Professional wrestling’s “attitude” adjustment : WWF programming, realism, and the representation of race during the neoliberal nineties
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The WWE, formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), has a long history of showcasing harmful stereotypes via hyperracialized characters. Many academics have observed these characters and the overarching types to which they can be assigned as being indicative of the respective sociohistorical conditions in which they were produced. During the mid-to-late nineties, the WWF embarked upon a re-branding effort focused on adopting a new “Attitude” that purported to offer a more “realistic” form of “sports entertainment.” Throughout this “Attitude Era” the WWF purposely obfuscated delineations between fact and fiction, and subsequently, performers and racialized performance. Set against the backdrop of the neoliberal nineties, then – a period when America was supposedly embracing multiculturalism, the “welfare state” had been discarded in favor of fiscal conservatism, and possessive individualism catapulted to paramount importance – in what ways did the hyperracialized characters and storylines of the WWF Attitude Era reflect contemporary American cultural attitudes toward race? This study seeks to answer this question by incorporating historiographical work, industrial discourse analysis, and textual readings to analyze the representation of race in WWF programming of the late nineties. Utilizing an ideological textual analysis to understand how weekly episodes of Monday Night Raw and monthly pay-per-view events that aired during the years of 1997-1999 embodied and reified certain values, beliefs, and ideas, this project will look to the cultural, industrial, and political discourses circulating during the 1990s to show how they intersect with the WWF programming of the period.