Is any one of us ever truly free?
We all have personal and social commitments that constrain our behavior. We must all provide for ourselves, to some extent, as economic systems and personal circumstances demand. Our governments spy on us, and worse. Our societies harbor deep inequities that affect many of our lives in a fundamental way. Our thoughts are driven by the preponderance of past events on a psychological level, and by the balance of neurotransmitters on a biological level. Depending on your particular school of thought in terms of neuroscience and philosophy of mind, free will itself may merely be a useful illusion, a metaphor that we made up to explain ourselves to ourselves.
But we are free, in a sense, and we continue to be for one simple reason: courage. Courage is the thing that keeps us free.
In professional wrestling, in the judgment of the readers and especially the voters of the Place to Be Nation, there is no entrance theme more iconic than “Real American.” It entered our tournament as the number one overall seed based on the PTBN staff’s seeding, and proceeded to dominate anything put in its way: a 260-13 win over Ernest Miller’s “I’m the Greatest”; a 125-9 stomping of Dean Malenko’s WCW theme; a 173-22 victory against Rick Rude’s “Smooth Operator”; a 156-30 conquest of Kurt Angle’s “Medal”; a 156-66 defeat of “Jive Soul Bro”; a 126-63 win against the overachieving “Cult of Personality” to win its home region; a 151-90 overthrow of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”; finally, by a margin of 150 to 113, Steve Austin’s theme went down to the winner and eternal champion. All hail.
While I bear no ill will toward the team, “Real American” has not displayed this dominance because of the legacy of The US Express. When you’re in the right mood and appropriately primed, there’s no entrance more thrilling than the Hulkster’s; when the guitar hits, everyone in the audience knows that the most powerful force in the universe is going to run wild on the latest monster bent on destruction, or foreign menace, or whatever former best friend has been consumed by jealousy this time.
The “Real American” song (and its accompanying incredible music video) tout the value of US patriotism, tying the nation to “fight[ing] for the rights of every man,” fighting for what’s right, the feeling that you’ve “gotta be a man,” and other things that become unseemly when divorced from the aura of camp the WWF cultivated in this era — with Hulk Hogan at its center, of course. Aside from the jingoism that Hogan was infused with, though (as well as the implied sexism of “I’ve gotta be a man” and similar lines), the song carries some genuinely inspiring messages about living your best life. There may be pain and there may be depression (“it comes crashing down and it hurts inside”), but once you lick your wounds you must fight another day (“ya gotta take a stand, it don’t help to hide”). You can always create communities and find strength in numbers (“you hurt my friends, and you hurt my pride”); together you won’t take trouble for very long. Find your deepest convictions (“I got something deep inside of me”), above all courage. For courage is the thing that keeps us free. It’s not only the right thing to do: you’re fighting for your life, and that is one thing you can’t let slide.
Hogan in this era was a fixed point of morality, the unshakable standard of virtue by which all other characters were measured, and his song outlines some of the ways that he lived up to that standard while still being a thrilling rock song — complete with guest vocals by Cyndi Lauper as it draws to its close. There can be none greater.