Today I was asked on my Facebook page to give my thoughts on a video that highlighted the hypocrisy in WWE’sfiring of Hulk Hogan. Since this has been such a heavily debated topic, I wanted to share that post here, along with the video. First the video, then my reaction. Please be advised the video includes language NSFW.
I can’t help but point out the video’s creator called Alberto Del Rio “Albert” and mispronounced The Great “Khali,” but perhaps I am nitpicking.
The first thing that needs to be stated is WWE makes a living on creating characters based on stereotypes. Some are more clearly defined than others but most -- if not all -- gimmicks have shreds of some type of stereotype intertwined within them. The idea is to create characters people can relate to in hopes they are found compelling and thus garner a reaction - positive, negative or both. The key to any character’s success is that it garners a reaction. The worst thing in the pro wrestling business is a character that does not get a reaction.
WWE’s racially insensitive past is well documented and this video is proof of that. You can also add a long history of storylines that are sexist, ethnocentric or just down right filthy. If you’re easily offended, basically go back and watch anything on WWE TV from the Attitude Era and you can make a video, post a rant or start any type of viral protest you desire.
This is why it’s important to remember that the characters seen on WWE television are fictional characters, meant to entertain. If you find them controversial, they are or were good characters. If you’re easily offended, WWE or pro wrestling in general is probably a poor form of entertainment for you to choose because it’s full of gimmicks meant to invoke a response and it will likely drive you crazy.
Now, before you think I’m about to say “people are offended way too easy these days,” stop right there. I am not saying that. Our culture is becoming and more and more sensitive to issues pertaining to minorities, including issues involving race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s my belief people of the aforementioned minorities are sick and tired of discrimination and are standing up to invoke much needed change. Progress — especially progress that sees ALL PEOPLE being treated with equal amounts of dignity and respect — is a good thing.
Going back to WWE, I believe it’s fair to question if they have a race problem. Not so much based on the exposure of stereotypes in creating fictional characters but when evaluating who gets pushed and who doesn’t and who is scripted to carry prominent championship belts and who isn't. Last summer, we linked to an article by The Atlantic that dove deeper into these issues at this link.
It’s difficult for me, a straight white man living in America, to give you my opinion on issues of discrimination. I can only do my best in reporting the issues and leave it to the voices of the minorities to offer their input. That’s why I believe it’s so important for people like Mark Henry to speak up when there are issues involving race or Darren Young to speak up when there are issues involving sexual orientation.
As for Hogan’s firing, we can easily see the hypocrisy. Not just from the aforementioned video highlighting a number of WWE’s ridiculously over-the-top gimmicks meant to be ridiculously over-the-top but the fact that Michael Hayes is still a prominent WWE employee. Michael Hayes was suspended for 60 days in 2008 after reportedly using the n-word during an out of the ring incident with Mark Henry.
Hogan’s firing was a gloried public relations move. WWE is in the midst of changing their business model from traditional pay-per-view to the WWE Network. It’s clear Vince McMahon needs the support of his investors and he didn’t want them thinking the WWE Network was growing because of Hogan. After all the main reason Hogan was brought back last year was to sell the WWE Network to lapsed fans. A public ambassador to use his highly recognizable face to establish the WWE Network to people that may not watch WWE today.
Simply put, WWE couldn’t employee Hogan for the sole purpose he’s a recognizable face in fear his racist tirade would shed them in the wrong light. His termination was unavoidable given his role in the company. We can argue and debate for hours on end regarding issues of hypocrisy, the fact Hayes was suspended but not fired and a host of other issues. But Hogan’s firing was all about not rattling investor confidence or damaging the perception of the growing WWE Network.