In the wild a wacky world of pro wrestling, there's a term often used called "Hulking Up". It references the ritualistic late match comeback that Hulk Hogan would go through in his matches.
The heel (wrestling lingo for bad guy) would beat up on Hulk for most of the match and just when the nefarious baddie would hit his biggest move, Hogan would jolt up off the mat to his knees. He would puff out his cheeks, shake his head back and forth and then would stalk around the ring, pumping his fists, shaking his head and utterly impervious to any offense his opponent could provide. He would hit his trademark big boot followed by a leg drop, pin his opponent and the crowd would come unglued.
Pro wrestling has fascinated me ever since I was a kid. There's a tendency to look down on it due to it's carny roots and use of aggressively broad stereotypes (more on that later) so it's not something I talk about often. But even as a semi grown man, I believe that when it's done well it can be one of the most captivating forms of entertainment on the planet. It's one part athletics (regardless of the predetermined nature of the outcomes, the risks and danger to the wrestlers bodies is very real), one part soap opera (storylines and a continuous narrative that continues on with characters constantly rotating in and out, without any set beginning or end), and part live action comic book (larger than life heroes and villains, colorful gimmicks, costumes and big dramatic battles). As a form of performance art it is unique because in no other medium does the line between performer and character blur quite so much. (It's often said that the best wrestling characters occur when the performers take pieces of themselves and simply turn up the intensity.)
This is the unique environment, which has led to the heartbreak of fans everywhere upon learning that a tape of wrestling (an indeed, cultural) icon Hulk Hogan going on a racial tirade has surfaced during the discovery phase of his lawsuit against online tabloid Gawker for leaking a tape of him bumping uglies with his former best friend's wife. (My inner child is currently self immolating with his woodburning kit having to read that last sentence.) It's a tough thing to deal with when your heroes let you down (although, full disclosure, I was always more of a "Macho Man" Randy Savage fan, but he had his own set of problems).
For wrestling fans, Hulk Hogan has always been one of the more complex and flawed characters in a business that has seen it's share of complex and flawed characters (it seems to come with the territory, kind of like comedy, Hollywood or...*ahem* broadcasting). After all, you don't get into a business where getting whacked with folding chairs is listed in the job description without a need to fulfill some kind of need for attention or validation. In that business, Hulk Hogan breathes rarified air. Aside from Stone Cold Steve Austin (who also has a truckload of character flaws himself) and Dwayne "The Rock...and the best part of any movie you've seen recently" Johnson (who seems like a legit great guy minus "The Tooth Fairy") the Hulkster is the most recognizable icon of his industry and in the late 80's/early 90's few were as big in popular culture.
So with all that going for him, from an outsiders perspective, it will likely come as a surprise to hear that Hulk Hogan is also known as an insecure politicking schemer who exaggerates and flat out lies as freely as he...apparently drops the "N-Bomb". This is a man who tells the story of his epic moment at Wrestlemania III defeating Andre the Giant with Andre being heavier, the crowd being bigger and Andre dying sooner after the match (match was in 1987 Andre died in '93, long after we can rule out "death by bodyslam"). This is the man who inserted himself into the real life drama of The Montreal Screwjob (he was nowhere near it) like some kind of life photoshopper. This is a man who claimed he would have had the million dollar grill and not George Foreman if he had been home when the inventors called ("If only I had an answering machine brother...but I don't like being recorded") Seriously, throw "Hulk Hogan lies" into a google search . I'm just scratching the surface here.
What I'm getting at is that it's kind of impossible to pin down how Hulk Hogan actually views the world because he's been living in "Hulk Land" for so long that you can never be sure of exactly what his grasp on reality is. Trying to sift the real Terry Bollea out of all the Hulk Hogan bullshit is like trying to separate an egg after the yolk is broken.
This is a long way to go to say, I don't really care if Hulk is a racist, because I didn't have much respect for him to lose to begin with so this is really just gilding the lily. I could spend all day trying to figure out if in his own warped perspective he actually knew that what he was saying was wrong and still get nowhere because it's impossible to put yourself in his shoes unless you've spent several decades being told how great and important you are and built your own mythology to support that. I feel there's a much more interesting area to explore regarding the reaction to his rant.
WARNING! DIGRESSION TIME!!! To explain what I mean about "Hulk Land", Kevin Smith once told a story about pop music icon Prince and how difficult the reclusive singer was to work with on a documentary project (that never saw the light of day). The whole story is great but the section that is relevant here was Prince's assistant telling Kevin when he got frustrated and wanted to leave: "Kevin let me explain something to you about Prince. I've been working with Prince for many years now. I can't go in there and tell him that you don't want to shoot this documentary...Prince doesn't comprehend things the way you and I do...Prince has been living in Prince World for quite some time now. Prince will come to us periodically and say things like "It's 3 in the morning in Minnesota, I really need a camel. Go get it." And then we finally explain it to him like "Prince, it's 3 o clock in the morning in Minnesota, and it's January and you want a camel. That is not physically or psychologically possible." ...he's not being malicious when he does it. He just doesn't understand why he can't get exactly what he wants. He doesn't understand why someone can't process a simple request like a camel at 3 in the morning in Minnesota."
I guess the moral here is the more you know about your heroes, the less you want to know about them.
The more interesting subject to me is the reaction of the WWE upon learning of the news. This is where this particular case becomes a microcosm for the rest of society. Hogan's name was wiped from their website, he's been removed from the upcoming WWE 2K16 videogame, his name has been removed from Hall of Fame listings (although it's likely his induction will not be revoked) and he's been released from his Legends contract. To put it in perspective, the last time the company reacted this way involved a murder-suicide (which is part of the reason I think this is just a teaser for more to come out later). The scorched Earth approach they have taken has drawn the ire of many fans who feel it is an overreaction in an attempt to keep the heat off of themselves for their own past issues racism, homophobia, sexism and xenophobia.
After all, the company still works with Michael P.S. Hayes (who was briefly suspended after a history of making racial remarks), Steve Austin (who has past issues with domestic violence and racial remarks), Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka (who is currently under grand jury investigation for the mysterious death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino in 1983), John "Bradshaw" Layfield who has a history of bullying and abuse, not to mention a little over a year ago the Ultimate Warrior was inducted into the Hall of Fame after having said some truly despicable things that make Hulk's rant look tame in comparison (WWE later created an award named in his honour following his sudden death shortly after Wrestlemania 30).
That's just the personal stuff. It doesn't even include the bevy of broad stereotypes the company has relied on in the past which could keep me going all day here.
The point I want to get at is that even if the company's reaction to Hogan's use of racial slurs was motivated out of cynical self preservation, it's still a positive sign of progress. It means they recognize the damage that associating with a racist can do to their brand, which sends a big message regardless of the motivation behind it. In their modern attempts to transform from carny trash sideshow to global entertainment industry, they have legitimately been making the effort to clean up their product and this was the worst time for something like this to come out.
On an episode of the Cracked Podcast discussing racial privilege, an interesting point was made regarding signs of progress. Cracker writer and author David Wong brought up how it's a good thing that we can look back at old Warner Brothers cartoons and recognize how racist they were. By extension, it's a good thing that we can look at the fact that WWE Chairman Vince McMahon once dropped the N-word in a backstage skit ten years ago (although fans thought it was stupid then too) to recognize that it is something that would not fly today. The company taking swift action indicates that even if the individual views of the Hulk Hogans out there haven't progressed, the rest of society has. And that's an effect that bleeds over because eventually a new generation takes over and the process repeats. One generation's progressive will be the next generation's bigoted dinosaur because the truth is, we can always do better.
You need points of reference to see when progress is being made. Any time you see someone complaining about political correctness ruining things, keep in mind that it's simply the function of progress being made within our lifetimes. When you can't say the same things today that could get away with even a few years ago, it means times are changing and we, as a society are being more conscious of the language we use and the prejudices behind that language.
When I was a kid, Eddie Murphy was at his height as a comedian. He was also unabashedly homophobic, saying some absolutely hateful things. Murphy would later publicly acknowledge this and apologize indicating that he had grown as a person. Once again, you can read into it as either genuine or cynical, but the issue remains that his past views were no longer acceptable to the general public. That's progress, that I can chart in my lifetime.
For an example from the other direction. Jurassic World left a very sour impression with me because it has a lot of outdated, sexist ideas that stuck out for a movie from 2015 and frankly, only served to highlight how progressive the original JP was in that regard. Again, progress that I can track in my lifetime because I have a signpost to compare it to. (I have a lot more to say about Jurassic World, but that's an article for another time.)
Beyond popular culture, think back, dear reader to conversations you've had in the past that would make you cringe if you heard someone say those things today. We've all got things that were said during less enlightened times or in times of darkness or stress, but most of us have the benefit of not having them captured on tape. (There's another article to be written regarding "call out culture" and crowd shaming.)
Part of the reason I was hesitant to outright call Hulk Hogan a racist (beyond some twitter jokes about his frequent use of the word "brother") is this same principal of personal growth. Is he not allowed to grow as a person, or is he forever tied to the ugly things he said in the past? By that same token, we cannot just brush off the things he said, because as we saw in Charleston SC, there are real world consequences to those racial attitudes and they do need to be a part of a larger conversation.
As for Hulk Hogan. I guess time will tell if he'll "Hulk Up" out of this one or not...
Author's Note: I promise, one of these days I will set out to write something short and to the point and actually do that. Hopefully you were able to get something of value out if this.
Another Author's Note: I hope you all appreciate how hard it was not avoid mentioning Hulk Hogan's hairline.
Another Another Author's Note: I don't want anyone to think I've forgotten about Gawker and how terrible they are. That'll be a topic for another day. When Gawker vs Hulk takes place in court, it'll be a heel vs heel match.
Kevin Smith's Prince Story (Language warning...it is Kevin Smith after all)
Cracked Podcast episode: "The Horrible 90's Hit Song Song That Explains The Modern World" (Language warning: They use hip hop music as bookends and ad breaks, which use some of the language we're talking about today)
Hi, my name is Mitch and I write things sometimes.