Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hulkamania and Gender in Professional Wrestling

The 1980's saw an explosion in the popularity of professional wrestling in America. Previously it had been a regional business, but in a move that could have ruined him, Vince McMahon decided to try to take his small company - WWF/WWE - national. Appearing on national television, and on networks such as MTV, wrestling was becoming an ubiquitous commodity and as a result, it was becoming an influence on American culture and it's perception of identity. In particular, wrestling became an ifluence on men's pereception of gender and how they should portray themselves as an American male.  A wrestling audience is 90% male, and wrestlers are characters used to tell stories. As a result, wrestlers become aspirational figures for men. WWF's most popular wrestler at the time was Hulk Hogan, and with only a small analysis it becomes clear that Hogan had a great influence on men, and what it was to be a man.

Hogan was a tall man with huge muscles and a great handlebar moustache. As Hogan is cheered all over the country men in the 1980's are already getting an idea of what it is to be popular, and pehaps this is the way to acheive it, to look like Hogan. In almost every match Hogan would also 'hulk up', in which is would tear off his shirt, revealing his muscles and flex his muscles on the way to an unstoppable victory, something that gave men the idea that perhaps if they were a little more like Hogan, they could become seemingly superhuman - a 'hulk' almost - like him too. As well as his typically masculine traits though, Hogan also fed men the idea of expression. Hogan wore bright red and yellow colours, bandanas and was a showman that did pretty much as he pleased. The message given to men? That it was okay to be a man and express yourself in any way you like. There is no need for repression. In wrestling, Hogan was a 'face'. In other words a good guy that beats bad guys - a superhero even. Traditionally, what men do not want to be a superhero? Additionally, Hogan's entrance video and music - as seen above - tell a story of their own. As Hogan performs, flexes his muscles and beats bad guys the music proclaims 'I am a real American'. What men do not want to be a 'real' American? Hogan's influence transcending gender to national identity.

Finally, not only Hogan but all wrestlers at the time portrayed aspirational values and gender ideals to men. For example, WWF also had Andre the Giant, A hulking man who was 7 feet tall and over 500 pounds with almost unstoppable power and someone that portrayed masculine ideas of power to men. As well as that 'Macho Man' Randy Savage - clue is in the nickname - was a wild character, almost always seen with women,  that portrayed values of expression and rising above repression to men. However, Hogan seemingly embodied all male aspirational qualities. Hulkamania - as it was dubbed - ran wild. In short, was there ever a man that didn't want to be a superhero cheered by millions, while flexing his muscles after body slamming a 500 pound giant? Didn't think so.

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