Well, I don't mean that the skaters should wear masks or that someone should write ridiculous scripts for them to act out, like wrestling. But back in the "golden age," most of the skaters had an interesting back story or persona that made people like them (or not) for reasons other than their edges or knee bends. Look how they do it on reality shows. Everyone has some sort of a sob story or some sort of an angle. I don't remember if Nancy flutzed or if Maria Butyrskaya had good posture, but I remember that one had a blind mother and the other was "woman among girls."
I don't know if we have an unusually happy/well adjusted bunch here, or if the coverage in the US is so sparse that we really don't get to know them very well. But they're not "popping" as personalities as they did before, which may not affect the skating or judging, but may affect popularity in the future.
Being a skating fan after the inception of IJS i personally find it natual to see slating with so much content in it but watching skating from the past on Youtube has been refreshing. The connection which you talk about is certainly there. The role of the choreographer then seemed to have a larger role in a skater's program then compared to now as they had more freedom.
I think it's just human nature to look back on the past and fawn over things because, well, it's an easy way to discredit the present. The fact is, while skaters like Dorothy Hamill, Katerina Witt, Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, etc. were all amazing for their respective quads, it's not like I (or most people) are actually rushing home to watch videos of their programs. Sure, they were impressive for their time, but to me the style of skating along with the technical elements all look terribly dated (as they should....the world and figure skating has changed a lot since they were dominant skaters).
So...it's not surprising when certain commentators or figure skating enthusiasts casually dismiss skaters of the present era. Sure, in 20 years Yuna, Mao, Carolina, Patrick, etc...all of their work will look dated and a bit kitchsy...just like every other skater that has ever been. No skater, however beautiful they were for their time, really holds up THAT well over time. And that's totally ok. I think it's just annoying that some commentators think certain skaters' work will be viewed SOOOO much more affectionately than any other top skater's work. In the end, it's all gonna look like it came from some bygone era.
Maybe the newer future icons would never be as revered as the older ones because nostalgia ain't what it used to be.
Basically, older skaters are both devalued and over-valued, depending on whom you ask. Go to any youtube video of an older skater's performance and you'll find a ton of disrespectful comments from younger fans and current amateur skaters bashing them and laughing at how easy and "lame" everything looks.
I think it's quite opposite. We often underrate the past skaters. Most people really appreciate what they can see during their life. If we made here a poll for the best ever skaters, I suppose that none of the skaters from 1970s or earlier, would win it.