is the soul of pro wrestling, using society as the source of ideas is always a better option. WWE’s success in capitalizing on this magic more than others is precisely why WWE is here and it will be around for a long time.
Now, you would be thinking, why I am discussing such an obscure topic here. It is simply because Vince and WWE have once again shown this particular acumen over the past month.
In the light of current transition of WWE, it is a worthy analysis to venture upon. So, let us see what exactly we are going to see in this slideshow.
We will be essentially looking at five eras of WWE and how they reflected the U.S society of their times. It will have an element of sociological analysis, so beware.
Now, without any more verbiage, let’s roll.
Here we have one of the most iconic decades of pop culture and also the greatest decade of pro wrestling as well. Is it a coincidence? Well, I don’t think so.
The decade of 80's started with a new president. The good fellow, aka Jimmy Carter, was defeated heavily by Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter is a great person and of course a Nobel laureate. However, despite all his personal virtues, his reign was not equally glorious.
Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, may have some dirty linen, but his term that started in 1981 must be considered as a good one. Not only he consolidated the economy, but salvaged the national mood as well. Interestingly, it also happened to be a time when the USSR started to dwindle. The Cold War was dying a slow death now.
The biggest contribution of Reagan was he instilled a new sense of patriotism in the common citizen’s mind. And, as it happens to be, one WWE superstar became a cultural icon during the same time, and he was Hulk Hogan, the ultimate American hero of WWE.
Considering the canvas of Hulk Hogan’s rise, it becomes apparent that it was in tune with the pulse of nation. It had nothing to do with wrestling ability or destiny. It had all to do with Vince’s ability to realize what is needed.
If we look at the general storylines of that period, of the golden age, the “feel good” factor is a hard thing to miss. As I mentioned few developments of the decade above, it was a general mood of nation. Life was better without wars or international tensions. The economy was robust, and there was little room for “bad” to be “cool”.
The second factor that defined WWE at that time was prevalent pop-culture and trends in Hollywood. It was a decade of colorful pop icons like Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul, Aerosmith and many others. This decade was full of life, zest and zeal.
The biggest movies of the decade were installments of “Star Wars”, E.T., Superman, Batman and Indiana Jones. Well, no need to elaborate on this, is there?
Hence, as we see the characters of WWF were all in tune with these trends. Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Ted DiBiase, Rock n’ Roll Express and the list just goes on. These all people ruled the audience in this decade along with many others.
The dominant players like AWA died a slow death during this decade, as NWA did no spectacular either. The only thing that WWF did better was giving people what they wanted, enjoyed and above all connected with.
However, like every other tide, this wave had to wane, too. By the time 1990 rolled in, this era had lost a lot of its appeal. By 1991, the war in the gulf started, and the economy was facing another hurdle; the feel good was gone. MJ was the same no more, Reagan had gone and the American hero had lost his luster as well.
It was a time for new era, so it happened.
Pre-attitude era, the era of Bret Hart and HBK started on the heels of the Gulf War and one of worst crises in global economy. The presidency of George Bush Sr. during this cannot exactly be called great, either. Globally, this was a turbulent period.
The mood of people was far from benevolent. There were many critical issues at hand for a common individual. Sociological problems had been most severe in the 90’s, and this was just a beginning.
Moral values were going through a transitional phase. What is right or what is wrong seemed to have two answers every time. It was precisely the time when it became cooler to be a bad guy. The movies became darker than the fairy tales of 80’s. The pop culture was not doing anything great, either. One of the biggest icons of that time was Kurt Cobain. Kurt Cobain’s story is a tragic tale, but it still in sync with his times.
In such an atmosphere, WWF was bound to be affected, so it was. It remains probably the lowest period in WWE’s history. Still, let us just have a look at what transpired.
Pre-attitude era had drama. This period signified conflict of egos and dreams much more than any era has ever done. This era was of ambition, of a poised journey and of course, of a broken shackle. It was the era when finally, the code of morality, an unspoken decree was abolished. The target audience was identified. Stories had become edgier, and regret became a word of a coward. The whole show concentrated as much on glamour as it did on substance. Story lines became flashier and gimmicks became glitzier. That exactly reflected what people wanted in their life.
To be very precise, this era was everything that the character of HBK portrayed.
It was during this era itself when NWO took the world by storm and WCW became the top dog. Vince, however, knew that one angle could not survive for long.
He knew that people have seen all these stars. The fan base that had sticked with WWF was the young demographic. It was a innocent part of Hulkamania and now had grown up. This youth needed something new and something radical. So it came…
Attitude Era is more defined by the audience that enjoyed it than any other era of WWE.
The audience of Attitude Era was something different than all earlier generations. It was free of any stigma of war. It was free of any historical burden. Anybody who was under 20 at this time had never seen the true gravity of cold war, leave alone world wars. If at all, they had memories of wars in middle east, but they are negligible if compared to other wars.
The point here is, this generation of United States knew only one superpower in the world, and that was United States of America. The U.S.A. of Bill Clinton was probably the pinnacle of post cold war America. It truly reflected in the psychology of people.
The unabashed aggression was no more a sin. Everything was in your face. Good or bad did not really matter. In the opera of emotions, intensity and passion, durability or longevity of relations had become an afterthought. Everything was about “the moment” and in “the moment”.
No wonders, such a time saw one and only impeachment of president in the history of United States, and that too for the transgression.
One word defined the social life, “controversial”, which also defined the Attitude Era. Anti-hero defined what exactly attitude era stood for (if there was anything in the first place).
WCW during the same period never understood that one angle can’t last too long nor any streak of squash victories.
Vince, however, again gave people what they wanted. He himself became the evil corporate magnum who resorted to every demeaning act. He committed every seen, and his foil was none other than a bad guy who stood for the right thing. The characters of Stone Cold, The Rock and maniac Mick Foley were adored hugely by people. It was more about depth and reality than “feel good” factor and keyfabe.
Secondly, this era is marked by robust economy and overboard consumerism. This factor combined with the social equations, Vince’s genius and characters of Stone cold, The Rock propelled WWE to the heights that were never seen before and which are never seen again.
Life, may it be individual or social, is a story of cycles. Every high is always followed by a decline. It is a fact that can neither be avoided nor be refuted. The era that we are going to see now remains a story of such decline.
In case of U.S.A, it had started with the term of George Bush. And in the case of WWE, it was later signified by the exits of Rock and Stone Cold.
However, the defining factor of this era is something different, and it is 9/11.
9/11 was a tragic incident. It has left a scar on USA’s national psyche that will not heal easily. Anyway, I digress.
What it did was it challenged the pride of US and inflicted heavy wound on the sense of security that common citizen was used to for ages. Naturally, USA swore revenge and waged the war on terror.
Somewhere beneath all the real reasons, there was one subtle and underlying factor. It was always questionable after one point that whether US is being protector or aggressor in this war. There was a clear policy, but unfortunately, it was devoid of crystal clear motive. George Bush did not help the matters in any way.
During this whole period, WWE was on decline as well. Attitude Era was a memory now, and there was no use in chewing it for than it was worth of. It was during this time, WWE entered into Ruthless aggression era. The storylines were good and the programming was nice, but for some reason, it lacked the focal magic of earlier eras. The generation that had been the reason of success of earlier eras was now ready to move on, and it reflected in WWE’s ratings.
It was a strange period when America was left with tattered identity of a waning superpower. It was a time when America lacked hero for once. There was no clear cut icon that stood above the rest and directed the society that was doing its best to get back on its track.
No so coincidentally, it was an Era when WWE had no face to signify it. For once, a heel ruled the roster and no face could rise above him in the long run. For some or other reasons, it did not materialize.
Vince took this moment and decided to find a hero that people needed and a new audience that WWE needed. This is when WrestleMania 21 took place, and the future was created.
John Cena started where Hulk Hogan had left. He appealed to children. His canvas was pretty similar to Hulk Hogan’s. A country was battle scared. Sins of generations had forced people to search for goodness. Vince tapped it, and a new age superman was born.
Travelling along the similar lines, Vince decided on a new policy. It was partially affected by political reasons and partially by social equations of profit.
Vince decided to go PG rated now, with John Cena as the flagship superstar.
The similarities in PG era and Golden era are flabbergasting. John Cena and Hulk Hogan, social scenario and war, these are well known factors. But an overlooked factor is presidential change in United States.
Ronald Reagan closely preceded the golden era, and Barack Obama became the US president precisely when WWE went PG.
Let us just think for a bit. Although Vince and Linda McMahon are Republicans, the character of John Cena and virtues of his character are not very different from real nature of Barack Obama. Moreover, Cena may be just a decent poster boy, but he can sure deliver one heck of a promo. Obama too could just be a decent president, but he is one of the finest orators in the world. No wonders that the people elected Obama and their children have loved John Cena.
Secondly, the same phenomenon of children dominated economy of 1980’s has reincarnated itself in recent times. The icons like Harry Potter, Hannah Montana and Justine Bieber are enough to support this argument. Moreover, the movies that ruled the roster were HP series, Pirates of the Caribbean and a pool of superhero flicks.
Vince once again cashed in the social trends in style here. No matter if the programming lacked content; he gave people what the majority of them wanted.
However, this honeymoon of good people has come to a strange turn now. The current regime of Barack Obama is facing major heat over many issues. John Cena and his WWE have been under flack as well.
The society in United States has started to reinvent itself, and it will be intriguing to see where it goes.
There is not much that I have to state here, barring few remarks.
I posted an article day before yesterday (which you can read here), which discussed the similarities the new era may share with the Attitude Era. Here, I just want to observe few uncanny similarities of this generation with the generation of late 90’s.
Akin to the audience of AE, this generation of WWE fans has grown up with WWE. This generation is free of stigma that 9/11 had, because the majority was too young at that time to realize the true gravity of the issue. It is free of burdens. But unlike the generation then, it believes more in the goodness. It has come to know the evils of war and the fact that US is no more a superpower it used to be. The arrogance is not what it used to be. It is certainly a better society.
I can’t predict anything, but expect to see these trends in the WWE for sure.
I hope you enjoyed the read. Let me just clarify that I wanted to highlight the relevance that WWE has shared with society in United States. It is an analysis; not exactly a textbook anatomy. Therefore, pardon me for the shortcomings of this article.
Feel free to voice your opinions and agreements or disagreements. I would appreciate it either way. If you liked this attempt, feel free to hit the “props” button.
Thanks for reading as always, and cheers.