Posts tagged with: pro wrestling

Hogan Doesn’t Know Best

Terry Bollea rode the wave of professional wrestling’s 1980s boom as Hulk Hogan, headlining World Wrestling Federation shows on MTV and hanging out with Cyndi Lauper and Mr T as “WrestleMania” took off and became an annual American tradition. Wearing red and yellow and walking to the ring to the sounds of Rick Derringer’s “Real American,” he told his young followers (or “Hulkamaniacs”) to say their prayers, and eat their vitamins (and of course he offered his own brand of vitamins too).

Unthinkable in today’s fast-paced world of 24/7 pro wrestling networks and short attention spans, Hulk Hogan held the WWF’s World Championship for four whole years until, in 1988, he was finally dethroned due to fiendish cheating from a host of villainous characters, including Andre the Giant, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, who – the story goes – had bribed match officials. Nonetheless, this only increased sympathy and support for the Hulk Hogan character in the predetermined match-ups, and he’d go on to regain the title just over a year later, with good triumphing over evil once again.

However, Hogan’s ill-fated appearance on Arsenio Hall’s show arguably began his fall from grace. The awkward interview suggested that it wasn’t, in fact, vitamins he had been taking, but steroids. The entire WWF got caught up in the drug scandal, and the WWF’s owner Vince McMahon was indicted by the FBI, barely escaping a prison sentence himself.

Hogan jumped ship to the WWF’s rival, the rising WCW, but despite this change of scenery, and audience, his popularity waned. Co-opting the unfavourable crowd responses, he reinvented himself, cleverly aligning himself with other ex-WWF stars who were younger, hipper, and cooler than him, and “invading” WCW; Hogan dropped the red and yellow for an all-black biker wardrobe, shades, and a beard, and became the leader of the faction calling itself the “New World Order” of pro wrestling. Fans loved to hate him as he took short-cuts to survive against WCW’s heroes. Despite his age, his injuries, and the resulting limited ability, he was back on top of the business yet again by the late 1990s.

Still, nothing stirs up innovation quite like adversity, and despite losing his established stars, Vince McMahon was busy creating fresh, up-and-coming characters like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, with cutting-edge storylines to go with them. WCW, meanwhile, ran out of ideas beyond the “New World Order,” and lost momentum, the “NWO” superstars and their guaranteed big-money contracts still needing to be paid even as revenues declined, and WCW began to collapse under this weight. Hemorrhaging millions of dollars, WCW was put up for sale on the cheap by its parent company looking to cut its losses – and ironically it was McMahon himself who swooped in to buy it.

Despite himself being partly responsible for the decline of WCW – leveraging his creative control to stay on top and ensuring those close to him had all the best spots on the show even at the expense of younger, better talent – Hogan’s own “brand” survived yet again. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the WWF (by now known as WWE after being taken to court by the World Worldlife Fund). He’d even harnessed the power of nostalgia, as well as the cheap junk-food formula of “reality” television as the star of “Hogan Knows Best,” helping his daughter, Brooke, launch her own showbusiness career as a result.

Gawker then revealed Hulk Hogan spouting racism, via transcripts of its tapes.

WWE promptly removed him from their Hall of Fame listing as the news spread of Hogan’s vile prejudiced remarks. Mattel refused to produce Hulk Hogan action figures. Hulk Hogan merchandise was removed from the shelves in major stores such as Walmart and Toys R Us. But the news of the scandal took on a life of its own, and has done ever since, to the point where Hogan’s peers, fans, and critics all too often discuss the incident without actually addressing the words used. Because Hogan’s diatribe speaks for itself:

On the topic of Brooke allegedly offered financial support for her music career from a black billionaire while being linked with his son, Hogan went on a tirade:

I don’t know if Brooke was f***ing the black guy’s son…I mean, I don’t have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, f***ing n*****s…I mean, I’d rather if she was going to f*** some n*****, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n***** worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player!…I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking n*****.

– Hulk Hogan

Yes, it’s hateful stuff. It’s sickening.

Since that time, while business interests have kept a safe distance from Hulk Hogan for public relations purposes, discussion has continued on what he represents; his reputation; his aura; his mystique. Many people saw him differently, of course, while others – including black wrestlers who worked with him – said this is the first time they had noted any hint of racism from him; some even claimed he stuck his neck out for them at a time when it was tough to get ahead in pro wrestling as an African-American star, and Hogan had pushed for them to be his headline opponent in storyline matches. Beyond this, many have downright denied Hogan is a racist – despite Hogan’s own admission of ‘I am a racist.’ Incredible.

The brilliant businessman behind the Inside the Ropes venture, Kenny McIntosh, covers many pro wrestling topics on his outstanding podcast, and on a recent episode alongside probably the best-ever pro wrestling writer Fin Martin, he tackled the racism controversy as Hulk Hogan begins to attempt to rehabilitate his image in the public eye. McIntosh made the superb point that many people are perhaps in denial about Hogan because they have a nostalgic view – and this can cover both his fans and fellow wrestlers, too. But many more, present-day black WWE stars – from Mark Henry, to Titus O’Neil – do not seem to have a view clouded by nostalgia; they are stars bravely speaking out and saying that Hogan’s words were racist, offensive, and hurtful, and are not easy to forgive.

Hogan’s own opinion is that he was “in a dark place” – that mysterious, mystical location all celebrities claim they visited when they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. Most decent human beings, of course, don’t suddenly become racist just because they’re having a bad day. Again, Hogan’s exact words were ‘I am a racist.’

When Hogan was finally invited by WWE suits to a recent show, he had the opportunity to address the current roster to express regret for bringing their business into disrepute. Reportedly, Hogan began his speech to the other stars by telling them to be careful what they say in case they’re being recorded. Immediately, this put off the likes of O’Neil (who expressed his disappointment publicly) because Hogan seemed to be saying he was more regretful of being caught, than by what he did.

What McIntosh and Martin intelligently suggested were that Hogan should have actually had a meeting behind closed doors with the black wrestlers of WWE and simply listened to them. Because clearly he doesn’t have any grasp of the seriousness of the offensive views he expressed, whether caught on tape or not. This is a great idea.

The problem here is that WWE are driven by public relations, not values. They’ll allow Hogan a platform to help him repair his reputation, they’ll promote women into positions of prominence on their shows, and anything else with a money-making opportunity attached to it, but they still hold shows in Saudi Arabia where women wrestlers are prohibited, and fund Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in return for a position of power in his rotten administration.

Intersectionality is driven by values committed to opposing all forms of oppression, understanding the way these separate issues link with one another.

With that in mind, an interesting point raised is that, according to McIntosh, O’Neil apparently wore an Ultimate Warrior t-shirt in homage to the man who had died after enjoying a successful pro wrestling career yet who was, as I’ve examined before, a raging hateful homophobe. Despite being best friends with his on-screen tag team partner Darren Young, one of pro wrestling’s first openly gay stars, O’Neil was at ease wearing a t-shirt bearing the image of the bigoted Ultimate Warrior. Martin, who while editor of Power Slam magazine had helped raise awareness of the homophobic campaign Warrior had embarked on, acknowledged the hypocrisy in this.

But the trouble with all this is that, as McIntosh and Martin suggested, it risks becoming a discussion amongst white people, and while any decent white person should be offended by racism, ultimately the buck stops with black people, and it’s those voices that should be heard – especially by Hogan.

McIntosh thankfully acknowledged the issue with white privilege, albeit claiming many of us Caucasian folks have been utilising our white privilege by claiming Hogan is a racist, when that must be turned on its head, because most of the narrative on the internet has been white people saying Hogan isn’t a racist – and that is a far more important and dangerous reflection of white privilege that McIntosh could have (and indeed should have) highlighted. Again, Hogan didn’t just use racist language (rather than “racial” language as McIntosh put it – there’s an important distinction); Hogan said, ‘I am a racist.’ Let’s not forget his exact words, which included ‘n****’ repeatedly: racist – not “racial” – language.

The issue here is that McIntosh talked about “separation,” where you can respect an artist for their work, without liking them as people. So how far does that reach? If McIntosh can, for example, enjoy the works of the right-wing libertarian Clint Eastwood, or the accused sexual harasser Kevin Spacey, but not, I’d assume, the songs of paedophiles Gary Glitter and Ian Watkins, or the architecture of Nazi Albert Speer, isn’t that the same kind of hypocrisy?

No, a boycott of an artist’s work must be consistent for all of us (yes, including O’Neil, although he perhaps feels more established now so as to use his influence for causes he can fight for at this point in his career). But artistic boycotts aren’t just commercial: taking in the works of lyricists or screenwriters or playwrights with intolerant, fascist views is to open yourself up to their artistic expressions and even their perspectives and prejudices. Media is manipulative by nature.

So until such a time as Hulk Hogan actually cares enough to spend time with black people, understand their history, their culture, their views, and why he was so very wrong – and works to highlight the importance of causes like Black Lives Matter – then we’d all do well to boycott any companies he’s involved in. And, yes, WWE comes top of that list.


Is the News Really Faker Than Wrestling?

Donald Trump might be President of the United States, but he’s a really bad businessman. That’s a well known fact. He inherited a fortune of between $40 million and $200 million – and then blew most of that. Of course he got ahead with financial assistance from his father, but he also got by with a little help from his friends. While his Trump Plaza Hotel, Casino & Convention Center was another white elephant, things might have been much worse without event promoters like Don King taking a gamble of their own and hosting shows there.

Another promoter who took such a chance was Vincent K. McMahon, Jr, the professional wrestling guru who had successfully taken his own father’s north-eastern promotion and gone national, running roughshod over regional promoters who had for years held gentlemen’s agreements to host the “World Champion” against their respective area’s top stars, but never cross over or encroach on each other’s patch. This ruthless ambition, coupled with a desire to take pro wrestling from smoky bars and into arenas of smoke-and-mirrors, led McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation to become a global phenomenon, in 1987 culminating in “WrestleMania” at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan, where Hulk Hogan faced Andre the Giant, billed at 7’4″ tall, before what McMahon’s WWF announced to be a “world indoor attendance record” of 93,173.

Upon learning that it appeared Hulk Hogan, who left the show as “World Champion,” earned more money than every other wrestler on the event combined, Jesse Ventura attempted to set up a wrestlers’ union, an idea promptly extinguished by McMahon himself after none other than Hogan ratted them all out to protect his own position. Making it in Hollywood alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Predator and The Running Man, Jesse joined Arnie in the political arena, but not before first using his Screen Actors Guild membership to claim royalties from his WWF commentating duties.

Despite the success of WrestleMania to the point where it was able to fill stadia, McMahon agreed to stage not one but both of his follow-up WrestleMania shows – in 1988 and 1989 – at the Trump Plaza, which held less than 20,000 spectators. Donald Trump was so pleased by this that he sat in the front row, right at ringside, at each of the events. Trump and McMahon remained trusted allies as a result.

What’s more, breaking the age-old Magic Circle-style code known as “kayfabe,” Vince McMahon went against wrestling tradition and admitted to the State of New Jersey Senate that, of course, all matches were predetermined and that shows were not sporting contests but simply entertainment (a word that you’ll notice became more prominent in Vince’s publicity as the years progressed). These admissions removed the scrutiny and taxation faced by other athletic promoters, something Vince’s wife Linda had been battling with for years while running the business behind the scenes.

Yes, if you hadn’t guessed, pro wrestling was officially “fake.” And the grudge matches and publicity stunts weren’t the only fictitious part of the whole presentation: Andre the Giant’s height and even WrestleMania’s success itself had been embellished – it turned out that there were not, in fact, 93,173 in attendance at all, as explained by Dave Meltzer, who has for years largely been the only serious and widely-respected documentarian and critic of pro wrestling:


So from that front row seat where he’d sat through hours upon hours of heroics and histrionics, staged fights and scripted challenges, Donald Trump learned from pro wrestling how to perform, how to gain notoriety, and how to throw away any factual basis to his threats, promises, or claims while garnering attention – hence running The Apprentice and using Vince’s line ‘You’re fired!’ on mainstream media. To truly test this knowledge and showmanship, he joined McMahon in his own storylines in 2007 and Trump took to the stage of WrestleMania where the two wagered their own infamous hairstyles on their respective chosen charges, with wrestler-turned-Celebrity Deathmatch star Steve Austin playing the role of the Mills Lane-style special guest referee.

Vince McMahon lost, getting his head shaved. But he didn’t mind public humiliation as part of the show; after all, he had nothing else left to prove.

Fellow billionaire Ted Turner, owner of CNN, TNT and TBS, so begrudged Vince’s refusal to sell the WWF to him that he threw everything from his other successful ventures into the wrestling organisation he did acquire, WCW – even if it meant losing Pay-Per-View revenue by putting top main event marquee matches on Monday nights, up against the WWF’s flagship show. By the time AOL Time Warner bigwigs came in to take over Turner’s businesses, they realised WCW was leeching off the other initiatives, so sold it off from Turner’s empire – ironically, to none other than McMahon himself, meaning he’d bought Turner’s wrestling company, rather than the other way around.

Vince immediately portrayed the turn of events as the victory of an up-and-coming underdog against a mighty multinational conglomerate – mostly driven by his own jealousy of Turner – and given the somewhat petty, classless way Turner had gone about trying to crush the WWF, it was easy at the time to applaud McMahon for the upset. But there were other forces, too, that contributed to sympathy for Vince and Linda McMahon around this time.

WWF star Mick Foley, who hit the news for his death-defying stunts to a backdrop of fan-made signs reading “Foley is God,” wrote New York Times bestseller Foley Is Good: And The Real World is Faker Than Wrestling. In that book, he highlighted how the right-wing Parents Television Council clashed with the WWF for their increasingly mature programming content that included racy storylines and Foley’s own violent performances. The PTC was set up by L. Brent Bozell, III, son of infamous communist witch-hunt leader Joseph McCarthy’s ally L. Brent Bozell, Jr, and according to Foley’s book utilised similar scare tactics against the wrestling company, even blaming four playground deaths on WWF performances. Wrote Foley: ‘It was a strategy that has produced marvelous results in the storied history of smear campaigns. No one could possibly prove that they were not a witch during the Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. The Jewish people could not prove that they were not a cause of economic problems in Germany in the 1930s. Alleged Communists could not possibly prove that they were not communists during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. And Bozell probably believes that the World Wrestling Federation cannot possibly prove that wrestling did not play any part in those four deaths.’

The rags-to-riches WWF later humorously co-opted the campaign against them by creating an on-screen parody of the PTC called the RTC (Right to Censor), while company directors like Lowell P. Weicker, Jr – a liberal politician – continued to defend the WWF publicly in opposition to the ultra-conservative “religious right.” The McMahons eventually weathered the storm, just as they had in the 1990s when the feds targeted their company specifically for rampant steroid use, nearly putting the WWF out of business, just as Vince had been pursuing his labour of love, the World Bodybuilding Federation (or WBF).

The McMahons after their successful steroid trial defence.

But after Ted Turner’s WCW had been bought – and promptly crushed; shut down – by Vince McMahon, his rebellious streak began to arrive at its end. There was no more competition. He’d become more rich and powerful than he’d ever imagined, and the family business was suddenly becoming the monopolising ultra-corporate interest he’d criticised Turner for pursuing: stock traded as WWFE (World Wrestling Federation Entertainment), with its initial public offering in 1999, partly to raise finance for his latest pet project, the XFL, after the collapse of the WBF.

Vince was obsessed with being more than just a “carny” pro wrestling promoter; he banned from his shows words like “wrestling” to be replaced with terms such as “sports-entertainment”, “wrestlers” instead called “superstars” even if they were unknown, and screamed into commentators’ headsets to have them refrain from saying “belts” or “bouts” or “feuds.”

As an alternative to the NFL, the XFL, of course, was another failure, and admittedly the mainstream media were not without fault, with their instant ridicule of the product challenging the American football establishment, despite the fact the XFL actually inspired change in the NFL as well.

After the XFL was gone, along with directors like Lowell Weicker, Jr, the all-powerful, all-knowing yet unknown WWFE shareholders remained, and Vince’s campaign to “Get the F out” – changing the WWFE to simply WWE after the World Wildlife Fund had taken legal action on use of the acronym “WWF” – was one of his last attempts of edgy rebellion, by definition a surrender to long-established forces. Far from being diehard fans of his product, the shareholders were of course only interested in the bottom line, which meant no more experimental creativity, and no more risks. The product, to this day, has remained ultra-corporate, formulaic, and stale, full of hyper-scripted content and product placement.

It also meant no more scandals.

When mild-mannered Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit – secretly suffering from severe concussions and brain damage – shockingly killed himself and his family, while pro wrestling roving reporters like Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller were trying to draw attention to the industry’s need for better wrestler rights (something Jesse Ventura had wanted while fighting to form a union), the mainstream media instead threw investigative journalism completely out of the window and claimed steroid abuse and ‘roid rage had caused the killings, despite the fact they had occurred not, in fact, in a fit of rage but over the course of a weekend.

It didn’t matter. The feds returned, and the McMahons were back in front of them again having to explain themselves, only briefly touching on wrestlers’ rights enough to force Vince to introduce a WWE “Wellness Policy,” but stopping short of preventing them tying wrestlers into unfairly binding contracts while calling them “independent contractors” and making them pay for their own travel, injury bills and pension plans.

Vince (far right) famously rolls his eyes during Linda’s speech conceding to Chris Murphy in a race for the U.S. Senate.

Linda, meanwhile, had by this time unsuccessfully run for office more as a personal ambition, and as seemingly an annoyance to Vince. Until Vince realised he could get the government off his back for good if he had influence there.

When they found out their old oddball ally Donald Trump was now running for office himself, they pumped around $7 million into his campaign to help get him into the White House. Trump’s approach, ‘unparalleled in modern presidential history,’ was to guarantee influential positions for those willing to pay for it by putting him in power.

Almost all of these cabinet picks have massive conflicts of interest from the public’s perspective, but from their own perspective they now occupy the corridors of power for the express purpose of deregulating the business sectors in which they operate. Trump’s simply giving them dividends on their investment. When he campaigned suggesting he meant business, you’d better believe at least that much is true.

It might treat pro wrestlers shamefully, but WWE is safe and sound even though it may have no soul left. No longer innovative, ground-breaking, or risk-taking with liberals on its board taking on the McCarthyists, today it’s part of the establishment it used to rail against. In their pursuit of more money and power, they’ve been swallowed whole by a shareholder profit motive and their political allegiances, and they’re a bigger part of the problems they used to cite and complain about. Even Ted Turner opposes Donald Trump, who in turn attacks CNN. Now, Turner is the favourable anti-hero, and Vince the establishment stooge who didn’t make it on his own in the end but was bailed out and bought and controlled by investors and politicos.

Linda McMahon has been appointed Administrator of the Small Business Administration and the McMahons – and therefore WWE – have reach right into the White House. There resides a President who, true to pro wrestling live-action pulp fiction, claims his predecessors are “McCarthyists” while he himself was mentored by Joe McCarthy’s sidekick, Roy Cohn. But again, truth doesn’t matter, and if you argue with him, state your case, or even present cold hard facts, you’re labeled “fake news” – what the Nazis used to call lugenpresse to discredit evidence against them.

Trump, like the McMahons, know too well the dishonesty of the corporate mainstream media and its various agendas, but is now exploiting that in order to attack any and all evidence against himself. In many ways, the press brought it on itself, but the lies of this President are on such a scale that they threaten to provide a smokescreen over the truths we do get from mass media and journalists. It’s frightening to dismiss all of it as “fake news.”

No, the only truly “fake news” these days is that coming out of the Trump administration, you can be sure of that. In a regime targeting environmentalists, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, women and the LGBT community to name a few, they’re relying on the white nationalist Steve Bannon to handle the propaganda strategy while sending Sean Spicer to berate the press that are being kicked out if they don’t report on Trump favourably. When confronted with facts, they present “alternative facts” (also known as lies). In true Orwellian fashion, to Trump lies are truth and truth is lies – or “lugenpresse.”

Again, this is far more fake than pro wrestling, where chair shots to the head gave life-shattering concussions and supposed “superstars” pay for their own trips and healthcare costs and often end up making more money on the independent circuit. The dangers of pro wrestling are very real, but now the carny promoters are part of Trump’s administration, they don’t have to worry about that. They’ll just keep promoting Trump instead – a superstar more dangerous than Hulk Hogan, more scripted than John Cena. A superstar they helped to create to gain influence, in exchange for millions of dollars and the spirit of entrepreneurial rebellion.

They taught him how to create a show and tell a story, even if it wasn’t true or real. And now Mick Foley is finally right: the real world is faker than wrestling.