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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Hulk Hogan in 2002 - Hulk-a-Confusing
http://www.altwrestling.net
By William Parrish of Santa Cruz, CA

This is just weird.

And I'm still struggling to come to grips with it.

The date is Saturday, April 27, 2002. Yet, Hulk Hogan is the WWF's Undisputed Hvt. champion.

Although I and many others predicted it would come to pass in the days leading up to Backlash, the actual sight of the Hulkster's toting the big belt around on Monday and Thursday drove home for me exactly how surreal the renaissance of this bald, orange, threadbare old man really has been. One year ago, a future return to WWF prominence for Hogan seemed possible -- even probable. An eventual union simply made the most sense for both sides, each of which were in the midst of identity crises and stood to gain considerably from squeezing all they could out of one last run together.

Another Hogan WWF Title run, though"

There was a time when I used to know one or two things. Not earth-shattering things, not the sort of stuff that greases the wheels for your Mensa application -- but things. Just enough trivia and tidbits of data to go to parties and receptions and make appearances on the "Weakest Link," give the impression I've read a book or two, and maybe fill up a few installments of the "AW Chronicles."

I can name every WWF World champion ever, for example -- in chronological order, no less. Likewise, I can list every NWA/WCW titlist dating back to Pat O'Conner, and if you get me drunk enough, I might even be able to go all the way back to the belt's illusory 1905 origins. Give me an unlabeled map of the United States, and I can mark in the names of every state -- with the possible exceptions of Vermont and New Hampshire. I even know how to cook a duck.

Or, at least, I used to know all of that. But when Hulk Hogan won the WWF title for the sixth time last Sunday night, all of those things I thought I knew -- everything I accepted as a known quantity, as an unassailable fact -- suddenly scattered to the four corners of the earth.

Hulk Hogan: World champion for the new millennium" You mean to tell me that the man whom Vince McMahon (erroneously) blamed for nearly getting him convicted in the 1994 steroid trial; who is essentially the antithesis of everything the "Attitude" movement was founded upon; and who co-headlined WrestleMania I with Mr. T at the height of the "A Team," the Reagan administration, "the Cosby Show," Punky Brewster, hair metal, suspenders, and wire rim glasses, is now the WWF's frontman, for the first time in nine years"!

Suddenly, night is day, black is white.

What year is this" Who are you" Why am I talking to you" And why am I writing a long-winded column for a pro wrestling Web site right now"

Now, it's no secret that nostalgia has its place in American pop culture. In fact, some of the most lucrative concert tours, album releases, and cinematic blockbusters have been steeped in a form of sentimentalism similar to that which is once again propelling Hulkamania to a staggering crest in popularity. Hell, the highest selling album of the past two years was the Beatles' "1," which featured 27 tracks performed by a quartet that, last I checked, only has two living members -- and only one if you don't count Paul McCartney. Furthermore, despite tacitly advocating pedophilia, "Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" nearly sunk Titanic's box office record, over two decades following the release of the original. And The Who's Roger Daltry is probably still out there in some major concert hall, somewhere in the U.K. or the Lower 48, bellowing the line "I Hope I Die Before I Get Old" with the same gusto as he did some 37 years ago -- despite the fact that, at last count, he and his band-mates have lived for a combined 1,625 years.

But, in Hogan's case, these comparisons don't go very far to explain his sudden resurgence in popularity. In this business, fan appeal is a ruthless mistress; unlike devotees of music or cinema, most wrestling supporters come and go in cycles, and they've been conditioned only to care about the here and the now. I haven't conducted any formal surveys on the matter, but I'd be willing to wager that the vast majority of those currently following the WWF are neophytes who have latched onto the sports-entertainment industry only within the past 2-5 years. Accordingly, the bulk of those who are currently cheering fervently for every hulk-up, ear cup, and frail leg drop weren't even around during the Hulkster's '80s prime. To them, this "Hulkamania" propaganda, er, phenomenon is entirely new.

If you don't believe me, just take a gander at any given crowd during a Hogan appearance on Raw or Smackdown. Recently, WWF audiences have been rife with 20-somethings, teenagers, and even pre-teens decked out head-to-toe in red-and-yellow regalia, engaging in mock flexing, and bawling "brother" and "dude" -- two phrases they wouldn't have been caught dead using in public only two months ago -- with unabashed zeal. Most of these kids probably had never even heard the name "Iron Sheik" until Monday's Raw, they have no idea what the "Mega Powers" were nor why they exploded, and they sure as hell weren't plunking down $30 kabucks to watch Hogan headline all those WCW PPVs that drew 0.12 buy rates two years ago.

Which is why, on the surface, this is all so confounding. And it's also why "Hulkamania" in its current form represents such a duality. Yes, Hogan's appeal is driven by a yearning for the days of yore, but the greater part of those doing the yearning aren't people who are attempting to recapture bygone days from their youth. Instead, because the present is so lacking, it's mostly a group of relative newcomers who are attempting to claim this particular slice of the past -- for the very first time. The WWF hype machine and its fans of the '80s had so thoroughly propagated the notion that the Hulkster is the best wrestler ever, that the glory-days of "Hulkamania" represented a better time, and that Hogan still owned the torch when he allegedly passed to The Rock that, by the time WrestleMania rolled around, it had caught on with every segment of the Fed's audience. And, after several years of perpetual exposure to Austin, The Rock, and Triple-H in main events -- and having long since lost faith in the ability of other potential stars like Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho -- WWF fans, both young and seasoned, turned to Hogan as the new-old favorite to whom they could lend their ardent support.

By the same token, the majority of those who purchased "1" weren't the same Beatles followers who initially conveyed "Sgt. Peppers" and "Abbey Road" to the top of the Billboard charts in the '60s. The movie-goers who catapulted the "Phantom Menace" to mind-blowing profitability also comprised a new breed of "Star Wars" fans, and many -- if not most -- of those who congregate on Mick Jagger concerts certainly weren't jiving and shucking along to "Satisfaction" when it first hit the airwaves three and-a-half decades ago. Like those who currently constitute the predominate part of Hogan's fan-base, to the modern generation of music and movie patrons the last represents a heretofore-untapped wellspring of new favorites -- at a time when their own generation's collection of overexposed fads have grown stale and hackneyed. For instance, they never would have embraced the Beatles so overwhelmingly if a powerful new movement in music, like grunge, had just taken hold. Likewise, Hogan's comeback never would have been such an overwhelming success if it had occurred during, say, the rise of "Austin 3:16" and "Attitude." However, because nothing fresh and exciting was on the horizon for the WWF earlier this year, the ironic psychological response of its fans at large was to turn to the past to experience a thrilling new trend.

And that's all well and good for now. But the main problem with nostalgia movements is that their life-spans are even more fleeting than those of contemporary fads. The Beatles likely won't go multi-platinum if they issue a follow-up to "1," "Star Wars: Episode II" likely won't rake in nearly as much revenue as "Episode I," and reunion concert tours never draw nearly as well on the second go-round as they did on the first go-round. Apparently, Hogan drew awesome buy rates at No Way Out and WrestleMania, but will he be able to maintain that momentum"

Based on Smackdown's recent ratings and attendance figures, all signs resoundingly point to "no." Hogan's pops are already starting to dwindle, and, more importantly, the end of his WCW tenure demonstrated just how ephemeral his drawing power really is these days. In February 1999, following one of his many comebacks, he headlined "Superbrawl" and drew a shockingly-great 1.0-plus buy rate. One year later, he drew an unspeakably bad 0.15. I won't delve any further into an explanation of why this is the case, though, because that's what this week's Observer is for.

As for me, at least I've finally gotten a grip on exactly why Hulkamania has enjoyed such staying power. It's like one of those snow globes -- those unchanging winter scenes that you can turn upside down and shake around and then ignore after you've gotten your fill of looking at the same damn thing over and over again. It's like a comfortable sneaker that's ripped and torn and full of holes, but you just can't bring yourself to throw it away.

That is, until the stink finally permeates your entire closet.
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