Wrestling has changed and the fans with it. It is ironic that after the attitude era, when wrestlers started acting more like their out-of-ring selves, that Vince McMahon made the proclamation that he is in the “sports entertainment” business. Now most people know that the action is staged, but the wrestlers try harder to be genuine. Why?
In the past, when people took it more seriously and thought that the majority of it was real, the gimmicks were more fantastical. You had someone claiming he was a dead man who regularly sat up after finishing moves. You had a guy that reserved himself to the boiler room, who ripped at his hair, tearing it from the roots and screaming for his mommy.
You had the Rockers, Demolition, the Legion of Doom, Yokozuna, and the Iron Sheik. You also had the made-up scenario that Canada and the United States were at odds, based on the treatment that wrestling fans treated Canadian superstars. Only in the world of wrestling did this rivalry exist and we loved it.
The more silly it became, the more believable it was to the fans. Nobody shirked off their gullibility and that made it great.
Today, wrestling is different. Even when there are gimmicks, they are shaved down to believable characters. The Wyatt Family may be labeled as crazy, but they do not go to the ring with a live alligator, or eating bugs until purple drool bubbles from their lips. They are weird dudes that could possibly be found outside the ring, in a shack, near the banks of the Mississippi — scary, but not over the top.
Once McMahon claimed it was “entertainment”, the wrestlers made every effort to be more realistic. You would think the opposite would be true and that characters would feel less pressure to be real.
However, wrestling still relies on characters, and it is those traditions of gimmicks that will propel the next wave. There are far too many Stone Cold Steve Austin wannabes now, and I expect that wrestling will soon revert to its own gimmick-dominated ways, and we will be treated once again to guys that will help us suspend our disbelief happily and be thrilled again.
Until then, guys like AJ Styles, John Cena, Big E Langston, Randy Orton, and Kevin Steen (ugh) will have their moment.