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Why Do We Study Wrestling History?: Part 2 – The Role of Nostalgia

Why Do We Study Wrestling History?

Part 2 – The Role of Nostalgia

October 25, 2022

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What Role Does Nostalgia Play?

If every kid in school begrudgingly asked, “why do we need to study history,” then why do wrestling fans care so deeply about the history of wrestling?

As a self-professed professional Pro Wrestling fan, it’s a question I ask myself too. To answer the question, I thought about the nostalgia craze that permeates every aspect of our lives.

Nostalgia explains why we went back to Alan Grant and Ian Malcom from the 1993 Jurassic Park movie in the 2022 Jurassic World film. It also plays a role in why sitcoms and dramas like Full House and Gilmore Girls come back long after the original shows went off the air. 

How does this apply to wrestling?

I’m pretty sure if WWE announces The Rock for WrestleMania, then tickets prices and demand go way up. That’s an example of nostalgia at work.

Maybe it’s the same reason we see a whole bunch of successful podcasts (mine included) focused on recapping and discussing past wrestling events. 

The Research on Nostalgia

On Episode 93 of the Speaking of Psychology Podcast, Host Kaitlyn Luna interviewed LeMoyne Psychology Professor and researcher Krystine Batcho about the purpose of nostalgia. 

Regarding nostalgia, Batcho explains, “The word was coined or invented a long time ago, over 300 years ago, and originally designated homesickness. Well, semantic drift over the centuries has broadened that to the notion of longing for or missing aspects of a person’s personal lived past.”

That definition, that includes the idea that we miss aspects of our personal past, goes a long way in explaining why fans might show up for the Rock at WrestleMania.

I don’t think it goes far enough to explain why wrestling fans listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, and read books focused on wrestling history. Wrestling fans do all those things, so we need to dig a bit deeper. 

Batcho explains that, “nostalgia is an emotional experience that unifies. One example of this is it helps to unite our sense of who we are, our self, our identity over time . . . We’re not anywhere near the same as we were when we were three years old, for example. Nostalgia by motivating us to remember the past in our own life helps to unite us to that authentic self and remind us of who we have been and then compare that to who we feel we are today. That gives us a sense of who we want to be down the road in the future.”

I think this gets me a lot closer to understanding why I love studying the history of pro wrestling – particularly those moments that I experienced as they were happening. 

Nostalgia Surrounding The Montreal Screwjob

My Personal Lived Past

When I watch the Dark Side of the Ring episode on the Montreal Screwjob, it reminds me of how I felt that November day in 1997. The documentary that merely walks us through the story of the real life issues between Vince McMahon and Bret Hart gets me thinking about a time period in my life when I was going to school and playing sports.

My only concern was whether or not I would work a Summer Job (I did . . .and spent all my money buying wrestling VHS tapes that I still have). 

Consuming that documentary on the Montreal Screwjob reconnects me with the emotions that I felt at that moment. I had a million questions: what just happened – there’s no way Bret gave up? Did Bret just draw out WCW with his fingers? Is he really leaving? Why? 

What questions were you asking? 

I didn’t read the “dirt sheets” back in those days, so I think about my confusion when Vince went on Raw talking about Bret not honoring the “time honored tradition” and my anger and sadness as I looked away from the TV when Vince said “Bret screwed Bret.” 

Who I Am, Myself, and My Identity Over Time?

Going through all those emotional reminders cause me to slip into analyzing, “who I have been and then comparing that to who I feel I am today.” 

The brain works in a weird way because while I think of those emotions and questions during the screwjob, I also remember the excitement of my life at that time. I was always flipping back and forth between the USA Network (home of Raw) and TNT (home of Nitro) and no matter how good something on Raw was at that moment, I still had FOMO over what was happening on Nitro. 

It was incredibly exciting television, and some people still decades later consider that to be the very best era of professional wrestling. I am far more independent and accomplished person today, but I still look back at that time period as if something is missing from my current life. 

Who I Want To Be in the Future

So the documentary succeeded in connecting us with as Batcho said our “personal lived past” and united our senses “of who we are, our self, and our identity over time”

What about Batcho’s next step – the future? Did the documentary give us “a sense of who we want to be down the road in the future?”

I think it did in the sense that the trauma of that event also reminds us of how much we loved the excitement of the era, and maybe we find ourselves longing to experience that level of excitement again. 

While the landscape has totally changed, everyone (fans, journalists, and those in the industry) wanted to view AEW Dynamite going head to head with NXT on Wednesday Nights as the second coming of the Monday Night Wars. 

The reality is that those folks (and I was one of them) were just nostalgic about how they felt during the Monday Night Wars and they longed to feel that way again. 

In Closing

There’s more to unpack with nostalgia, but it’s definitely part of the reason we cling to wrestling history. While it happens at a subconscious level, I do think that combing through historical events help us connect with our past selves on an emotional level. In next week’s column, we’ll start looking at why we SHOULD pay attention to wrestling history. 

Ryan Joy hosts the Daily Wrestling New Show podcast along with John D’Aconti. They’re focused on Teaching, Learning, and Remembering the history of Professional Wrestling with everyone that wants to join them. 

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