One of the universal things you’ll see in any form of entertainment is nostalgia. No matter what you’re watching, there will always be a time when fans want to look back to a previous era and think about how good things used to be. There’s nothing wrong with this and it’s something I’ve been a fan of over the years.
Naturally it’s something that we’re going to see in the world of professional wrestling as well. At the moment, there are two major wrestling companies in the United States and both of them use nostalgia as a way to draw in more viewers. We’re going to be looking at both companies and look at how nostalgia should and shouldn’t be used. We’ll start with WWE.
This coming Monday on “Monday Night Raw”, there will be a birthday celebration for Hulk Hogan, including appearances from various legends, a possible New World Order reunion and likely several looks back at Hogan’s career. This comes a few months after Hogan was named the host of “Wrestlemania XXX”. Since then he has made a few appearances on WWE television but hasn’t been a major factor.
On the other hand, let’s look at Total Nonstop Action. At the moment, one of, if not their biggest stories, has been a war between Dixie Carter’s forces and a group of former ECW wrestlers. Team 3D, Rhino, Tommy Dreamer, and potentially others have been involved in the story and most have mentioned ECW in their promos. This feud has gone on for several weeks now and will likely be continuing over the course of several more shows.
Now I’m certainly not going to compare ECW to Hulk Hogan, but I do want to compare the amount of nostalgia used by each company. Look at WWE: Hogan is going to be a featured attraction one time and then likely won’t be seen again for a long time. He’s still a big star and probably the best known wrestler of all time, but that doesn’t mean that WWE is going to have all Hogan all the time. It appears to be a one night appearance and a way to draw a larger audience for the main stories WWE is presenting. This was mentioned twice on “Monday Night Raw” earlier this week.
To contrast this, last week on “Impact”, the ECW wrestlers and their feud had five interviews or promos in an hour less of programming. This is certainly one of the top stories on the show and also the only thing announced for next week’s episode. By comparison, the World Heavyweight Title match with the former X-Division Champion cashing in his title for a shot at the World Title had four segments, including the match itself. This took place on a special about the X Division.
There comes a point where this stops being nostalgia and becomes the focal point of the show. The ECW story received more television time than anything else last week and has been one of the biggest stories for the last several weeks. It’s a reunion to stir up the old feelings and seems to be aimed at the New York audience than the rest of the world.
The shows have been very energetic with the fans chanting for ECW, but this raises the problem with nostalgia: when it becomes a major focus of the show, it stops being nostalgia. Now, it’s a group of guys that used to be stars in an organization that went out of business thirteen years ago trying to keep its spirit alive. Suppose a fan is fifteen years old, meaning they were two when ECW went out of business. Unless they’ve done a lot of research or watched a lot of old tapes from another company, most of this means nothing to them. Former ECW owner Paul Heyman seems to think along the same lines:
“I think it’s very much time for anybody and everybody to move on, especially on a product that you’re trying to push forward. Nostalgia tours are great, but not in a youth oriented and dominated industry. I think the lesson learned in all this is that Spike TV didn’t renew them. And one of the reasons has to be that the most passionate reaction they can get is for a product that went away in 2001. And they’ve been trying to brand themselves since their inception and they can’t get it done. They should have spent that time and energy trying to brand themselves and not trying to elicit a response of an audience based on a product that they don’t even own.”
– Paul Heyman, August 1, 2014
At the end of the day, there’s a right and wrong way to present nostalgia. It’s fine to use as a way to entertain an audience, but it has to be used in small doses. When it becomes the focal point of the show, it’s targeting a fraction of the audience that remembers these acts when they were fresh. Fans that don’t remember them or didn’t care for them in the first place aren’t as likely to be interested and are going to change the channel. It’s very dangerous to play to a niche audience and the two major American wrestling companies are showing the right and wrong way to go about it.
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