Like many Reagan babies, I grew up believing in training, saying my prayers, and eating my vitamins. After all, that’s what Hulk Hogan preached, and at that time he was one of the most influential personalities in American culture.
Hogan was perhaps the ultimate hero of my childhood, defending women against abusive boyfriends, my country against foreign threats, and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) from gibberish-talking, pseudo-demonic warriors.
It didn’t take me too long to figure out that Hogan’s on-screen persona was a “work” — in other words, the Hulkster was a character he played for the show, and not necessarily reflective of his offscreen personality. That realization became further crystalized when Hogan turned his back on his fans during one of the most legendary wrestling storylines of all time in 1996. (At the time, I was 12 and feeling the first pangs of adolescent rebellion, so I could relate to Hogan’s “heel turn.”)
Though he’s now 61 and retired from the ring, Hogan has long since reverted back to the fan-favorite “Hulkamania” persona the world knew and loved during the Reagan years, and the WWE (formerly the WWF) kept him on their programming as a nostalgic brand ambassador even after Gawker published part of a sex tape involving him and the wife of one of his friends, radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge, back in 2012. (The tape was filmed nearly a decade ago.)
But now, another snippet of that same sex tape has revealed Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) as a real-life villain — the type who reportedly uses racial slurs during pillow talk, then goes on to say he’d be okay with his daughter dating a black man if he’s a rich basketball player.
Those sentiments are obviously reprehensible and led to the WWE immediately firing Hogan and scrubbing him from their website like Stalin scrubbed purged Soviet communists from photographs. But one question that’s been largely ignored in the wake of the National Enquirer’s bombshell is whether we should’ve seen video of Hogan having sex or learned about his racist comments in the first place.
Publishing Hogan’s sex tape, both the footage itself and the text of what he says in parts of the video that haven’t yet emerged, is a classic example of “revenge porn” — sexually explicit media that is distributed without the consent of those involved, sometimes with the intention of humiliation or harassment.
Minnesota is one of the states currently considering criminalizing the publication of revenge porn. Though a law of that sort doesn’t apply in Hogan’s case, Bollea has filed a $100 million lawsuit against Gawker for invading his privacy. The media outlet argues its reporting about the contents of the sex tape is protected by the First Amendment. The case, which could put Gawker out of business, awaits trial.
It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone who uses the sort of bigoted language Hogan reportedly did. But the fact remains we wouldn’t have known about his comments if it wasn’t for the fact that a sex tape recorded without Hogan’s knowledge and distributed without his consent has become public knowledge.
Perhaps keeping prurient items of that sort under wraps is impossible in today’s world. But it’s at least worth considering how we’d react if the person’s whose reputation was being destroyed in this case wasn’t an already-scandalized celebrity like Hulk Hogan.
Since news of Hogan’s alleged comments broke last Friday, he’s taken to Twitter to claim he’s not really a racist:
@BigBossKFP yo King thank you my brother,that’s not who I am,only love. HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) July 24, 2015
But at this point, who knows the difference between what’s real and what’s a gimmick?
It’s enough to make one long for simpler days of training, prayers, vitamins, and being naively unaware that Terry Bollea is a much more flawed person than Hulk Hogan leads you to believe.