The Attitude Era is every wrestling fan’s crazy ex.
It was alluringly volatile, chaotic, and explosive. It seduced us with promises of degenerate empowerment fantasies, rebellious wish fulfillments, and raging anti-culture. And just like, let’s call her Daisy from college, we never knew what mood it was going to be in on a random Monday night or even who exactly was going to greet you at the door.
Stop reading if I get something wrong.
Your version of Daisy had a low-key had a drinking problem like Stone Cold. She hung out with that goth, Satan-chasing crew like The Undertaker and The Ministry. Her two roommates always got in her ear and stirred up trouble for you like Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. There was that art major guy-friend who you weren’t supposed to worry about but clearly huffed paint and loomed intently in the background like Sting. And lest we forget that time she joined a sorority for reasons unknown and three to seven of her sisters were suddenly present at every date because she was “ἠὠὨ 4 Lyfe.”
You’re still here, right? Just throw in that night during Spring Arts weekend with the pole and it’s like your relationship was written by Vince Russo himself. But despite all the sweet sorrow that came with your parting, you learned so much about yourself from your time with Daisy in the same way that the wrestling industry evolved during the Attitude Era.
Wrestling was more black-and-white prior to the Attitude Era. Vibrantly-costumed good guys who championed hard work, honor, and the common man fought dour-toned villains who lied, cheated, and were often foreign to play out basic storylines that revolved around championships. This was a decent enough recipe till about 1994. Audiences at that time started to see through the tropes and the scripted nature of the industry and fans demanded something more than headlock-based tussles for championships –– they wanted champions and characters to rally behind. This led wrestlers to investing more in their gimmicks, promoters to craft character-driven storylines that took place outside of the ring as often as it did inside of it, and X-Pac.
The wrestling industry then used its newfound voice and bluster to propel itself to never-before-seen and yet-to-be replicated heights. Children were yelling “suck it” and hitting their friends with Stunners in school yards everywhere. Raw and Nitro became solemn, nearly religious household institutions. Television ratings, ad revenues, merchandising opportunities, and profits rose exponentially. And it even became the target of parent and teacher groups, like any worthwhile cultural phenomenon.
You went through the same thing with Daisy. Before her, your relationships were just the sum of physical attraction, superficial conversations about shared interests, and your parents’ availability to drive you to the mall, but your time with Daisy changed your very being. Daisy taught you to embrace yourself. She taught that there was strength to be found within your feelings and eccentricities. She taught you how to navigate the depths and the crevices of your psyche without falling into them and together you chased horizons you didn’t know existed. Your friends and family often advised you against her but you never wavered because you felt you were better with her.
You can’t tell the story of yourself without a few chapters dedicated to Daisy, and professional wrestling wouldn’t be what it is without the Attitude Era. But despite their indisputable significance, every high that Daisy and the Attitude Era brought was punctuated by a fall.
The Attitude Era relied on shock tactics and taboo to draw in viewers. Storylines laced with profanity, drug references, adultery, misogyny, kidnapping, religious sacrifices, arson, attempted murders, and miscarriages were acted out by characters who were violent degenerates, porn stars, satanic priests, pimps, vampires, X-Pac, and cult leaders out of a desperate need to keep the attention of viewers. The Attitude Era, yes, featured incredible matches and moments, but it also had Mae Young giving birth to a hand and Val Venis and “choppy, choppy.” The industry’s powers that be, sadly, all too often confused motion for progress, and the product suffered for the sake of cultivating controversy.
Daisy’s similarly self-destructive tendencies blocked the momentum of your relationship. For every night you stayed up talking, you stayed up two fighting. She’d sing during all your car rides to just wherever but she would call you crying and screaming whenever and for whatever. All the bottles in her room were never really charming. She had an ever-curious knowledge of venous anatomy. And let’s not forget how she called over that guy whenever you were studying but she’d beg you not to go when you were thinking of splitting up.
You realized things had to change sometime between holding Daisy’s hair as she vomited in that frat house and watching Al Snow and Big Boss Man wrestle in the Kennel From Hell match. You were supposed to stay in that night to work, but Daisy begged you to go out drinking. And despite having a captive audience that worshipped any screen The Rock and Stone Cold appeared on, WWE felt the need to feature all the unpleasantness that came with Al Snow’s dog being killed and fed to him.
Your relationship with Daisy and WWE’s relationship with the Attitude Era had both devolved into drama for the sake of drama. You realized that you had to be more forward thinking regarding career prospects and responsibilities after college and that Daisy would always be a destabilizing force. WWE, meanwhile, had become a publicly owned company and realized that the Attitude Era’s brand of storytelling and X-Pac were ill-suited for the companies continued expansion. So you and WWE left that era of your life behind.
Daisy and the Attitude Era brought us and the wrestling industry triumphs and trials that taught us what could be and what shouldn’t be and we were changed forevermore. The emotional ecstasy and carnage of that time became a bedrock of who we and the wrestling industry are today. Therefore we, as respectable exes and wrestling fans, should thank them and remember them well.
But now that we’ve established all that the Attitude Era and Daisy were, we need to stop f*cking talking about them.
We, as a fandom, have spent so long reminiscing about what once was and perseverating of what could be that we have missed too much. We’ve been clinging to the nostalgia of The Rock’s catchphrases and Sting fighting the nWo that we missed out on Edge, CM Punk, and Batista. We keep trying to compare Becky Lynch and Kevin Owens to Stone Cold so much that we can’t enjoy the good work they and their cohorts are doing. We keep asking for more edgy characters and lament current production practices of WWE, but we forget the Attitude Era was borne from the WWE’s fear of a looming closure and the gunslinging tactics they needed to use in that era would never be sustainable for the company’s current, globally-focused strategies and goals.
It’s not unlike how we, as individuals, couldn’t invest in Mary, Heather, or Cathy because we couldn’t recapture what we had with Daisy. We spend so much time thinking of that concert with Daisy that we barely think of that road trip with Aly. And while you miss 3 AM strolls through the city, remember you have a salaried job now and your bones hurt if you’re awake past 11:45.
You know exactly how to find Daisy’s social media. Go take a good long look and ask yourself which part of her life — a life that includes more tattoos on her arm, an excessive number of posts about hemp products and anti-vaxx articles, and a profile pic with a guy who’s essentially X-Pac — and ask which part of her current life would fit yours. Now go to the WWE Network and open up Raw from 4/26/1999. Do you think the segment with Godfather, Jeff Jarrett, and Debra or the ending with the Satanic wedding would cause more uproar?
Daisy and the Attitude Era were violent measures for violent youth. They were what we and the wrestling industry needed to grow, but now we are grown. A relationship with a girl like Daisy would never work considering your current stage in life and the WWE would never dare to use an Attitude Era angle for fear of social backlash and a dip in stock prices. It’s time to move on and start looking toward the future.
So let’s all make a deal: I’ll stop looking for another Daisy if you’ll all stop chanting “EC-DUB, EC-DUB, EC-DUB” every time someone even looks at the announcer’s table. Cool?