Originally published at Death and Taxes, ed. Brian Abrams, 14 March 2016.
Grateful thanks to the Internet Archive for preserving this work.
The Hulk Hogan/Gawker Media trial in St. Petersburg has commenced alongside the spectacle of Donald Trump’s ever-tightening chokehold on the Republican nomination. There are powerful parallels between these two men: Both are megalomaniacs, long in the public eye, and both are compulsive liars to the bone — the kind of liars who deliver their easily disproved whoppers with a flourish of showmanship.
Trump has famously claimed that he witnessed Muslims celebrating in Jersey City on 9/11; had there been Muslims rejoicing in public on that day, it’s impossible that the sight of them would have been remarked by Donald Trump alone. Hogan claimed that Elvis Presley used to come see him wrestle; the King died two years before Hogan even set foot in the ring. These and others like them are lies so spectacular that it’s hard to believe anyone would listen to a word either one of these people say. And yet.
Both men have long, deeply checkered pasts that include strings of failed businesses and documented allegations of abuse of women, but maybe the most significant trait they share is that they are “stars” of the great oxymoron that defines and encapsulates them both: Reality TV. Trump and Hogan are both past their prime and into a final thrust, a last, great leap into the spotlight, taking huge risks to parlay the ersatz “reality” of their fame into a larger success in the actual, real reality. To some extent it looks as if they might pull it off — whether at the Republican convention in Cleveland or in a St. Petersburg courtroom — because both men have, however improbably, adoring fans who don’t appear to know or care that their man is a titanic liar and fraud.
After court adjourned on Friday, reporters dashed downstairs to have a word with the plaintiff. A gaggle of us surrounded Hogan, who has appeared each day wearing a black suit and black T-shirt, a black bandana and a prominent silver cross on a silver chain. At 62, Hogan appears fit and tanned, though he walks a bit haltingly; his body has endured a lot of injuries, steroids and other drugs, and multiple surgeries.
“How do you feel?” asked one reporter.
“Oh, man. Like I just wrestled eighteen Andre the Giants,” he said. Hogan seems very unthreatening in person; there’s something friendly and approachable about him. He carries an air of exhaustion. And there’s a fake, actor-ish quality, too, though maybe I wouldn’t think so if I hadn’t read so much about him, in particular his ex-wife Linda’s memoir, “Wrestling the Hulk: My Life Against the Ropes.”
“He held me down on the bed with his hands around my throat during arguments,” she writes. “Slamming doors, pounding walls.”
Here’s this huge, affable man chatting blandly with the press. There was an African-American family hovering nearby, and they asked to take a photo — a mom and dad, with a daughter aged about 12. They were starstruck, having fun. The mom, who was wearing turquoise scrubs and seemed to have just gotten off work, was particularly thrilled. Her dark eyes glowed at the proximity of the massive star. But she didn’t want to be on TV, she said, and asked the cameramen not to record her as they took their star photos. Hogan laughed at that.
“If I asked that,” he said to us reporters, “would you guys do that for me?” I could almost hear all of us thinking the same thing: He would never want the cameras to be turned off.
Shortly afterward, the group broke up. We all headed to our cars. About a block away in the warm, humid Florida air, I noticed the family walking my way. They stopped me. “Excuse me, what is his last name? Did you see him?” This sweet lady, maybe 30, so excited still. Her daughter had a grave, quiet air about her, long graceful legs. The gentle, bespectacled dad in a golf shirt and baseball cap, carried a briefcase.
Oh yes, Bollea, I said. B-o-l-l-e-a. They didn’t know his last name, so maybe they also didn’t know why he was in court, or that he had been caught on tape saying, of his own daughter, “If she was going to fuck some nigger, I’d rather have her marry an eight-foot-tall nigger worth a hundred million dollars … I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking nigger.”
But he’d posed with them in such a friendly way, draping his arm over the dad’s shoulders and pointing at him as if to say, “Hey, this guy!”
By his own admission, Hogan has been lying for money for more than four decades. As a professional wrestler, he writes in his memoir, “My Life Outside the Ring”:
There was a way to make people believe that Hulk Hogan was a real hero, and that if you train and take your vitamins and say your prayers you, too, can be a hero. I wanted people to be absolutely hooked on this stuff so it entered their lives on a daily basis — not just once a month or a few times a year.
With respect to the “soft-scripting” of his reality TV show, “Hogan Knows Best”:
They give you a scenario — hopefully something close to what you might encounter in your real life, or at least a pumped-up version of your real life — and they tell you the potential outcome …
To the courtroom last week in the lawsuit he is pursuing against Gawker Media, when confronted with the proof of various lies about having seen the sex tape, having known he was being videotaped: “I was probably in the Hulk Hogan mode … It gives you artistic ability, to be a character.”
There are two Donald Trumps, as well, according to Donald Trump.
Hogan’s specific claim against Gawker is invasion of privacy. He has already lost against the publisher in federal court but managed to add them as a defendant in a prior lawsuit he’d filed against Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and his then-wife, Heather Clem, who is Hogan’s partner in the video. Eventually, Hogan settled with both Clems, leaving Gawker as the defendant.
Many believe that the case doesn’t belong in court at all: This is a First Amendment matter, a matter of free speech, and juries don’t weigh in on constitutional questions. But the judge in this local court, to which Hogan turned when he lost his last appeal, is Pamela Campbell, who, in 2000, was the lawyer for the Schindlers, the deeply religious parents who sued to keep their brain-damaged daughter, Terri Schiavo, on life support. Then-Florida governor Jeb Bush, who was deeply and dishonorably involved in the Schiavo case, appointed Campbell to the court. It is difficult to avoid the assumption that Campbell is an arch-conservative who would be happy to see the liberal New York publication Gawker embarrassed, if not outright ruined, and her behavior so far has borne that assumption out.
It is very difficult to understand how the man who made the following remarks on “The Howard Stern Show” in 2011, four years after Heather Clem and Hogan were videotaped in flagrante, managed to sue anybody one year later over the invasion of his privacy, when the tape was published and it became altogether clear that he’d been lying the whole time about all he claimed to Stern.
Howard Stern: If Heather came on to you … beautiful woman. Let’s say you didn’t have you’re beautiful ah, wife. You’re married now, right? To your girlfriend.
Hulk Hogan: You’re horrible. You’re so bad.
HS: Would you ever fuck Heather? [he already had]
HH: No. [that would be, Yes]
HS: You would not?
HH: No. Man law, brother. [Okay it was at the invitation of her husband! still, though]
HS: You would honor that Man Law.
HH: Yeah. Even if they were divorced for 10 years. [the sign of a skilled liar, embellishments like these]
HS: You would never fuck Heather. [even you didn’t really believe this, Howard]
HH: Or if I met your ex-wife, simply because she was your ex-wife.
HS: You wouldn’t fuck my ex-wife?
HH: No way.
HS: I love you, man. Thank you.
HH: No, that’s man law, brother. You don’t do that.
HS: I love that you understand that. I meet so many guys that are feminine, and don’t understand this. [feminine?!]
HH: You don’t do that.
“Hulk Hogan mode,” in short, through and through.
Everything is possible for those who believe. In “Mythologies,” Roland Barthes had this to say about wrestling: “In the ring, and even in the depths of their voluntary ignominy, wrestlers remain gods because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible.”
At root, both Trump and Hogan rely on the burning desire people have for things to make the simplest kind of sense — as if life were a game show that anyone can win, provided you have the right formula or follow the right leader. An easy answer, an article of faith, is so much better and more comforting than the complicated, largely unpleasant, difficult truth. But, in the end, the predisposition to live in a world of entertaining, simple lies solidifies and is institutionalized, until you end up with a delusional culture, a super-simulacrum like that of Fox News. These clowns arose like an emanation straight out of a corrupt media that has increasingly privileged what is entertaining over what is true or important.
Every publication satisfied with clickbaiting headlines, every cheap attempt to gather money or fame by providing fake, easy, happy, easily digestible, corporate-controlled and inoffensive media — whoever makes or participates in these is complicit in what we’re seeing now. People of no character at all who don’t scruple to grab and hang onto public attention with all their might. When the conscience of our culture has eroded to the point where attention can be used to grab actual power? Over a courtroom and a jury, over the First Amendment, or over a political party? What then?
All these connections are evident to Hogan as well, it would seem. In 2015, he said that he wants “to be Trump’s running mate.” Can you say it would surprise you?
[photos: Tampa Bay Times, WWE]