A man who went from wrestler to seminal actor and can deftly move to either with unfathomable grace, his performances keep us coming back to the cinema time and again only to leave us with not only the satisfaction of getting our money’s worth, but a greater social awareness on a wide range of issues. Today, we celebrate Mr. Terry Bollea – but you may know him better as Mr. Hulk Hogan.
While we could discuss his redefinition of the word “Villain” in 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, his hilarious turn in Santa With Muscles or even the sheer fun of Rocky III, today we focus on the prescience of his finest film: Mr. Nanny.
If Mr. Hogan’s star-turning performance in 1991’s Suburban Commando wrestles with our visceral notions of what it is to be human, then 1993’s Mr. Nanny is its logical companion; a progressional adjunct challenging our views of gender and the family. Consider the image of Mr. Hogan in a tutu, dancing ballet in a heartfelt moment not just for the film but for film itself, and couple it with the dress Mr. Hogan wears on the film’s poster. There are phases of androgyny in fashion, naturally, and the influence is seen and sometimes set off by prevailing pop culture – take Diane Keaton’s title character in Annie Hall or the gender-blind hair, makeup and pant style of the music scene in the 1980s. Don’t mistake these phases of fashion and their pervasiveness in culture as acceptance of gender neutrality by the general culture. They were merely artistic expression without intrinsic value meant to shock members of older generations, to rebel (which is of course always brought on by fear of becoming one’s parents), and to be ironic. Mr. Hogan’s embrace of feminine clothing in the film was a brave stance against the notion that one parent is an inefficient number to effectively love and raise a child.
Perhaps controversial and seemingly contraire to the superficial interpretation of the film, but when dealing with subject matter in film that is contraire aux bonnes moeurs, a search for deeper meaning is imperative. Mr. Hogan’s efforts in the film to embrace the feminine connotation of the word “nanny” in an attempt to give his client’s (a single work-addicted father) children a mother figure are courageous, and the children do grow and learn under his care, but not because they had a motherly presence. No, it was the fact that they now had a presence at all. It is Mr. Hogan’s performance that really brings this truth to light: That being present for our children, single parent or not, will guide us to discover that we can make a well rounded child regardless of our gender. Comforting, crying and loving are not exclusively feminine just as independence, strength and working are not exclusively masculine.
For plebeians who scoff at his casting, I counter that who better a choice than a man who makes his living being “macho,” putting on shows of brutality where fists and chairs fly with fury for the entertainment of the masses to embark on a journey beyond ego and masculinity and who ultimately learns to parent and to love? There has been no moment more touching in the last 50 years of film than when the boy in Mr. Hogan’s care has trouble with bullies and asks Mr. Hogan, a victim of parental abuse, for help. Rather than encouraging violence, he says, “You just need attitude, not muscles.”
Wow. Truly remarkable.
For all of his efforts, Mr. Hogan was still never nominated for an Academy Award. While shocking when approached in terms of acting prowess, it is not shocking for the Academy to ignore incredible performances by non actors (see: Brett Favre in There’s Something About Mary, Terry Bradshaw in Failure to Launch, Miley Cyrus in The Last Song).
Maybe, just maybe, that’s the way it should be – after all, a pioneer does not always get the glory. A pioneer may be relegated to the role of a non germane precursor, though Hulk Hogan is more than that. From immigration policy to widespread acceptance of homosexuality and the modern insistence of parental presence, Hulk Hogan blazed a trail for things like Glee, the creation of policies and ideals in things like the DREAM Act, and yes, social networking like Facebook; perhaps his indelible mark on these things is too often missed, but it is there. And maybe channeling our inner “Hulkamaniac” is exactly what America needs.