The racist rantings of Hulk Hogan are old news at this point. The fact that WWE is a hypocritical company on a level that is obscene even by business standards is even older news. I didn’t suspect Hulk Hogan was a racist. I have known for many, many years that WWE frequently indulges levels of hypocrisy that are dizzying, when the examples of their behavior are taken as a whole. From the past to the present, from the WWWF, to the WWF, to WWE, there are literally hundreds of examples of a company exhibiting far worse acts of racism, sexism, and much more. I have been aware of these examples probably since I was a teenager. I have chosen to ignore them in the name of fandom. I can’t do that anymore.
Being a wrestling fan, or more specifically, being a WWE fan means dealing with a lot of problematic elements. This is nothing new, and this has been true of other, now defunct wrestling companies through the years. Racist characters have been part of the landscape of the company for decades, although the company has gone to greater lengths in the PG Era to avoid them. Sexism is nothing new, although the company has finally begun to emphasize a more complex, more exciting women’s division over the past few years. I have ignored these things, or I at least accepted them in favor of the things I liked about wrestling, in the name of being entertained. I don’t apologize for that. If you try hard enough, you can find problematic elements in just about everything. You can acknowledge them, and you can criticize them. Beyond that, you’re left to either accept them, or abandon your fandom entirely. In spite of all its so-called “improvements”, WWE is worse than a lot of other fandoms in this regard. I accepted that.
I can’t do it anymore. When WWE decided to deal with the impending Hulk Hogan/racism scandal by completely eliminating one of the five most important professional wrestlers in history from their records, I decided that it was time to call it quits. I don’t want to be a fan anymore. I have been growing increasingly bored with WWE and pro wrestling in general for quite some time. Yeah, there have been a lot of great things going on with WWE, and there are exceptional companies out there like Ring of Honor. It’s not enough. My passion for something that I have loved since I was three years old has been waning since my late 20’s. The way WWE has treated Hogan in his darkest hour finished off that passion. Whether or not that love is gone for good remains to be seen. For now, I believe that it is.
Hulk Hogan should be held accountable to some degree for his racist comments, which were recorded without his knowledge, and then leaked to the world at large. I will say that I think that someone being held accountable for things they thought they were saying in private moves us into a very unsettling territory, but life is indeed about consequences. If you are going to say disgusting, racist bullshit, then you have to potentially be prepared for someone to use it against you later on. Still, being reminded of the notion that we are always suspect to being thrown against the court of public opinion, a social-media based throng that is growing increasingly bloodthirsty for people they can rip to shreds for being imperfect human beings is something that troubles me. This is the same system that leaked Sony emails, which was nice. It’s also the same system that leaks nudes without the express permissions of the individuals, which is obviously bad. It’s a complex system. I get that. There are just times for me when the bad far outweighs the potential good. This is admittedly one of those times.
None of this is meant to suggest that Hulk Hogan is any less of a racist. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like the fact that racists, misogynists, ableists are running scared from people who are not going to take their revolting abuses any longer. It’s just that the internet court of opinion is a court that deals in small victories. I honestly wonder if we are accomplishing anything significant. I really don’t believe that destroying Hulk Hogan’s life makes the world a less-racist place. While people like Hulk Hogan are held accountable, black men are still incarcerated at an alarming rate. Black women leave behind evidence to support that if they die in jail, it wasn’t a suicide. Muslims have to fear open spaces. Queer teens have to fear their parents. Grinding Hulk Hogan to dust doesn’t really change any of these realities. It is a small victory against racist behavior that ultimately does nothing to actually dismantle any tower of systematic oppression.
Removing the Confederate flag from a capital building is a good step, in my mind. This is something that takes a small-but-noteworthy shot at systematic racism. If you want the flag on your car, whatever, but you are no longer going to live in a society that normalizes racist symbols by planting them on the steps of state buildings. Companies refusing to sell General Lee merchandise accomplishes nothing, or it accomplishes something so insignificant, patting ourselves on the back distracts us from meaningful progress. Standing up for people who are killed in jail cells strikes me as a good use of this internet mob we find ourselves with. Where do you want to go next? It has to go somewhere else, and it’s not. People are fighting and dying on the streets, and they need more than social media outrage, as useful as it can be when it’s actually put towards something that fucking matters. What they don’t need is for the mob to distract themselves by going after problematic celebrities with a relish so cartoonish in its severity, I would swear it really was a bleak cartoon about bleak times, except that I’m actually living in it.
Let’s get back to the point. I’ll ask the rhetorical question: Is Hulk Hogan a racist? Yes. He can tell us otherwise as much as he wants. He can post hundreds of pictures of himself posing with people of color. I don’t think Hogan is the kind of guy who wants to join a lynch mob. I do think the kind of racism that lives with people like Hogan is something that only comes out in our darkest moments, when we are angry, exhausted, and lashing out in any way that we can. It doesn’t change Hogan’s racism. It’s just that when we talk about Hulk Hogan being a racist, it is worth taking the time to understand what we’re talking about. Nonetheless, a racist is still a racist. Hogan is a racist. He fucked up by opening his mouth. It doesn’t matter what he was going through at the time. I hope that if he does anything in the wake of this whole thing, he takes a long look at why his mind went to the place that it did during a dark period of his life.
Hogan’s life in the public eye may very well be over. By extension, to someone who profoundly values that public life, that sincere desire to remain a hero to people, his life may very well be over. All of his professional interests have abandoned him, perhaps for good. Does he deserve a punishment that substantial? I honestly don’t know. I’m inclined to say that he doesn’t. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’ve been a diehard Hulkamaniac all these years. That’s a little silly, although I do know grown men who are. That’s their prerogative, and I don’t think any less of them for it. I will say that Hulk Hogan was a very special part of pro wrestling in my life, which in turn was a very special part of my childhood. Hulkamania is an actual thing, if only because Hogan clearly believes in it.
Hulkamania was real, and now, it is dead. I can try to understand where Hogan is coming from, but I can’t ignore the things he said in those recordings. They are just too ugly. While I certainly did not carry my love of Hulk Hogan into adulthood, I have retained a great affection for what he once meant to my childhood. In recent years, he’s looked quite silly to me. But that’s okay. Silly things can be pretty awesome, if only because they bring back the rush of the purity of the things you loved when you were a child. That rush is now finally and perhaps completely extinguished. To continue to watch wrestling now would be to pretend I still care about it on any level. I really don’t believe that I do anymore.
But as grim as Hogan’s behavior has been, WWE’s behavior is far more disgusting to me. This is a company that has just barely managed to keep from choking on its hypocrisy through the years. Wiping Hogan from their history books is the response of a company that is deeply paranoid of its public standing. Fair enough, except that they will continue to be hypocrites. They’re not engaging in the erasure of Hulk Hogan’s career in the name of working towards dismantling systematic racism. They could care less. They’re merely distancing themselves from scandal.
Fair enough, except that as I said, I just can’t take the bad with the good anymore. It’s not the PG Era that did me in. I’m not overly romantic for the eras of my youth. Wrestling has always been about positives and negatives, even during its most exciting periods. The negatives are now so overwhelming to me, my growing disinterest has now become a full-fledged desire to simply be done with the whole thing. I will probably hold on to my favorite matches and icons, in the same way that I sometimes watch old favorite movies that I no longer have a significant emotional connection to. The current product? The standing cup of the good and bad elements? I’m not interested. It can belong to other people now.
Hulkamania is dead. I will never be able to look at one of my childhood heroes in the same way ever again. WWE is a company that I no longer have an interest in supporting on any level. I have spent years putting up with the distasteful things they have done. I have spent years in a fandom that had twenty howling man-children for every two or three people I could actually have a conversation with. It’s not that I think I wasted my life. Perhaps though, it would have been better to leave the party a few years ago, when I started to get bored. Twenty-seven years is a good run for a relationship with a fandom. I had a blast more often than not.
Hulkamania is dead. Racism in America and beyond is unchanged in the aftermath.
As Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.
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