"I am a Real (White) American": Hulk Hogan and the Rhetoric of Americanism in the Post-Cold War Era

Curator's Note

At the peak of his popularity, Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea was an unparalleled cultural icon. He was the great baby face protagonist challenging all manner of foes. Hogan’s first major run headlining in the World Wrestling Federation began in 1984, when Hogan replaced former champion Bob Backlund to defeat the Iron Sheik for the WWF Title. Despite a brief feud with the Sheik, the majority of Hogan’s feuds during his first title run were largely white males for whom ethnicity was not emphasized (1). This is particularly noteworthy as his two most notable feuds were against Rowdy Roddy Piper, a Canadian billed as hailing from Scotland (2), and who had burnished his credentials as a heel in Southern California by playing against the Mexican American fan base, and against Andre the Giant, who hailed from Grenoble, France and spoke with a notable accent. Hogan’s third run with the title occurred after a title reign by his fellow babyface rival the Ultimate Warrior was largely regarded as a failure. Hogan regained the title by pinning Sgt. Slaughter, the formerly patriotic babyface now performing as a Saddam Hussein sympathizing heel. Along with Yokozuna, a wrestler of Samoan heritage portrayed as anti-American Japanese Sumo, Hogan newest major opponents were presented as ethnic and racial others, against whom he stood as the defender of traditional American values and ideology. In doing so, he reflected and addressed the ideological malaise encountered by many Americans in the absence of Cold War antagonism (3). His feuds came to articulate and reify the role of American national identity, particularly in relation to the roles of his “foreign” antagonists, in the Post-Cold War era.

(1) Hogan also had a televised match against the Iron Sheik’s tag team partner, Nikolai Volkoff, although theirs was never a headlining feud.

(2) Among Piper’s antagonists, homophobic references to his kilt as a skirt were the only thing remotely used to depict Piper as an ethnic other.

(3) Mary E. Stuckey, “Competing Foreign Policy Visions: Rhetorical Hybrids After the Cold War,” Western Journal of Communication, 59 (1995): 214.

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