Mel Gibson has never had his name legally changed to Martin Riggs nor has he been known to stagger about Hollywood neighborhoods brandishing a prop LAPD badge shouting, “hey, where’s the bad guys?” Thus, socially just and conscientious action film fans can still watch Lethal Weapon and feel somewhat okay about it. It was Mel Gibson, the actor, who shocked the world with his raging misogyny and anti-Semitism, not the hero cop character from the movie. On the night of November 17, 2006, Michael Richards was not introduced as Kramer, nor was he sporting a lobster-print Hawaiian shirt and a wild, wavy, 6-inch-high hairdo when he took the stage at the Laugh Factory to unleash some seemingly deep-seated anger and hate-speak upon its unsuspecting patrons. This makes it easier for Seinfeld fans to push the incident to the back of their consciousness as they routinely tune in to its nightly reruns. For wrestling fans though, and more specifically, for a diehard sect of them who refer to themselves as “Hulkamaniacs,” things are a little more complicated.
Hulk Hogan is the most recent celebrity to join the ever-growing racist-rant list… more dreadful a list for a celeb to find themself on than even the C-list, and just slightly less dreadful for them to find themself on than the D-list. It has recently come to light (via The National Enquirer and Radar Online) that, at the tail end of a sex tape filmed (unbeknownst to the wrestler) 8 years ago, Hulk casually spews vile, ethnic slurs while sharing his wildly unprogressive views on interracial relationships. Prefacing his comments with the self-realization “I mean, I am a racist,” Hogan admits to being distraught that his daughter may be dating the black son of a black millionaire. “I mean I’d rather if she was going to f**k some n**ger, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot tall n**ger worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player.” His contract with WWE has since been terminated (or, he requested a release from said contract, depending upon whom you believe, the wrestling entertainment company, or Hogan’s attorney).
Yes, current and long time WWE president Vince McMahon eventually caved in and exposed the business as a work, as a fix, as “sports entertainment” rather than just as “sport.” But there still lingers that residue from the days of kayfabe. That foggy line of what is real and what is not. Professional wrestlers, in the public’s eye at the very least, have become strange amalgamations of their true identities and their larger than life in-ring personas. When you’re asked to play a character basically non-stop over the course of 10, 20, 30 years, can you actually keep that character from hijacking at least some small part of your identity?
Perform an Internet search. How many articles covering Hogan’s recently revealed racist diatribe contain a headline mentioning “Terry Bollea?” None? One? How many mention the name “Hulk Hogan?” Virtually all.
But when a wrestling fan hears or reads the words “Hulk Hogan,” he or she does not think of a depressed, over-the-hill, injury-riddled, two-timing entertainer, he or she thinks of the 24-inch python flexing, red, white and blue flag waving, red and yellow shirt tearing, Crucifix wearing, world heavyweight champion who fought for truth, justice, and the American way. Who inspired legions of people to stand up for what was right. He inspired legions of people to train and get in shape. He always overcame the odds, no matter how impossible they were. Who told us that we were all a part of him, and he was a part of all of us. Who body slammed Andre the Giant and pinned The Iron Sheik. That’s the man we think of when we read that Hulk Hogan said “f**king n***ers.”
Terry Bollea goes predominantly by his stage name, “Hulk Hogan.” He can frequently be found wearing Hulkamania shirts in public, the same type of shirts that he used to wear in the ring. Lastly, both he, and his character, say, “brother” more often than your average dog says “woof.” It is easy to fool oneself and accept that the man and his do-gooder character are one and the same, or at least almost the same. And perhaps that’s why a huge amount of his fan base is so willing to forgive him. It must have been a mistake! A slip of the tongue! He was in a bad place! His fans declare ardently that Hulk Hogan is NOT a racist, despite his being quoted as saying, “I am a racist.” No one enjoys finding out that Santa Clause isn’t real.
So was it all an act then? Is Hulk Hogan actually a bad man? Life is different from wrestling. Switching from wearing bright colors and high fiving spectators to wearing dark colors and spitting on them can easily indicate to any pro-wrestling fan that a wrestler has turned from “good” to “bad.” Hogan IS a self-confirmed racist. His words and views, no matter where he was at that point and time in his life emotionally, cannot be misconstrued. However, one can’t discount the countless charity work and all the Make-A-Wish visits. While some people are “bad” or “good,” most people lie somewhere in-between. What we do know, is that if Hulk Hogan is not a “bad guy,” he is at the very least, a heavily, heavily flawed human being.
He has taken to posting photos on Facebook of himself posing with black fans, as though somehow, that proves something. He is quick to point out his black celebrity defenders… Dennis Rodman, George Foreman, and to a lesser extent, former WWE superstar Virgil, all who claim the Hulkster has been nothing but kind, caring, and cool to them. As though that proves something. What it proves is that Hulk Hogan doesn’t hate all black people. He may not even hate most black people. Or any black people for that matter. And for those without a clear understanding of what racism is and can be, that may be enough.