Hulk Hogan, All-American Liar
Even in a sport defined by an open relationship with the truth, Hulk Hogan has distinguished himself as a teller of tall tales. Now they're all he's got left.
Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Hulk Hogan lies. All pro wrestlers lie, of course, and pro wrestling is a lie, but Hulk Hogan is a liar's liar. He's said he was nearly Metallica's bassist and that he had to shoot on (read: beat up for real) Japanese wrestler Tatsumi Fujinami to save the WWE title. His re-telling of his iconic match with Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III is rife with obvious, gratuitous, easily disproved lies—Andre was 600 pounds, Hogan didn't know if Andre would let him win, Andre died days later.
Hogan has dated starlets he never dated, beaten up bikers he never touched. It's amazing how effortlessly all this comes to him. But there's also something comforting about it. The steady tidal wash of all this untruth has a sort of narcotizing, lulling effect. You shrug and nod along, soothed by its constancy. Hogan the idea is apple pie and baseball, an embodiment of a strain of Boomer Americana which has dominated the cultural landscape for nearly half a century, even as Hogan the Man has descended into self-parody and decline, more so now that he's suing Gawker for $100 million over the release of homemade porn video. The latter transparently believes in the former; the lies are a natural result.
Hogan started his big run as a pure American hero, waving a flag as he kicked the shit out of the Iron Sheik for his first world title. The first thrill of Hulkamania coincided with the giddy height of Reaganism, on the eve of the 1984 election, and this was no accident. Hulk was presented as a sort of revanchist ideal of American masculinity, beefy and resurgent. His enemies were either evil foreigners or all-American fat guys you just knew weren't working for a living, the slugs. That is, basically, the same enemies Reagan was fighting, with the exception that Hogan didn't fight women, too. Even he wasn't that mean.
It is glib but true to say the times called for both men. We were ready to be lied to. Carter, with his dour exhortations to dress warmly, dream responsibly, and prepare for a slight global retreat, rankled a nation that wanted to feel strong. We craved flattering deception—we still do—and were ready to embrace a charismatic liar. Hogan did it better than anyone in those heady days of 1984.
Not that Hoganism was the cause or remotely the equal to the ills of Reganism; Hogan's just a wrestler, and so merely a symbol of something in our collective psyche in the way all successful pro wrestlers are. But he seemed a particularly powerful manifestation of Boomer id. He oozed a specific type of cool at the beginning, coming in as a long-haired, tanned Californian with a "whatever dude" attitude. He touted hard work, vitamins, and prayer as the tickets to success, a Nancy Reagan on "Diff'rent Strokes" platitude that he managed to stretch on well past its sell by date. How could a blonde Superman with a cross around his neck be anything but the Good Guy?
This, of course, masked the truth: Hogan politicked and got his, no matter who he screwed over. He helped scuttle the last serious unionization push in pro wrestling, partially to keep favor with WWE/F owner Vince McMahon; this is an act which, when teased out to its logical end, puts the blood of dozens of pro wrestlers, still categorized as independent contractors and pushed beyond physical limits, partially on Hogan's hands. He consistently surrounded himself with the least talented hangers on, men like Ed "Brutus Beefcake" Leslie and the Nasty Boys; they were no threat to him, and he repaid their fawning loyalty by working behind the scenes to elevate them to spots they were in no way capable of filling.
Hogan was not only interested in deceiving others. He did a very good job of deceiving himself, continuing to plug away at a disastrous movie career even as his star waned. As the 1990s dawned, he continued to put himself in the spotlight at the expense of younger, better wrestlers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, wielding his backstage influence like a Byzantine prefect, until a combination of his own insufferability and the McMahon steroid trial forced him out of the WWE.
Hogan moved south, to WCW, where he did the same tired act: yellow, red, vitamins. He was booed, slowly at first, then lustily. Hogan's brand of lies weren't what we needed anymore. We preferred the pantomime rebellion of Stone Cold Steve Austin, a rebel employed by a billionaire, to assure us that we were rebelling against the order, too.
Not that Hogan didn't have a second act, or a third. His second act was to go against type, playing the bad guy as the mysterious third member of the heelish nWo. The group was compelling despite Hogan, not because of him; the novelty of an evil Hogan quickly dissipated in the face of the same tedious promos as he latched onto the relaxed cool of his compatriots, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. He wore out his welcome as he hurtled toward age 50, refusing to let go of the title for long, stepping on people as always.
His final act was a combo. A brief return to WWE culminated in a run as Mr. America, a poorly disguised Hogan in an exaggerated patriotic mask and suit. We laughed and so did he, because patriotism in Hogan's old school vein is mostly worth laughing at; it might have been funnier had the nation not been seized, at that moment, by enough patriotic self-deception to invade Iraq. Hogan won matches against men half his age, got pissed off at the size of his paychecks—perhaps a union might've helped—and moved to WWE rival TNA. Once there, he brought in all his old buddies from the worst days of Hoganism, plus his indescribably talentless daughter, and made sure that they were all front and center every week. Hogan left TNA in tatters in 2013; the promotion still hasn't financially recovered and likely never will.
It only makes sense that Hogan's last grasp at the spotlight would be at the sordid intersection of lawsuits and porn videos. Once again, Hogan buoyed a talentless hack—a shock jock named Bubba the Love Sponge—who stroked his ego. Only this time, the hack was a threat. Bubba's wife was "loaned" to Hogan and Bubba recorded the whole thing, which mostly consisted of Hogan answering the phone and patting his gut, but also included some desultory sex. Gawker ran the video, and that was it. Poor, hurt Hulk Hogan, betrayed by a friend and adoring public, had become a laughingstock. There was no choice but to sue and to sue big. His suit against Gawker has been delayed indefinitely for one of those picayune reasons that delay these sorts of things indefinitely.
The figure is nice and round, mostly because it's meaningless. There's a "don't throw me in the briar patch" quality to Hogan's statements about this particularly sordid chapter of his life. Because how could you take all this umbrage at this sort of attention seriously—how could anyone believe that he's ashamed—after a life spent in shameless, heedless pursuit of just this sort of notoriety. After the reality show and the tale-spinning Howard Stern appearances and presenting himself front and center at Randy Savage's big posthumous night at the Wrestlemania just past, how can anyone now believe Hogan simply wants his privacy?
Privacy is the last thing he wants, as being a public figure is the last thing he has. Hulk Hogan is a Viagra commercial at 11 a.m. during your kid's favorite show, the eternal Boomer without the good grace to turn the stage over, a relic of a bygone era that continues to deposit irradiated relics everywhere. If there's mercy, this lawsuit will be the last we hear of Hogan's guttural "Brother" for years to come. It won't be, because it never is. There is always another story to tell.