As Hulk Hogan begins his title reign with a return to the yellow-and-red, The Outsider can't help but get nervous about the future of Vince's sports entertainment empire. This anxiety has nothing to do with any personal opinions regarding Hulk's abilities. Even as we watch The Goblin's arthritic knees struggle to make the four steps necessary to perform a simple rope-to-rope run, the champ's physical limitations are the least of our concerns.
When Hogan does a promo, count how many times he says "hulkamania" or mentions his "hulkamaniacs". The frequency with which he says those words, and the pop it gets, rises with every appearance, and with it rises The Outsider's stress level.
Part of the reason for Hogan's lightning-fast face turn and meteoric rise to the title is the genuine affection the majority of wrestling fans have for the man, the depths of which must have surprised even Vince. (The Outsider didn't see this coming for at least a few more months.) But another part of the Hogan explanation is a wave of nostalgia among fans, and trying to ride that wave is a dangerous game for the WWF to be playing.
Apply the following to the current state of the WWF:
If you're standing in the present, and you're unhappy with the present, you can look one of two ways for comfort: to the past, or to the future. If you look to the future, you have to contend with uncertainty, but you are also afforded the exhilaration of unlimited possibilities. The future hasn't been written yet; anything could happen. It holds forth promise, it gives one hope.
But if you look instead to the past, all sorts of bad things happen. You find yourself living in a dream world, because the past becomes an idealized fantasy land that never really existed in the first place.
The phenomenon of nostalgia depends on the inherently irrevocable nature of the past. The clock can never really be turned back; we only fool ourselves into thinking it has. To wit: watch a tape of HHH-Hogan at Backlash in slow motion. There are long stretches where neither man seems to be moving at all. But watching the match in real time, how many of us were fully aware of Hogan's embarrassing lack of mobility, and the necessity of his opponents to slow down their performance because of it? The Outsider, caught up in the mark-out moment, noticed but didn't care. This is NOT a good thing.
In our minds, idealized by both memory and desire, the past becomes an eden of sorts. In contrast to the contaminated, confusing and ultimately unsatisfying nature of our present, the past is good, pure, and harmonious. It is where we want to be.
But recreating the past is not only impossible, it signals the death of progress and ambition. Why try to make things better, when things will never be as good as they once were?
The feelings of good will stemming from nostalgia never last long, and indulging in them saps one's will to move forward. Hulk Hogan is the star of a television show, and as such he is basically harmless. But to the business and the aesthetics of wrestling, his presence and current popularity are toxic, because he functions as a cork in the talent bottle. Riding Hulkamania means one thing: stagnation. Vince's star-making machinery has been re-tooled to keep Hulk's farewell tour going, and nothing good can come from that.
In a business as fluid as wrestling, a business now monopolized by the WWF, marketing a return to "the glory days of yesteryear" facilitates creative and (eventually) box-office death. If fans had alternatives, that might not happen. But the shadow of Vince looms over the entire wrestling world at the moment. And though revisionist history would paint Mr. McMahon as a marketing genius, the facts say otherwise. He doesn't ALWAYS give fans what they want, and his strategies aren't always in the best interests of the business. Putting the title on Hogan for any appreciable length of time may just prove to be one of those short-sighted failures -- with long-term consequences.