Nostalgia's Unhealthy Grip On Wrestling Fans
Perhaps I’m the only one, but the inevitable “ECW! ECW! ECW!” chants heard from a small section of fans after every ungodly bump or hardcore spot at a major wrestling event just leaves me feeling sad. Not in a nostalgic longing sort of way either, just sad that so many remain entrenched in the past.
ECW was an amazing moment in time, a time when everything came together for the tiny promotion, allowing it, despite working on a shoestring budget, to become the defacto third of the “Big Three” in pro wrestling in the 90’s. The rabbits Paul Heyman was able to pull out of his hat time and again to keep ECW afloat, relevant, and pushing forward is a credit to him, the wrestlers involved, and the loyal fanbase. For several years, ECW was the most entertaining form of pro wrestling you could get in America, especially during the Duke “The Dumpster” Droese-esque era of WWF. ECW raised a middle finger to goofy characters, childish storylines, and pandering to children, all in the name of delivering a more realistic brand of pro wrestling. It worked very well, so well WWF (WWE) adopted many of the same tenants of the ‘ECW style’, ushering in the ‘Attitude Era’, arguably the greatest era in the history of professional wrestling. Paul Heyman’s ECW made stars of, at the time, little known talents, Rey Mysterio, Jr., Chris Benoit, Jericho, Taz, Eddie Guerrero, Raven and many, many others. ECW’s mark on the business cannot and should not be forgotten. Having said that, it’s dead and gone and it’s not coming back, despite what the delusional Shane Douglas tells you.
Like it or not, this is a new era of pro wrestling. While the ratings show fans may not be coming out in droves the way they did back in the last 90’s, WWE clearly doesn’t care, and don’t look now, they hold all the cards. TNA are doing some great things, especially over the last several months, but they’re no real competition for WWE, no one is and no one ever will be. They are a global juggernaut, a marketing machine built to last, and they’re going nowhere. As such, either accept the product being more ‘kid-friendly’, seek out other alternatives (ROH, CZW, Dragon Gate USA, to name a few), or just give up on pro wrestling altogether. Millions have done the latter of the these options, what’s a few more?
If you think about it, despite the warm and fuzzy feeling guys like Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer likely get, the “ECW” chants are extremely disrespectful to today’s wrestlers. These men and women are out there trying to make their own mark in a business the overwhelming majority of them grew up loving, and diminishing their efforts with the chant of a promotion that hasn’t been truly relevant in more than a decade is a slap in their face, at least in my opinion.
The same can be said for people clamoring for the return of the ‘Attitude Era’. People don’t seem to realize one of the main reasons that era of wrestling was so successful was because of the amazing roster of experienced talent the WWF had at the time. They also had “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a transcendent figure who crossed over into mainstream pop culture and became the face of the wrestling industry. Remember when you couldn’t go a day without seeing someone in an “Austin 3:16” t-shirt? Those times are gone and they’re unlikely to ever return. It looked like WWE actually had their chance to recapture some of that former glory last summer, when CM Punk cut the promo of a lifetime. However, in typical WWE fashion, they became impatient and ruined the angle before it had a chance to truly crossover into the mainstream.
I’m all for blasts from the past. I love grabbing an old photo album, flipping through the pages and telling old ‘war stories’ with friends, but I don’t wanna do it everyday. Time goes on, and you’d better be moving with it, or you’ll surely be left behind. One of my favorite quotes of all time came from avant-garde musician Frank Zappa: “It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.” My point is, appreciate the past, tell tall tales, and by all means remember the good times, but living life based around “remember when” rather than the here and now is not only irresponsible, it’s also sad. Wrestling fans tend to be some of the most overly nostalgic people around. I tend to fall into the same trap from time to time, longing for the days of the Four Horsemen, Nikita Koloff, and Dusty Rhodes’ Bionic Elbow, but if you take a moment to look around and see what’s going on right this very second, I think you’ll find things aren’t really that bad. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are the two biggest names in the WWE, Dolph Ziggler looks more and more like the second coming of Mr. Perfect with each passing week, Bobby Roode and Austin Aries have grown into superstars with TNA, and Kevin Steen and Mike Mondo are taking ROH to a new level. Don’t get so wrapped up in ‘then’ that you forget to enjoy ‘now’, because ‘now’ has a whole lot of promise.