On Learning From Hulk Hogan and the N-Word (Part II, Dirty Secrets and Compassion)

Read Part I of my notes on Hogan and the N-word here.

Once the second article in this expose was revealed, this one by a National Inquirer affiliate called Radar Online, it became clear that Hogan’s N-word rant was made public with the seediest of motives, in a format intended to manipulate readers into a froth of indignation. The most shocking lines were quoted out of their context, and there were plenty of rabble-rousing explanations to make sure we were as outraged as possible, such as:

“He also attempts to use bizarre, twisted logic in an attempt to justify his bigotry at the man.”

and

“Then, in a tirade to rival the racism embarrassments suffered by Mel Gibson and “Dog The Bounty Hunter,” Hulk unloaded even more hatred!”

The Radar Online article only really added the extra detail that Jamie Foxx’s name was mentioned, though it doesn’t look to me like he was the actual target of the N-word, even though Radar Online explicitly states that Jamie Foxx is slurred in its clickbait headline:

Disgraceful! Shamed Wrestler Hulk Hogan SLAMS Jamie Foxx In New N Word Shame –– ANOTHER Shocking Slur REVEALED

Reporting on deplorable language doesn’t excuse deplorable yellow journalism. What they reported Hogan actually saying was “Fucking n*gger… he had Jamie Foxx coming in on the 22nd track.” Take note that Jamie Foxx is the object of the sentence, not the subject “he”, the pronoun that then links to “f*cking n*igger”. The racist language was directed at the “black billionaire,” who would appear to be the record producer Hulk invested in to launch his daughter’s music career. I’m not sure what “coming in on the 22nd track” means or has to do with anything, but I have a theory: Hogan felt like the producer was squandering his investment in his daugher’s music career, and that is evidenced by Jamie Foxx, who must have cost a bundle, being brought in on one of the tracks.

The way this scandal was revealed made it very difficult to make sense of the context and understand the bigger picture of why Hogan went to his racist place during this conversation. If the motive of the National Enquirer was truth and justice, why didn’t they release the entire transcript, or even better, the entire audio, so we could judge Hogan’s words in more of their context for ourselves? Be cognizant of this, if you think Hogan is an irredeemable person whose legacy deserves to be destroyed: your point of view may have merit, but you are being played like a fiddle by the muckrakers at the National Inquirer and Radar Online, who must be making bank in ad revenue over this scandal. Keep that in mind as a layer of this controversy that is easy to overlook: the “journalists” who broke this story are equal-opportunity predators, and will destroy anyone’s life if if they think it will sell copies and lure hits.

None of this changes what Hulk Hogan said, much of which was undeniably vile. And I should reiterate also that these quotes come off a sex tape with a mistress, over which there is a contentious lawsuit; Hogan clearly wasn’t living the proper “say your prayers, take your vitamins” lifestyle he espoused to my generation of Hulkamaniacs during this time. But considering the bias of the source, it’s still necessary to look closer at the words and their message if we are to move beyond the blind indignation the National Inquirer is banking on us feeling to grasp the nuanced truth of Hogan’s racist words. I first tried to reassemble all the lines quoted in the article together to create a full monologue, but it came out jumbled and difficult to read, and I wasn’t sure what sequence the lines should go in or if they even formed the complete transcript. So I will pick my own lines to comment on, in attempt to tell this story without the scandal, a story delivered by an inarticulate, possibly sleep-deprived narrator, whose judgement and decency are both clouded by his unhappiness and resentment.

At first Hogan paints a picture of himself as a father who is watching helplessly as his twenty-something daughter makes poor career and life choices:

She is making some real bad decisions now. My daughter Brooke jumped sides on me. I spent $2-3 million on her music career, I’ve done everything like a jackass for her. The one option Brooke had, Brooke’s career besides me, is [to] sell beach records.

His tenses are inconsistent, he’s not explaining the situation very clearly, his mind is probably raging faster than his mouth can keep up with. It’s unclear whose side Brooke “jumped” to, or what exactly her “bad decisions” are, but we get the idea: Hogan sees his daughter as spoiled, unappreciative, unambitious, without prospects besides selling “beach records” (this must be a Venice Beach thing I wouldn’t understand). I don’t know Brooke Hogan is the way her father characterized her that day, but it’s a classic rich father’s conundrum — he realizes in disappointment how his own success and its subsequent material wealth has hobbled the drive and ambition of his children.

This is the point at which Hogan’s mind begins to really seethe, fueled by fatherly worry and helplessness, where he searches feverishly for a target on which to project his vengeful blame so he doesn’t have to face his own inadequacies as a father, and his beloved daughter’s inadequacies as a functional adult. (I’ve come to realize lately how much everyone I know does this. I’m working very hard to break the habit of doing this myself. It’s so much easier to find someone to resent in your mind than it is to look at your own flaws, weaknesses, mistakes, and moral shortcomings.) So as Hogan’s thoughts are spinning into irrationality as he lets himself wonder if Brooke’s irresponsibility has her sleeping around as she pursues her record deal, which is every father’s nightmare to ponder. That’s what leads him to his deep, dark, racist place:

I don’t know if Brooke was f*cking the black guy’s son. I mean, I don’t have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, f*cking n*ggers. But then when it comes to nice people and shit*, and whatever.

He sees himself projecting his rage onto the black billionaire and his son, and at first it’s like he tries to stop it. “I mean, I don’t have double standards,” he says, trying to catch himself and remind himself that of course, it’s not that the guy who might be fucking his daughter is black that he has a problem with, but... And yet he doesn’t complete the thought, because he’s spiraled down into this uncomfortable part of his psyche, the one full of cognitive dissonance about race and his own demons of prejudice. There would appear no rational reason for Hogan to even call himself a racist here. He’s just rambling, nobody seems to be arguing or accusing him of anything at this stage in the sex tape. But he sinks to that level, so full of hateful rage in the moment that he destroys his career: “I am racist, to a point, f*cking n*ggers.”  The quality of his language is really devolving here; just look at the last sentence. It’s an incomplete fragment stalling out in verbal filler — “and shit, and whatever” — because he has talked himself into a nosedive and for whatever unconscious reason can’t seem to pull back out.

I mean, I’d rather if she was going to f*ck some n*gger, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n*gger worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player! I guess we’re all a little racist.

So this is where he’s in a really weird place. It doesn’t sound at all like the poised showman we think we know so well, does it? It sounds almost cartoonishly racist, this business about an eight-foot tall N-word basketball player who make a million dollars. It’s Hogan’s most overt racial stereotyping, the most damning passage in the monologue as far as we know. But I think this passage may also allude the reality of celebrity culture. He’s not being entirely ridiculous to suggest his daughter could marry an NBA player, if you think about the sorts of celebrity types the Hogan family mixes with at Wrestlemanias, Hollywood openings, and the like. And notice how he says he would rather she “marry” a basketball player than “fuck” one. I suspect this is a subconscious choice of words: this is his daughter, and he would rather she marry than fuck. Maybe, deep down, this is what the whole thing is about.

If I’ve made the correct guess as to the sequences of these passages, Hogan somehow pulls back from the dark racist place when his daughter resurfaces in the narrative, in a further example of how she has disappointed him. Hogan feels so loyal to his daughter, and yet we’re aware somehow she has betrayed him. And I think it broke his heart.

Brooke f*cks up a ten million dollar deal I had with the Saudis. Brooke says, ‘F*ck you dad.’ She’s never said that. She flipped a bird at me.

We see more of his inarticulate, emotionally figurative language here: she said “fuck you”, no she didn’t say “fuck you”, but she flipped the bird at me and and that’s what that means. We should all stop and consider how rambling we sound in a casual conversation, how we contradict ourselves, choose the wrong words sometimes, and speak without thinking. That is very much part of the context here. We’re also reminded here that Hulk Hogan is a businessman dealing in delicate, multinational negotiations for huge sums of money. His daughter fucked up a ten million dollar deal with the Saudis! Can you even imagine? I cannot express the extent to which the shit would have hit the fan if I ever fucked up a ten million dollar deal for my father. Who knows what she did to fuck up the deal, but Hogan clearly feels like she is ungrateful for his support and even worse, interfering with his ability to refill the coffers after he sunk money into her ill-fated music career.

A close look at Hogan’s words reveals that his narrative isn’t actually about racism. The racism is a bizarre tangent into his psyche, perhaps fueled by the taboo excitement of the affair he’s having. The National Inquirer minimized the importance of the dominant narrative because the N-word stuff is so deliciously scandalous, but Hogan’s affair and sex tape are really about his failing family relationships, most notably his wife and daughter. This is made clear in the final line I’m including here:

I have this huge f*cking house in Miami. My family never comes home. They went to LA. F*ck ’em.

I’m sure there is more to the drama of Hulk Hogan and his family, and I don’t mean to vilify Brooke Hogan here. She posted a very sweet, emotional poem about her father on the internet in which I could see she felt terrible about how this situation unfolded. That said, this is the narrative I imagine emerging from his words: Hogan feels like his family doesn’t appreciate him. He lived a life on the road as the most revered hero in wrestling history, making enough money for his family to live an affluent, easy lifestyle for the rest of their lives. And yet this lifestyle stunted the family bonds he now longs for. It’s the classic wrestler’s conundrum, for which he feels deep frustration, hurt, resentment, and probably a good deal of guilt buried beneath his accusations that it is his family members who are the distant, uncaring ones.

There are certainly legions of deplorable violent racists and deeply institutionalized racists and dopey people who just don’t understand the pain the N-word word causes when they speak it, they’re some kind of racist too. But I don’t think Hogan is one of these. Racism is not a source of pride or a foundational ideology for Hogan, it’s his dirty little secret. For the most part he doesn’t have problems with black people. “But when it comes to nice people and shit, and whatever,” he says. The Rock’s take on Hogan’s rant was interesting: after noting that he was disappointed in what he heard from Hogan and had never known him to be racist, he also said this:

It’s funny, it’s one of those things where—I’m not justifying what he said—but we’ve all talked trash. Especially in private. He said what he said and now he’s paying the price.

Old school black wrestler Kamala had a similar forgiving take on Hogan’s language:

But over the years, I guess I’m more mature and the way I see it now is we have our little things that we say about white people. Not that we mean harm by doing it, we do it in privacy. We have little jokes and have fun about it. This is me personally now, I do not think Hogan meant harm by saying that and Hogan is my brother until he decides not to be.

Both Kamala and the Rock were clear that they had never thought of Hogan as racist after having known him for many years. In fact, Kamala noted how helpful Hogan was to him during his wrestling career, and Rock described how helpful Hogan had been to his father. It would seem Hogan sees nice black people as human beings, valued colleagues, perhaps even kindred spirits. By his own admission here, Hogan’s racism emerges when he perceives a black person as a threat or an asshole. He can’t get over black people who are threats or assholes. Somehow he can’t see threat or asshole as a human trait when it’s a black billionaire in the music business who he feels like is exploiting his daughter and squandering his investment in her career: in his mind it attaches as a negative to race. He knows he shouldn’t feel this way, and he knows that it’s shameful, but he can’t help it. It’s part of a bygone era that got stuck inside of him. He’s not happy about it, he never, ever, ever meant for anyone to find out about it, he let it out in a vulnerable, cathartic moment when he was angry, resentful, feeling estranged from his family and sharing his secret feelings with a secret mistress, foolishly thinking that his secret racism would be safe.

I think Mick Foley has been feeling the awkward complexity of this situation in the same way I have. He tweeted the Bible verse “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” (which he appears to have taken down) and put this on his Facebook:

I didn’t read the comment threads in response, but I guess some people couldn’t get behind his point of view. To those who would see compassion for Hulk Hogan in this situation as forgiving the unforgivable, and that this revelation nullifies anything good he has ever done in the world, I won’t try to tell you you’re wrong. But I would ask you this question: how would you feel if your dirtiest secret was published in the National Inquirer, and it destroyed your reputation and career? You may not be racist, but don’t try to tell me you don’t have dirty secrets. That is why I feel compassion for Hulk Hogan. This man is being forced to face his dark truths during a very difficult time in a very difficult way. Having run up against some of my own dark truths in recent years, I can empathize with where he’s at right now. His encouragement helped me survive junior high (what a nightmare!) so I doesn’t seem right not to offer him compassionate encouragement, too. You can find your way through this, Hulk. You can evolve out of your racist shadow side and emerge from this scandal a better person. You’ve messed up pretty bad here, but you believed in me during the worst years of my life. So right now I believe in you too: you can find a way to make this right somehow.

I’d like to consider one more thing about context here. What if we were to find out that Hulk Hogan and his mistress had recently watched Chris Rock’s classic N-word comedy routine? Here’s a snippet, h/t The New Black Magazine:

You can’t have anything valuable in your house. Niggers will break in and take it all! Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people don’t like about black people. It’s like our own personal civil war. On one side, there’s black people. On the other, you’ve got niggers. The niggers have got to go. I love black people, but I hate niggers. I am tired of niggers. Tired, tired, tired.

(Incidentally, there’s a fairly amazing coincidence in the article from which I borrowed the Chris Rock quote. It’s a compelling essay written by a black reverend, and it includes the following line: “That is a racist statement, I know. I am a racist. America is racist. Only drunk people and liars would say differently.” He says the same thing Hogan did in an entirely different context, and it’s just fine. I point this out not to call unfair or anything like that, but as another example in which context is everything. In this case the context of a well-written essay vs. inarticulate rambling caught on a sex tape.)

What Hogan said conveys a similar message to the Chris Rock routine: nice black people are fine, it’s the N-word black people he can’t tolerate. I don’t actually suspect Hogan was referencing Chris Rock, but what if he was? Would you see his private racist rant in a different light? Is the N-word so taboo that white people can’t safely reference it’s use or quote it, even in private? You’ll notice I’m defaulting to the phrase “N-word” unless I’m explicitly quoting, even though I’m writing about it as a theorist with an interest in profane language, because I fear the destructive power of this particular taboo word being associated with my voice on the internet. But I’ll tell you, it feels pretty silly to censor myself. It feels like I’m letting the bad word win, like I’m not brave enough to confront it. But it’s not just me, even the fearless scandal-mongers at the National Inquirer and Radar Online shy away from the word they’re so excited to reveal. In their articles, you’ll notice they always tempered it with an asterisk (“n*gger”) as though that somehow protects them from its power.

This brings me to the final thing I want to discuss in this series: the vignette in which Vince McMahon called John Cena “my nigga”! These are such treacherous words for white people to interact with in any context, as evidenced by McMahon’s satirical use of “my nigga” on Youtube being used as an example of McMahon’s hypocrisy, toying with the N-word while condemning Hogan’s use of it. Stay tuned for this as Part III of my Hogan/N-word notes, sometime in the near future, as soon as my runaway brain stops at that station. And like I said the last time, I welcome level-headed comments to this post. I’m not speaking as an expert on the topic of race here, but as an enthusiast of words and meaning, so I’m certainly interested in hearing other observations about this scandal and N-word usage in our culture.

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2 Comments

  1. August 6, 2015

    What people often don’t realize about racism in our society today is that being not racist is not actually the default. The misconception is that real racists are redneck KKK members that actively and enthusiasticly hate black people. Sure, we’re all born without prejudices and we learn them as we grow up, but in this world we all learn them whether we want to or not, no matter how progressive our upbringing. We live in a country that was built on racism, that still has it running through its veins. In order to not be racist, you have to actually work towards it. You have to educate yourself, you have examine and be critical of your own biases, and you have to listen to what people of color are saying on the matter. And even then, you will still most likely be kind of racist.

    When someone shows that they have slurs like the n-word in their vocabulary, I am immediately wary of them regardless of intent. You show me that you have the pistol loaded, I’m taking several steps back. However, I think the way we talk about people who do or say racist things is often flawed. Someone like Hogan, you uses the word in a private moment when he’s frustrated and uttering essentially a stream of consciousness, are not monsters that need to be cast out. They’re just people who have the same programming as the rest of us, who have either not taken the opportunity to examine their internal biases, or simply have had the luxury of never having to really think about it too much (this is what we’re talking about when we bring up white privilege). I’m not terribly interested in defending Hogan, he’s a grown ass man whose made his own bed. But I am really irritated with the way the WWE has handled the situation. And I like reading about the way you’re breaking down this narrative linguisticly.

    • August 7, 2015

      Thank you for such an insightful comment, Alexa! You make some excellent points. I agree about how poorly WWE has handled this thing. It was an opportunity for discussion about what words mean and how we use them, and yet they buried it like Benoit’s double murder-suicide.

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