When Hulk and Chuck Tried To Save My Soul

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About twelve or thirteen years ago, you couldn’t avoid Chuck Norris. Not that he was getting much work, but as a meme, Chuck Norris Facts were inescapable, both to internet users, and the man himself. Tired of being asked about it, Norris finally opened up, penning an op-ed on conservative news aggregator, World Net Daily; one of the big promoters of the Obama birther conspiracy; where he rebuked a handful of the ‘facts’ to spread another message.

There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.

It’s funny. It’s cute,” replied Norris. “But here’s what I really think about the theory of evolution: It’s not real.

Another read:

Chuck Norris’ tears can cure cancer. Too bad he never cries. Ever.

If your soul needs healing, the prescription you need is not Chuck Norris’ tears, it’s Jesus’ blood.

Writers of the facts had been taking their barest cues from his 80’s work, like Cannon Films’ Invasion USA and the Missing in Action series, or more likely, their box art alone, with an open-shirted hero framed by the white-orange of an explosion, which was often, like everything from that era, more thrilling than the tape inside. But as was clear by his reaction to the facts, he never considered that airbrushed savage to be the real Chuck Norris. If you want to know how Norris really sees himself, you need only watch Walker, Texas Ranger.

01

The character of Chuck Norris’s Walker is remarkably similar to the portrayal of Donald Trump by conservative political cartoonists; a barrel-chested, flag-embracing patriot, taking on the evils of drugs, gangs, and general lawlessness, with his American brand of second amendment rough-housing, and a moral code drawn from the pages of the bible. With a tight demographic of republican grandmas who’d have shied away from his violent rental store heyday, Walker ran for eight years, and was inspired by his 1983 film Lone Wolf McQuade, though sadly jettisoning the lead’s pet wolf.

Walker‘s episodic nature effectively gave viewers a condensed straight-to-VHS action movie every week, albeit a really bad one, with the family-safe, soapy trappings giving it a fantastically uneven tone, along with a level of heavy-handed moralising quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before. Conan O’Brien famously did a recurring bit about Walker, where he’d pull a lever that played a random, out of context moment from the show, to gales of laughter. Truthfully, even in context, every moment is gloriously quotable, meme-able, and begging to be made into a gif. Each scene, each line, each backhanded punch with a jarring, cartoon sound effect is absolute bad TV gold, and honestly, I could happily shift my Patreon over to nothing but recaps of Walker, Texas Ranger. But I’ll begin where I often do, with an episode guest-starring Hulk Hogan.

02

The Walker entitled Division Street aired 3rd February 2001, 10 shows from the end of its 201 episode run. 201 episodes. I can already feel every bone breaking as I begin my tumble down the depths of this particular rabbit-hole. This was originally going to be a Megapowers double-header, where I recapped this, along with one starring Randy Savage, but that’s going to have to wait, as in Division Street, I’ve inadvertently stumbled on one of the strangest hours ever put before a camera.

Often the biggest ingredient of terrible-great television is inauthentic writing. When the people who make the shows are completely unfamiliar with the world they’re portraying, they’re forced to take cue from other fictional portrayals, drawing on the existing pool of stereotypes. In this specific case, Chuck Norris’s brand of family-friendly, conservative-value drama takes us into the world of gang-bangers. The hoodlums on show are all do-rags, swagger, and calling each other “dawg,” ya feel me? Like the senate-floor impersonation by a racist politician bemoaning ‘thugs’ that dirty up police batons with their blood, Walker‘s gangsters are the wild youth as seen by white men in MAGA hats peeking nervously out of the living room curtains. But as the hoodlums funky rap-walk us towards the all-important moral lesson, everything’s filtered through the crippling toothlessness of Walker’s PG rating, and as a result, it’s got the exact feel of an amateur theatre group coming into your highschool to put on a play about the dangers of weed. Of all my expectations about Walker, Texas Ranger, I did not expect Legz Akimbo Theatre Company. But worse than that, Walker contains another trap for its audience, and by the time you’ve noticed, it’ll be far too late.

03

Opening with a starkly realistic portrayal of gang life, Danny, a little kid in a do-rag sneaks onto rival turf to spray a tag on a graffiti-strewn underpass. With a “yo man,” he’s spotted, and the enemy gang give chase, hopping fences and yelling violent threats of “we’ll kick your butt!” and “we’re gonna catch you good!” Fearing for his life and about to get… well, probably not shot, or stabbed, or even kicked, but perhaps called a doo-doo head, he sees salvation in sight, a building with a sign reading CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CENTRE. If heathen gang members breech the entrance, they’ll be turned to ash! Danny runs inside, followed by the teenage gang. “Is there a problem?” asks Hulk Hogan, or as he’s portraying here, Walker’s old buddy, Boomer Knight.

As you’ll come to learn, Walker provides its audience with the finest terrible names television can offer, with Boomer Knight a brilliant example. An ex-con who’s giving back by running a community centre to keep troubled kids off the streets, along with the facial hair, Hulk’s Boomer is basically the Geoff of this American Byker Grove remake. The centre is the only neutral ground in the turf war between the Blades — Danny’s gang — and the Guardians, led by Ace, a tough teenager with the name of a Doctor Who assistant. Boomer makes the gang leave, because “this is a place of peace!” and invites Danny to stay and play basketball, which he scoffs at.

04

At this point, I should address the issue of race, in a way the show doesn’t, at least until right near the end. There’s a very clear racial divide between the Guardians, a gang of white kids in enormous JNCO jeans you could park a school bus in, and the Blades, run by Danny’s older brother Mike, who have an entirely black roster. During a minor scuffle outside, even though he’s addressing both groups, a 2019 viewing gives an uncomfortable undertone to Walker’s threat of “serious prison time” for those who, I guess, loiter and give each other dirty looks. Everything’s further heightened by Hulk’s real-life issues with race, which make it impossible to see him surrounded by black children without wondering if he was thinking of them as little n-words.

But the fictional, not-racist Boomer only wants to help, with he and Walker wondering how they can get the gang-bangers inside for basketball. It’s then that the episode fires its first warning shot. “I’ve been doing a lot of praying about it,” says Boomer, “I’ve gotta get to these kids before gang life totally sucks them in.” Hmm. Walker’s background check on young Danny reveals his father was “killed in a gang fight when he was just a baby,” and he lures the lad in, along with the younger Blades and Guardians, with the offer of free pizza and sodas. Soon, they’re all shooting hoops.

The trippiness of Chuck Norris playing basketball with Hulk Hogan makes me wonder if I’ve nodded off at my desk, and they’re hitting baskets with every throw, halfway across the court or showily tossed behind their backs like the Harlem Globetrotters; by which I mean, they lob the ball offscreen and it cuts to it going through the hoop. Each of the many basketball scenes feature the same thumping rap on the soundtrack. I’ve usually got an ear for this stuff, and it’s either Tupac or NWA, but definitely not an in-house track written by some white dude in jeans and cowboy boots.

I’m a backboard breaker, I’m a 360 spinner,
I’m a slam dunk daddy, in a word I’m a winner

05

Perhaps Eminem’s new album would have gotten better reviews with lyrics like “I got the biscuit in the bucket, I go fifty a night!” It doesn’t take long before everyone’s friends, with the remaining tension alleviated by Walker forcing two little kids to step in a makeshift ring made from traffic cones and string, to box each other to exhaustion until they respect each other. And now they’ve got enough kids for a team, they can enter the community centre tournament.

When two acting titans like Norris and Hogan are credited together, audiences expect a brutal throwdown, but they’re tragically limited to normal conversations, where they have to ‘act’, and neither man throws a single punch. This is a real shame considering Walker‘s house-style for fights, where every kick sends its recipient spinning 720 degrees, with uppercuts that leave villains screaming in slow-mo, legs in the air, like when you KO someone on Mortal Kombat. When Walker’s ranger buddies roll up on a crew of teeth-kissing ghetto drug dealers, the confrontation immediately turns into a karate fight. Everyone in Walker knows karate, with every low-level hoodlum, aggro drunk, or wayward teen capable of spin-kicks, while each hit is punctuated by that comedy punch sound of someone taking a hammer to a watermelon.

06

Boomer’s community outreach angers the local toughs, and in the worst vandalism since the Blue Peter Garden, a group of ne’er-do-wells break in and trash the centre, by stabbing basketballs and tossing Boomer’s stereo through the tuck shop window. Kids from both gangs help the clean up, in an inspirational montage of scrubbing and sweeping, as the soundtrack warns “if I don’t change it, this world will be hurtin’ still!” It’s here, under refusal to hunt down the perpetrators for revenge, Boomer reveals his own criminal past, showing the kids his tattoo; the symbol of the legendary Jackals gang.

Though it’s hard to believe, the real Hulk Hogan has a thug-life past of his own. No, not the nWo. When he was caught being racist, he explained that it was just part of his culture growing up, and that “people need to realize that you inherit things from your environment… and all my friends, we greeted each other saying that word.” C’mon snowflakes, that’s just how it was in [checks notes] South Florida in the 1960s. He’s practically black himself! All of which fully explains why it was perfectly fine to say of his daughter — “If she was going to fuck some n*****, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n***** worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player! I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking n*****.

Anyway, when they find out Boomer was a Jackal, the kids are crazy excited, until he reveals the rest of the gang are (like I’d be if I hadn’t taken up writing) either dead or in jail. Boomer’s fresh off a ten-stretch himself, and the cop who put him inside? Walker. “I was so violent,” he says, “I landed in solitary my very first day.” I can’t lie, after the waste of a pair of brutes like Hogan and Norris on endless scenes of polite conversation, when it suddenly cut to a prison flashback, I involuntarily ejaculated. It’s Boomer who now wears the do-rag, thrashing around in a denim vest as he’s dragged along a prison corridor, with classic Hulk Hogan “Raah! Raash!” sounds of rage. Tossed in a cell too small for his bulging, handcuffed body, he angrily kicks and shoulders at the walls. Then he hears a voice, and that’s when Division Street extends itself beyond the bounds of a mere television show.

07

When I was a kid, I went to a ‘Halloween Fun Night’ run by my family’s church. As is my brand, I love Halloween, and nine-year-old me was excited for a night of ghost stories and leering pumpkins. But there were no ghosts; no skeletons; no fun to be had. Instead, I’d gotten hoodwinked into an anti-Halloween event, designed to keep our young minds on Godly pursuits during this most evil of nights, with the adults too afraid to even say the H-word directly, and the only vague allusion to anything fun when my boy Satan got name-dropped, during group prayers to keep his antics at bay. Division Street took me right back to that night, with a pocket full of rubber snakes and nobody to throw them at.

Alone in his cell, Boomer heard a voice. Now, random jail voices could be any number of things, like air-vent whispers threatening imminent bummings, or as in Silence of the Lambs, back-handed compliments about the smell of your genitals. “I would have gone totally nuts if not for the voice,” says Boomer. Go on… “he started telling me about the Lord our Savior… he told me if I knelt down and asked for forgiveness, everything would become bearable.” Firstly, that’s not a great sell. Secondly, as flashback-Boomer is bathed in a halo of ethereal light, with complete scriptures being quoted in length, I realise it’s gone on far too long for a regular scene. Ironically, while trapping us in solitary confinement, Walker tears down the fourth wall to directly evangelise to its audience, through the vessel of Hulk Hogan. In terms of product placement, it’s the spiritual equivalent of a movie that cures all the world’s cancer patients by having them sip a Pepsi, as all the gang kids sit thoughtfully listening to Boomer’s salvation. The mysterious voice is revealed as another inmate, whose promise that “from this day on, wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge be pleasant to your soul” as he soulfully gazes at Boomer through the little door slot, reveal him the most aggressively on-trope Magical Negro on record.

08

Eventually, in this weird infomercial for Christ that goes on forever, Boomer kneels down and asks God to take away his sins and “remove all the hatred from my heart,” staring up at a bright, heavenly light, hands clasped in prayer, and recanting that “my life changed forever from that moment.” Slotted in the middle of this network drama, it’s as glaringly brazen as the sudden knock of a door-to-door evangelist, when you’re minding your business and trying to lay in bed all day crying in peace. One can imagine it sparking from a producer’s meeting where someone flipped on a TV and caught an ad for Girls Gone Wild, and realised they had to do something to stop the moral decay before God smote us all into the boiling seas. I wonder though, if Walker‘s outreach was successful, and if any viewers, caught at a particular low moment, were inspired by the abysmal acting of Hulk Hogan to drop to their knees and convert as a direct result. As the lone family atheist, there’s been various methods of encouragement over the years from family friends trying to lure me into the church. It’s almost worth being baptised to share the story of how I came to the Lord through a Walker, Texas Ranger where a criminal Hulk Hogan was soothed by bible quotes.

But there are some kids even Jesus can’t reach, and though the young’ins are happy to play ball together, the older Blades and Guardians are still fussin’ and feudin’, with Mike furious that “Boomer done turned my own brother against me!” So, Walker brings in some ex-cons to scare them straight, in an absolutely ludicrous scene which must have been the inspiration for The Office‘s Prison Mike. The lads include a guy in a camo waistcoat with a silver eyepatch like a GI Joe villain, and a bloke who looks like ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin drawn on a thumb, with names like Slash and Rock. They force the adult gang-bangers to sit, calling them “girlfriend,” and “little girl,” and berate them by saying the word ‘prison’, over and over. “You’ll end up in prison! I thought I was pretty tough too, TILL I WENT TO PRISON!” Slash shares his origin story, by pulling off his eyepatch; “guy slashed it right out of the socket!” Note that he totally has his eye, though he is squinting. Like the evangelism scene, some minutes in, it hits you that they’re directly addressing the younger members of the audience, in a hilariously vague PSA written by someone whose sum experience of the big house is seeing the trailer for Shawshank Redemption once. Personally, while having someone yell “Prison! You’ll go to prison!” isn’t much incentive to be good, I was given pause to keep on the straight and narrow when Slash described the assembled teenagers and ten-year-olds as “hot new young looking studs,” and that hardened cons would “love ’em, hate ’em, beat ’em, KILL EM!” No more littering, fly-tipping, or murder for me!

09

Like American History X, where the hardcore Nazi was converted by folding laundry with a mildly-witty black man, merely having the word ‘prison’ yelled in their faces has all the neighbourhood toughs leaving that gang life behind. However, Boomer’s mentorship angers the local drug kingpin. Periodically, we’ve seen him collecting money from the gangs, who’ve been slinging his unspecified product, though we never see a drug onscreen. But they’d be making way more if not for Boomer, whose presence somehow affects the drug trade massively, and thanks to him, now everyone’s basketball buddies, leaving the streets empty. The former Blades and Guardians; now Boomer’s Blue Angels; ditch the gang clothes for Sunday best, and are cured of racism by Walker making black and white kids sit next to one another. “God doesn’t see us in colours,” says Hulk Hogan — bit rich, considering — “go out there today and see each other as brothers in Christ.

With God on their side, they win by two points, with the kingpin seething at the sight of his former corner boys embracing. Next morning, Boomer takes a baseball bat to the back of the head and gets bundled into a van, and dragged to an industrial warehouse covered in graffiti. Boomer tells the kingpin that shooting him won’t change anything. Not to worry, he replies, “I’m gonna hang ya, Boomer!” As the previous high-water mark of violence was a threat of someone having their “butt” kicked, the sudden sight of a noose is somewhat of a shocker. A brutal lynching it is, too, with Boomer’s feet still on the ground, his eyes closed and seemingly dead, though he’s clearly heard with an overdubbed, perfectly normal “Enough! Stop it! Stop it!” when the goodies pile in to save the day.

10

The drug kingpin is indicted, and at the basketball finals, Walker tells Boomer he’s really making a difference. “No, Walker. God’s making a difference.” We close on the freeze frame of a high-five, where a white hand meets with a black one. Powerful. It’s impossible to say exactly how many lives, or indeed souls, Division Street saved, with one IMDB reviewer calling it “a good dose of spirituality and Peace,” adding “Bravo to this series for trying to deter youngsters from joining gangs.” Not since Cannon and Ball’s West Side Story has there been such an honest portrayal of the realities of thug life. Perhaps if Hulk Hogan had sat down to watch it himself, he would never have ended up in that mess.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

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~ by Stuart on January 18, 2019.

One Response to “When Hulk and Chuck Tried To Save My Soul”

  1. […] the macho kick-punch scene of that era in my book Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal, and took a deep dive into Chuck’s ultra wacky Walker, Texas Ranger show, so when I discovered he’d produced a cartoon depicting his own […]

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