In 2006, music critic Ray Suzuki gave Australian rock group Jet a rating of 0.0 in his Pitchfork review of their album Shine On. The body of that review was a YouTube video of a monkey drinking its pee. I think about that review all the time, like how much would I have to hate something I was voluntarily engaging with for my public opinion of it to be a monkey drinking his own pee.
Hulk Hogan’s skullet comes pretty close.
I’ve always kind of wondered if Suzuki was so scathing because of the music, or if there was just something especially terrible about Jet. Their 2003 hit “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” was generically rocky enough to dominate radio and swiftly integrate itself into my life through its placement in advertisements, film, and television, but do I hate them for it?
More professional wrestling
- Eddie Guerrero’s Mullet: A Review
- Teach Sting How to Blend
- Orange Cassidy and Stokely Hathaway’s Grammy’s Street Fight Set the Bar For Cinematic Wrestling
It’s fair to say that I dislike Hulk Hogan. I started watching wrestling in 1992, when I was four years old, so I’ve had the entire Hulk Hogan experience, from hero to heel to nostalgia act to stage dad to sex tape to Gawker trial to his WWE release over a leak of sealed documents where he was quoted using racial slurs to his 2018 return/redemption as a shill for entities like the WWE Hall of Fame and WWE’s Saudi Arabian efforts.
This is what I find myself trying to cast aside so I can give Hulk Hogan’s skullet a fair critical assessment, but I’ve thought about it so much that I can’t. Hulk Hogan’s skullet is a symbol, something beyond hair. It is a ubiquitous, iconic remnant of the Reagan 80s, two wrestling boom periods, and the slow rolling trainwreck that is the American pastime of watching celebrities decline.
Another thing getting in my way is that I can’t see the most important part of his skullet, which is the skull itself.
Like a mullet, there are many approaches to the skullet. I’ve seen fades and crewcuts morph into skullets, the amount of skull shaved to achieve this often disarming mane vary widely, the style adopted by choice and as an attempt to shrug off the reality of male-pattern baldness.
Given that subject of Hulk Hogan’s hair was part of his lawsuit against World Championship Wrestling, let’s say this about it: At one point in his professional career, he had long, blond hair. It was going thin, but it covered his scalp. By the time he won his first WWF Championship in 1984, ushering in Hulkamania and making him one of the biggest stars in the history of wrestling, his hairline had moved back a few inches, ceding most of the territory that fell before the middle of the top of his head. The blond curtain going around the side of his head—Hogan’s whole look, actually—has more or less remained intact ever since.
The bandanna issue.
Wrestling is not, generally speaking, a sport that allows its top stars to reinvent themselves. When Hulk Hogan wore a skullet to the ring to do battle with the Iron Sheik for the WWF Championship, he doomed himself to the it and its accompanying handlebar mustache forever. In a way, it’s to his credit that Hogan really only messed with this look for the sake of the occasional movie, once going so far as to integrate forced mustache shaving into his feud against the Dungeon of Doom.
I say “trapped,” but I imagine this is intentional—while he has his fair share of misfires with his name attached to them, he is a man who managed to make the red-and-yellow colorway indelibly his, like a sports team, only he’s a dude who is really hyped on vitamins and Jesus and America. As such, what evidence I have that Hogan is locked into the skullet life unwillingly is also a crucial piece of his image: the bandanna.
Early on in Hogan’s skulleted life, he wore a sweatband that said “Hulkster” on it. As his merchandising took off, he wore a scrap from his torn Hulkamania shirts, tying it around his head like Rambo. When the WWF started selling Hogan bandannas, he started wearing those, taking them off before the match began or at moments in a match where his displeasure needed a big gesture. In clicking around clips on YouTube, he takes the bandanna off during his 2002 match against The Undertaker and during a 2009 match against Ric Flair on his Hulkamania: Let the Battle Begin tour of Australia. It also comes off during his brief flurry of matches in 2011 for Impact Wrestling.
So maybe the bandanna is a tool employed for dramatic effect. Maybe it will come off again whenever he gets his wish and is granted one last match. Off comes the bandanna, the sweat of Hogan’s brow, broken from decades of carrying the business on his back, thrown into the face of Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins or Braun Strowman as if to say “hey brother, I made you.”
Until then, I imagine that bandanna will remain affixed to Hogan’s head. I’m sure there’s a picture of him without it somewhere beyond the Gawker trial and the sex tape that preceded it, but the one I could find, taken by his son Nick, featured a suspiciously full head of surfer dude hair and cropped out the top of his dome.
Hogan’s skullet, when it peeks out from under that bandanna, looks more robust than ever, thicker, somehow, than it is in my memory or in my long term project of re-watching the wrestling I grew up with. When he posted photos of his back post-surgery, the way the back of his skullet was cut reminded me of a nylon broom—a rigid fan of yellow just brushing against his IMMORTAL back tattoo, suggesting an inner well of middle-aged-if-not-youthful vitality that contradicts the dour vibe of dozens of photos of him mid-exasperation taken over the past decade—photos where the length of that skullet is usually tucked into the bandanna itself. Taking all of this into account, I’ve decided to consider the bandanna part of Hogan’s skullet.
34+ years of skullet
As a single entity, Hulk Hogan’s hair is iconic. There is no way around it. It’s ridiculous, of course—popular wrestling blogger Tape Machines Are Rolling recently described Hogan as “among the fucking stupidest looking people we ever let become famous,” and a lot of that is the hair. But America loves making the ridiculous intrinsically American—Hulk Hogan’s skullet is in the same category of American iconography as monster trucks, Applebee’s, and the Budweiser frogs. It is of value because it is loudly, proudly both too awful to work and too big to fail.
Which is where the timeline comes in. The ubiquity of Hogan’s skullet is a result of Vince McMahon’s conquest of the territory system of wrestling, a free market capitalist’s wet dream where the strong corporation survives through any means necessary while the weak are ransacked for parts. That skullet fought communism, Iran, Gaddafi, Iraq, and Japanese industrial expansion. It sold out, begged forgiveness, and sold out and begged forgiveness again. It was there for a fundamental shift in American journalism, and when Hogan was fired from the WWE for racist remarks made on the tape at the center of that shift.
And it will be there, I’m sure, at WrestleMania, as WWE’s ongoing project to rehabilitate one of its most important stars continues with his co-hosting this weekend’s two night show. If Vince McMahon’s goal in 1984 was to make Hulk Hogan a representative of America writ large, he succeeded more wildly than he could have possibly imagined. Through all of his success, through all of his failure, through all of his joys and embarrassments, Hogan’s story is quintessentially American, and he has flown his skullet (and bandanna) like a battle flag through it all. Hulk Hogan’s skullet is as much an American institution as Hulk Hogan the man. Like many American institutions, it sucks. Just not enough for me to post a video of a monkey peeing in its own mouth.