The WWE won. ECW, WCW, TNA -- they’ve all either been gobbled up or overshadowed. We all have our gripes, but there’s no denying that Vince McMahon managed to perfect the big-budget, internationally-broadcasted TV wrestling product and stay relevant enough throughout the '80s, '90s, 2000s and 2010s. It’s an incredible feat, especially when you consider how many people lose in the wrestling business.
History is written by the victors, and if you’ve tuned into Monday Night Wars on the Network, you know that they’re taking every opportunity to revise their legacy into bold innovators every step of the way. The Attitude Era specifically gets treated as something far, far more profound than it actually was. We’re not saying it wasn’t an important moment for the business, but we are saying that someone needs to call the WWE out on its self-lionizing nonsense.
Let’s cut that mythology down to size. Here are the worst moments from The Attitude Era.
CHOPPY CHOPPY PEE PEE
Val Venis was a wrestler who was given an illustrious pornstar gimmick. He actually had a pretty long career, and certainly wasn’t incompetent in the ring, but he’ll always be best known for moments like this. Venis was feuding with the Kaientai stable, which was literally just a bunch of scarcely-used Japanese guys thrown together with a dastardly manager named Yamaguchi-san. Yamaguchi-san was so hatefully stereotypical it seriously felt like he was written by a bunch of post-WW2 conspiracy theorists. They put him in dapper mid-50s regalia and only let him speak in broken English. It wasn’t a good thing. The pinnacle to this particular bout of facepalming comes as Yamaguchi cuts a piece of salami in half, yelling the immortal “CHOPPY CHOPPY PEE PEE.”
Do you get it?
In case you didn’t, a few moments later Venis is kidnapped and taken backstage, where it is implied that Yamaguchi cuts off his penis with a katana.
The problem with the Attitude Era is that to the outsider it defines the entire scope of professional wrestling. They don’t remember the good stuff, like Rock/Austin at WrestleMania X-7 or the first Triple H/Taker barnburner. Instead, they think of the crudely-conceived Japanese guy taking a sword to the pornstar. In that sense, I don’t think I can ever forgive The Attitude Era.
The Saga of Katie Vick
Yeah I’m just going to spell this out for what it is.
Kane had a girlfriend named Katie Vick. Katie Vick died in a car accident. Triple H was feuding with Kane at the time, so he does a promo where he puts on a Kane mask and pretends to have sex with a dummy of Katie Vick in a casket. This goes on for way too long, leaving everyone watching in a grubby, horrified miasma.
I sometimes think about mid-40s Triple H today. You know, dad Triple H, with his daughters, who will someday find out that their father committed fake-necrophilia on internationally broadcast television. That’s going to be an interesting Thanksgiving conversation.
Al Snow Eats His Own Dog
It’s an angle in which The Big Boss Man gives Al Snow a hot dog made out of his puppy.
I don’t actually have a problem with this in the way you might expect. Feeding someone their pet to start a feud is unimaginably stupid, but if we’re being honest, it’s also a little bit engaging. There was nothing inherently cheap about it, because this path certainly takes some bravery. Is it misguided? Sure. But it's bravery none the less.
My problem comes at the blowoff of this feud, which is undoubtedly the worst Hell in a Cell match of all time. Given the gravity of the situation, they needed to “up the stakes,” so they had a bunch of dudes hold rottweilers on leashes around the ring. This might seem like a cool idea if you’re 9 years old, but any reasonable adult would realize that putting a bunch of dogs in a giant stadium full of screaming people would just lead to a lot of confused urination. That’s what we got. Two dudes wrestling in a loose circle of frightened, peeing dogs. It’s the Attitude Era ladies and gentlemen.
P.M.S., You Know, the Wrestlers!
There are moments when the WWF goes beyond any “it’s a joke, man” platitudes and becomes something definitively ugly, mean-spirited, and hateful. My personal favorite? P.M.S. The Pretty Mean Sisters. They were hot ladies! They were wrestlers! And they were mean. Right? Right???
They were essentially valets, but specifically engineered to reinforce every jilted idea your average Attitude Era-mark might have about the female gender. We literally see a storyline in which Terri Runnels fakes a miscarriage to get D’Lo Brown to follow her orders. Why? Because women be crazy and the late-’90s wanted to coddle you 'til all that scary, critical thinking floated away.
That Time Vince Made Trish Stratus Bark Like a Dog
To be fair, this was played for heat. Vince is the evil, disrespectful boss and Trish is the good-hearted diva’s champion who certainly doesn’t deserve awful hierarchical abuse. It’s an idea that might look okay on paper, especially when you’re going for nuclear shock and awe. Vince would certainly get his comeuppance, so what’s wrong with pushing the envelope a bit?
I understand that perspective, but here’s the thing. When you’re writing a wrestling show, you need to make sure what you’re doing for heat isn’t easily transferable into fetish-istic content. In this case, “getting heat” serves as a very, very thin excuse for “getting the 14-year-olds excited.” It was a total disaster, everyone knew it from the start -- I don’t think you’ll ever find a crowd more uncomfortable. People often philosophize on what specifically killed the Attitude Era, and I truly believe this awful little segment planted the seeds of reform. There was just no coming back.