Counterfeit Pennies: WWE’s Shift Towards Families… and Away From Us

You know, there is actually a pretty serious undertone to the whole silly story that WWE is now committed to getting their brand of entertainment down to PG ratings across all of their platforms.

You see, Vince McMahon may be a lot of things, but he has always been a marketing genius who has an uncanny sensibility that leads him to steer his company in congruence with the current pulse of American popular culture. For instance, WWE used the high Cold War tensions in the 1980s to help catapult Hulk Hogan’s career when he beat the Iron Sheik for the title. At the same time, most of their good guys were clean-as-a-whistle babyfaces who wouldn’t ever dare cheat to win, while their villains were clearly cartoon-like adversaries who would do anything dastardly to win.

Of course, this all shifted when Vince’s hand was forced and he had to change the product because of competition from WCW and also because of other movements in the 1990s that just led to more brashness in society. Between Gen-X, the grunge movement, serious issues like AIDS being on everyone’s minds and a number of other factors, gone was the bubble gum and in came the Attitude. People didn’t want to see clearcut characters anymore because while no one was ever really perfect, the 1990s was all about admitting our frailties and cutting the bullshit. After all, there’s a reason why Kurt Cobain was the voice of a generation and why Liz Phair could be brutally honest on record after record. Even the President wasn’t afraid to admit his faults, and so a new kind of imperfect hero was born in America’s collective eye that was reflected in WWE by Stone Cold Steve Austin, the beerdrinking S.O.B. who had the gusto to give his boss fits every chance he got just to prove he could get away with it.

And here we are in 2008 at the cusp of a third major shift in WWE that I have witnessed in my lifetime. Yes, it’s about marketing and sponsorships and ratings, all to a degree. Yes, it’s about apologizing for Chris Benoit by instituting a Wellness Policy and WWE trying to go back to its family-friendly roots in order to lure back advertisers while reinviting a forgotten fan-base to the party.

But this switch is also about something else that is currently going on in society. The signs are all there: you have bubble gum at its bubbliest with American Idol ruling the TV world and Simon Cowell reprising the role of the cartoonish villain you love to hate even though he is relatively harmless; you have the resurgence of teeny bop pop on the music charts with Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Bros. making bundles of cash while New Kids On The Block come out of hiding to make a comeback that currently has them getting press and airplay for the first time in 20 years; you have the most buzz for a new TV show this offseason for a remake of Beverly Hills 90210, one of the fakest of fake shows ever to grace a TV screen; and yes, you have WWE running to where the money is currently at while sprinting away from controversy that they used to love to create (see: Muhammad Hassan; see also: Austin 3:16)

Perhaps this is all coincidence, but just maybe this programming shift is actually an Apocalypse of sorts that should have more of us feeling apoplectic about what’s going on right now and what’s about to happen. Or should I just be grateful that I came of age in a decade that was hard and raw and thankfully not filled with fluff designed to attract our wallets and distract our minds with cleanliness and mindlessness?

At least I will remember to remember, and I hope you will too…

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