Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Hogan and the fanboys

Being around real wrestling fans for the first time in a while, I've been paying careful attention to how Hulk Hogan is handled in class conversations. A quote from the reading leapt out at me: "[H]ow ironic then that the one performer who helped wrestling gain mainstream acceptance, taking it to startling heights of popularity and putting it in its rightful place in the strata of pop culture, is usually the wrestler hard-core fans point to as the devil incarnate" (26).

First, I don't find this to be ironic in the slightest. It is, in fact, precisely what I would expect to happen. It's what usually happens when a closed subculture becomes popular enough to flow into the mainstream: the fans (who often supported attempts to legitimize their subculture beforehand) reject the figure who broke their closed world open to the slavering masses. Before people starting hating them for Napster, even before people starting hating them for Load, a clique of hardcore Metallica fans never forgave them for the black album; similarly, every videogame to have attained success with traditionally non-gamer demographics has been roundly condemned by those considering themselves "real" gamers. This seems to be just how human nature functions in fan cultures, and I'd be surprised if wrestling was any different.

In fact, and I hope you'll all correct me if this is too strong an assertion, this subcultural rejection factor seems to me to be the primary cause of the fans' antipathy. Sure, Hulk was greedy, self-centered, refused to give up the title, and helped hollow out and destroy WCW from the inside. Sure, he did enough steroids to look like a cartoon character and then lied about it. (I'm just now remembering some jokes about the "vitamins" he was always endorsing.) Sure, he couldn't wrestle worth a damn. But, really, does any of this make him that different from some of the other performers we've seen and read about this semester? Steroids were pretty commonplace. Lots of bad wrestlers became stars in the post-Thesz era. And who have we read about that hasn't made some stupid, short-sighted decisions when money was involved?


luistenorio said...

I think that this happens with any pop culture phenomena. The same kind of argument about flowing into the mainstream could be said of the WWF. Where Vince McMahon put wrestling out there for everyone to see and he radically changed the business. We see that kind of happening now with people arguing over wrestlers and companies. Phenomenons like the nWo or the Rock or now Degeneration X get to so big that people later on look at it as being cheesy or just too popular for its own good. Online I see discussions about wrestling and those that follow less popular products like TNA believe they watch the better wrestling product or that they work for the better wrestling product. Somehow, they associate the lack of popularity with quality and staying true to wrestling.

Anonymous said...

The backlash you describe occurs within almost all fan groups and culture mediums. Things that are new and trendy will quickly lose their appeal once everyone has heard of it and everyone endorses it. The event/personality/work/etc loses its specialness that way, the 'cool', exclusive factor that made it so appealing in the first place. Once it reaches the mainstream or status quo, the original fans (the hardcore, 'true' fans) will turn their backs on it, their fun having been spoiled by 'posers' who 'jumped on the bandwagon'. They don't give recognition to those that embace the event later, because they weren't the first, and thus must be copying. As Peter noted, this happened with Hogan, DX, the Rock, etc, and elsewhere in pop culture, eg Metallica, Napster, and so much more. Fans are fickle, and it's often hard to keep them enamored without eventually ruining a good thing.

Sam Ford said...

Very astute observation, Peter, and I think you do get to the bottom of the anger some wrestling fans directed at Hogan, and McMahon by extension. Plenty of fans complained about McMahon's 80s version of pro wrestling because they felt he was taking it away from what wrestling really as before, putting the glitz in front of the substance, or as J.R. would say "all sizzle, no steak."

On the other hand, Hogan seems to get it more than other really popular stars, such as Steve Austin, who was the 1990s version of Hulk Hogan as far as becoming the standout wrestling star. The difference for some fans is that they felt Austin could really put on a more athletic match; for others, it was the fact that Austin was the anti-hero that made him easier to root for.

Either way, I think the quote you pulled out, Peter, is very appropriate.