Magic, Memories, and Mania VALENTINO'S MAGIC, MEMORIES & MANIA: An expository look at Hulk Hogan's Fall from Grace - "Real American" or "Real Racist?"
Sep 18, 2015 - 1:08:37 PM
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By Shawn Valentino, PWTorch specialist
My Early Days of Fandom
Hulk Hogan is currently attempting a road to recovery from the low point of his legendary career. Before giving my commentary on this fascinating story, I wanted to start by rewinding the clock to the late '80s. I was a small child at the height of Hulkamania. The colorful, charismatic presence of the Hulkster was one of the main things that attracted me to the wild and wacky world of professional wrestling. WrestleMania 3 in the Silverdome, where he body slammed Andre the Giant, took place just a few miles away from my childhood home. I was the perfect target market that WWF was catering to during the Rock 'n Wrestling Era. Despite all this, I hated the Hulk Hogan character as a child.
Although he was undeniably charismatic and iconic, I found the Hulkster to be cheesy and his promos to be lame and his matches to be formulaic. My favorite wrestler was "Macho Man" Randy Savage, a superstar who had a similar cartoonish character, but was much cooler and a far superior in-ring performer. Although obviously the men we saw on-screen were playing characters, there was always something about Hogan’s “Real American” image that I found phony and manipulative.
Nostalgia and the NWO
Fast-forward a few years. I was in my teens flipping channels, and I had not watched wresting for years. I came across a show called Monday Nitro and saw Hogan dressed in all-black telling the fans that the reason he told them to say their prayers and take their vitamins was “for the money” and they could all “stick it.” This was like a dream come true seeing the corny, goody two-shoes in yellow & red breaking bad.
Thanks to an equal dose of nostalgia for my childhood as well as the injection of cool factor with the new NWO storyline, I was a wrestling fan again. Hulk Hogan was responsible for me becoming a fan in two different decades. Only this time, I loved his arrogant Hollywood persona. The unabashedly egocentric nature of his character seemed more natural to me than when he was the “All-American hero.”
The Legend Returns Home
By the time, Hogan decided to come back to the WWF in 2002, I was thrilled to see him return. I had tickets to WrestleMania 18 in Toronto, and I knew that watching him face off against The Rock would be history in the making. The legendary Icon versus Icon showdown in front of a raucous audience electrified more by nostalgia than The Great One was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I saw Hogan in action live numerous times after that, including his Hall of Fame induction as well as his Summerslam matches against Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton. The reactions to him every time were deafening. Although I did not like him in traditional Hulkster mode, it was awe-inspiring seeing how fans reacted to him, and the thing I admired most was how he was an absolute genius at manipulating the masses. This unique skill combined with his charm and charisma may have made him a great politician in another life.
Meeting Hulk Hogan
I have lived in Hollywood for over a decade. I have met as well as been interviewed on television by numerous big stars, but I must say that meeting Hogan was something truly special. I go to WrestleMania every year and always stay in the same hotel as the wrestlers so I am first-hand witness to their interaction with fans. Many of the superstars who claim to love the fans on television are the least friendly to them in-person. Hulk may be the most fan-friendly celebrity I have ever seen. He frequently engages in long conversations with people who approach him, and he rarely denies an autograph or a photo. In that sense, he is like the Tom Cruise of wrestling, an enduring larger-than-life icon who has a controversial image, but one who appreciates the people who helped make him. He is just as charismatic and charming in person as he is on-screen.
When I was online late at night several weeks ago, I came across a headline that Hulk Hogan had been fired by WWE. I knew it had to be bad. After all, think about all of the horrible publicity that has surrounded him the past decade. From his terrible parenting on "Hogan Knows Best" to his son’s legal issues to his sexual encounters caught on tape, he has long proven to be far from the role model he was presented as on television.
The next day the ugly details of his racial tirade were unveiled. I must say that it was disconcerting but not shocking in the least bit. I personally try to separate an entertainer’s real life from his on-screen persona so I did not really care about the details and it would not affect me from enjoying watching some of his old performances, which I had a very minimal affection for to begin with.
In many ways, it was confirmation of my childhood belief about Hogan's image, although as an adult I admired his genius at manipulating the audience. In fact, the most disturbing aspect of the entire mess was why Hogan was even discussing his daughter’s sex life to begin with, especially when he was in bed with another woman. It was creepy to say the least.
Is Hogan a Racist?
Despite the revelations not affecting my pre-existing view of Hogan, I feel that it does open a fascinating discussion of race and fame in modern society. Although the vile nature of Hogan’s racist remarks are reprehensible, I do not believe people should be judged by their worst moments. The fact that he did not know he was being taped is not that relevant to the content of what he said, but it really is vindictive of our culture that this was out in the open to begin with.
If there is a shining light in Hogan’s future, it is that he should be in-line for a favorable judgment in his lawsuit against Gawker. Speaking from a legal background, I can assess that seeing a private Hogan sex tape is not in the public interest, and he has an excellent case. I would argue if everyone was being recorded at their worst and their behavior was made public, nearly nobody on this planet would be employable.
Hogan’s Rant More Genuine Because it was Private?
The argument I have heard many people make is that since he was being taped without his knowledge, then his racial tirade expressed his actual feelings and therefore, he is a racist. There is no sugar-coating what he said, but actually it is more complicated than that. The argument that I have not heard, and is just as plausible, is that when you believe a conversation is private, you are also likely to say things out of anger and frustration that may not reflect how you really feel. If you are just venting about something out of pure emotion in the moment you feel is private, you are much more likely to use language you would never use in public and may not even mean to begin with.
Let me give a simple example. Let us imagine you have a horrible day at work, and you come home and start ranting about how you want to physically hurt your boss and how your co-workers are worthless. If you spoke like that in the office, you would be fired, and if you knew you were being recorded at home and that recording would go public, you would likely never say that, even though it is how you may have felt in a down moment. Of course, you do not plan on actually hurting your boss, and you may not even genuinely feel that way about the people you work with, but you are speaking out of frustration in an emotional rant. It does not mean that your statement is more valid and is a genuine reflection of who you are because you feel like you are doing it in the privacy of your home. It just means you felt free to speak out in frustration at a time you were down, and you would never imagine that what you are saying would go public.
So, looking at the million-dollar question - “Is the Hulkster a racist?” Frustrated or not, he likely has some prejudiced views for sure, given the veracity of his remarks, but I firmly believe that many parents of all races have similar prejudices when it comes to their children dating outside of their race. Let us stipulate that Hogan’s comments were his genuine feelings. Most people do not want to talk about it in public, but his statements reflect a concern a large part of the human population still has when it comes to inter-racial dating. It just happens that Hulk’s private beliefs were exposed to the public, and he is a famous figure.
The Many Faces of Racism
So how do you even define racism? It is a complicated issue, but it is not so, pardon the pun, black and white that you can simply categorize people into those who are racist and those who are not. Most people have some level of prejudice inside of them. Some may throw out some unsavory slurs here and there and others are much worse. In fact, I believe the worst type of racists are not ones that carelessly throw out racial epithets in private, but are the type that actually act out on those prejudices to bring other people down.
Again, in defense of Hulk, from all accounts, as flawed as Hogan’s character is, he has never been known to be a racist by anyone who has dealt with him. With all of the Hogan haters out there, and the potential for some cheap publicity in the midst of a scandal, surely somebody would have come out with story about experiencing racism from Hogan. Additionally, many African-Americans he has worked with have defended him and pointed out how Hulk helped their careers. People have made this comparison, but this was not like the Bill Cosby scandal where the release of these records resulted in a slew of fellow wrestlers confirming they had heard similar racist remarks. Evidence indicates that these comments were out of character.
A Real American?
While I am giving Hogan some benefit of the doubt, the fact that the Hulkster for decades presented himself as an icon of Americana and a role model for children, this type of language is the type that should shatter that image which again was one I never bought to begin with. The Hulkamania brand was tied to being a “Real American” and the ideals that all people are created equally.
Unfortunately, both his usage of the n-word and the context in which he used it have a terrifying historical connotation that dates back hundreds of years and showcase the ugliest side of American history. Even if you take out his usage of the n-word, his comments, even in a fit of rage, are of such a calculated, prejudiced nature that it is nearly impossible to defend. It exhibits the worst image of wealthy privileged people discriminating based on race and class. I personally did not think that people really associate Hogan with being a kid’s hero anymore even before this scandal but more of a campy nostalgic figure from their childhood. These comments, no matter what his emotional state, exhibit an ugly side of a man that sold his image on “fighting for what is right.”
Despite not being a fan of Hogan, I have done my best to defend him here. What is indefensible, though, is how he and his team have handled the matter since his firing. If anything, it has confirmed that he is unaware of the severity of his comments, even if they were not genuine, or that he believes his celebrity and goodwill from 30 years of entertaining the masses gives him some equity to cash in. The completely oblivious Twitter “reflections” and retweets are evidence that he needs a social media handler. It has been indicative of a desperate fallen star trying to regain favor and re-build his image but one that is ignorant, ignoring his advisors, or surrounded by bad advisors. Case in-point being Hogan re-tweeting a statement that compared his usage of the n-word to President Obama using it as historical reference.
Then, after a rocky start to recovery, I saw Hogan’s recent performance on "Good Morning America" attempting to apologize, and I thought it was brilliant. He played to his strengths with his charming, charismatic personality, and his ability to manipulate people. He knew that a traditional media outlet would throw him softball questions and would not take the interview seriously enough to ask him the more difficult inquiries. Hogan also knew that the average fan either did not care about the rant or were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The default reaction to the Hogan character, especially amongst wrestling fans, is to like him so he ingeniously lead the interview and framed himself as a sympathetic victim realizing the average viewer would be too unsophisticated to know better.
Anyone could have seen through his absurd statements. For example, what in the world did he mean that his friends addressed him with the n-word when he was growing up in Tampa? He may have been genuine, but if you are smartened up to Hogan’s history, everything feels like a work. This was the classic case of a "news" program catering to a celebrity to generate ratings. Here are the questions I would have like to have seen.
(1) Do you believe a black man should not date your daughter unless he is rich?
(2) You have marketed yourself as a children’s hero and a real American most of your career. Do you feel that your language proves that this image was purely a fictional character?
(3) Why were you talking about your daughter’s sex life while you are in bed with your best friend’s wife? (Well, maybe this would purely be for the reaction, although the question is genuine.)
Can Hogan Make a Comeback?
So, where does Hogan go from here, and does he still have a career in the public eye? I feel that his interview on "Good Morning America" was an indicator of his angle to make his return to WWE and the good graces of the public. I feel that as long as he takes his time and has some good advisors surrounding him, the Hulkster’s natural charisma and likable screen presence may save him. Celebrities with a long history and emotional connection with fans generally are given opportunities to return to the spotlight to try to repair their image.
“Even though wrestling was the vehicle, I’ve always tried to reach out and help people and be involved with charities, with everything from Pediatric AIDS to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to the Starlight Foundation. So it hurts if people have a different image of me. What happened to me was just like taking one photograph, one still photo, instead of looking at entire body of work. I just feel horrible that people think that’s the image of me when that’s not who I am," Hogan told Sports Illustrated in a "public image rehab" interview this week.
Numerous wrestlers have done much worse and returned to a WWE ring. Coincidentally, we are seeing a perfect example of this with the Jimmy Snuka murder case. A wrongful death judgment was handed down against Snuka in 1985 for the death of his 1983 girlfriend, yet he returned, so WWE has a track record of bringing back wrestlers who have exhibited reprehensible behavior. In fact, that was Hogan's defense in the interview with Sports Illustrated.
“Vince McMahon reaches out and helps people. If you’re a drug abuser or you abuse alcohol, Vince McMahon and the WWE reach out and help people," Hogan told SI's Justin Barrasso. "So what’s so uncommon about this was they took the symptoms, said, ‘Oh my god, there’s a symptom of being a racist,’ and threw me away. They usually go to the source. They’ve known me for over 30 years and they know I’m not a racist, so they should have went to the source. I don’t use the word, ever, except for in that moment of anger, so I wish WWE went to the source instead of the symptoms. I could have explained I’ve tried every day since then to be a better man."
I predict that we see the Hulkster return to WWE television in the next couple of years to a rousing ovation. Expect to see some false humility and tears in front of a forgiving, adoring audience that will likely be caught up in his nostalgia and in awe of his charisma.
Again, is Hulk Hogan a racist? In the eyes of the public, it may not matter in the long run. One thing we know for sure is that his remarks have sparked conversations of racism and classism that reflect “real American” history and contemporary culture more than we would like to believe.
Please send questions, comments and feedback to email@example.com and check out my book The Showstopper Lifestyle on Amazon. Please like my new fan page on Facebook, Facebook.com/ShowstopperShawnValentino.
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