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Performing Meta-Catharsis: Hulk Hogan's "Redemption" Arc as Racist Apologia

by Ethan Tussey

by Garret Castleberry for IN MEDIA RESEgotism. Catharsis. Meta-Cyclical Self-Parody. More real than Real. These qualifiers accompany many evocations of pathos that come to mind whenever professionalwrestling reaches peak performance as athletic art and craft. Yet the wrestling industry cannot not help but remain an insular, incestuous, and highly self-aware product that invites fans into a mediated product(ion) so exhaustive it's leading company now threatens cable with a stand-alone streaming service supplied by seemingly unending archival footage and contemporary programing alike. Nostalgia-schmalgia, this is atemporal bliss. Viewers need only sit back and immerse themselves in the funhouse glaze of sweaty bodies in high-camp collision. Alongside pro-wrestling's poly-reflexive history exists a stunted reliance upon an ethnocentric status quo. Wrasslin's always been able to straddle rac(ist) line(s) due to overt genre formulas and using stereotyping-as-storytelling.WWE made national headlines (strategically?) when they scrubbed the entire Hulkamania canon from its website (sort of) following Gawker's release of Hogan's racist diatribe(recorded on his Internet sextape, no less). Hogan's personal life turned triple toxic in the late 2000's. Arguably, attempted cover ups of racist vitriole shares resurrgent popularity among otherSouthern Gothic fixations purveying televisual content. In addition to WWE's scapegoating of Hogan in the face of their own problematiclegacy, pro-wrestling's televisual canon captures a telling history. While a larger project could examine a clearer picture of the role(s) fans play with these hedonic performers, TNA's Immortalstoryline meta-narrativizes Hogan's nightmarish personal descent. Around the 9:30-minute mark, Hogan is caught on a faux black-and-white surveillancetape--a dialogued confession--betraying those fans that loved and supported him for decades. The embarrassed ring reaction shot affectively reveals a Hogan heel turn yet simultaneously plants long-term audience sympathy. Through his employed participation in this storyline, Hogan arguably endorses this redemption storyline as a way to cope with the personal demons Bolea hides from his public life. The storyline finds genre completion through Southern Supernatural Sting as Gothic Joker, signifier for duality and psychological madness. In true Southern Gothic fashion, no secret can lay buried forever, and the past always simmers beneath the surface, haunting the present. Perhaps the ultimate irony here is that Hogan's meta-performance of his persona's redemption from public humiliation can only supply shortform redemption within the context of the kayfabe narrative, not the paratextual discourse that swirls like a steamy fever on a hot summer night.

Pro Wrestling, Racism, and Hulk Hogan

A clip of Hulk Hogan

from Hulk Hogan's Retirement Takes A Shocking Turn (2011)
Creator: TNA Impact Wrestling
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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