Updated & Downgraded...
The Attitude Era was choc-full of great moments. Characters like Stone Cold, the Rock, the Undertaker, Triple H, Mick Foley and more gracing their stuff in the ring did make for compelling television. But it is important to remember that the Attitude Era was also full of total misses due to the fact that in their quest to make the product controversial and shocking for ratings...sometimes it came off as just tasteless and near-unwatchable.
This is one of those times.
In early 1997 the Road Warriors (fuck the name Legion of Doom- they're the Road Warriors) retuned to WWE. In reality, they probably should have known better- during their first run with the company they were accompanied at one point by a ventriloquist dummy.
Still though, after a Tag Title reign (cut short by the newly formed New Age Outlaws) it looked like the WWE had learned their lessons about how to book Hawk and Animal and many fans were sorry to seemingly see them go at the end of the year.
Except they weren't.
Instead at Wrestlemania 14 they re-emerged as the LOD 2000 claiming to be the updated version of their old selves for the new millenium.
And, um, managed to be buried under a whole lot of shit.
You see, the creative team decided that what the LOD needed was a bit of pep- a bit of spice if you will and the way to go about doing this was to introduce a bit of tension into the tag team.
That sounds fine you might say- heck all tag teams sometimes need a bit of a break or a bit of tension to make audiences more interested in them again. And on the point I would agree. I do like the notion of a tag team breaking up in order to start a blood feud between the two competitors. All that's needed is the right reasons.
Suffice to say poor Animal and Hawk did not have the right reasons.
In real life Michael 'Hawk' Hegstrand was a recovering alcoholic. In many promotions this fact would not have reached anywhere near the front of the locker room- simply because it wasn't really any of the fans business. They had bookers and writers- surely they could think of a compelling reason to introduce tension into the LOD 2000.
And so what we got instead was an angle where Hawk's alcoholism saw him becoming increasingly unreliable as a main tag team member- so much so that Animal began looking further to see if anyone could slot into Hawk's spot as his new tag partner- Droz (known at the time as 'Puke'. I am not making this up). This naturally caused a great deal of friction between the upstart newbie and the increasingly erratic Hawk- who would often supposedly act as an enforcer at the side of the ring whenever he was not wrestling only to get into a dispute with Puke and thus leave Animal high and dry to cop a pinfall.
Now, if you thought the obvious way to push this feud towards its conclusion would be Puke vs Hawk (with maybe Animal as a special referee) at a PPV I would say that you were clearly not on the booking committee of WWE.
No instead we had Hawk climb the top of the titantron and threaten to throw himself off of it. When Puke tried to climb up to pull him down he 'accidentally' pushed him off the top. We would learn afterwards that Puke had not only 'enabled' Hawk's addictions but actually pushed Hawk off the top of the titantron in order to replace him as Animal's partner.
I would now like to explain patiently why this as an idea was just total lunacy.
Firstly, suicide is a touchy subject at the best of times. So to have the crowd watching to see a performer claim that he was going to throw himself off the titantron due to his (real) personal demons is a pretty scummy thing for a promoter to do. Drug abuse is something that wrestling promotions have to be really careful about approaching because almost all of them fall flat on their face.
Which leads to problem number 2.
There has always been this notion that as wrestling becomes more known to be 'fake' the angles have to become more and more outlandish to keep people glued to their screens. The thing is...this sort of thought is counter-intuitive, because it implies that these outlandish angles are somehow going to be more interesting to the people who complain that wrestling is fake. Maybe the people who watch wrestling want to watch a good product and suspend their disbelief. I don't believe that Iron Man flies around New York, but I am able to appreciate a good story that makes me empathise with characters in smart logical ways. This sort of angle, however, does little to elevate the people in question and instead just makes everyone look ordinary at the expense of a cheap shock.
And if you wanted a parameter of how cheap this shock was, almost straight after Hawk fell from the titantron, the show cut to a clip of Shane O'Mac and Sable backstage after the ad break. So...if there was supposed to be some sort of gravitas from the angle it was soon lost. And if you were going to make something of this angle, surely you would want to make it seem like it was a big deal. Otherwise, you're not only trivialising suicide and addiction, you're also trivialising the angle.
Finally, I don't want to get into a big thing about corporate responsibility and all that. But by doing this angle, you are essentially simulating a suicide attempt in front of a live audience. And there's a sorta...weird dynamic by trying to elicit a reaction from the crowd to this. A lot of the fans in the audience I think are actually genuinely confused by what they should do. Many boo, but others seem to be thinking if this is a sort of moment where either boos or cheers are actually appropriate.
The Road Warriors managed to nix the angle soon after that but there is no doubt it left a sour taste in the mouth for all involved. And if someone was to tell me how that angle sold one more ticket or got one guy to tune into Raw, I'd be very happy.
They had an amazing history of wrestling in all parts of American Wrestling. And this was the best the WWE could do with them. It's all a bit sad...
And that's article 55! Next time we look at what you do with two of your most undisciplined and unpolished promo workers.
Why you put them in the Main Event of your biggest show of course! See you then!
The InVasion Saga
Article One: Shane has a surprise for Daddy
Article Two: Booker T vs Buff Bagwell and the Temple of Boos
Article Three: Daddy's little Girl Gets in on the Action
Article Four: "WHY AUSTIN DAMMIT?! WHY?!