The Incredible Hulk, rightly so, is one of the “biggest franchises out there”. These words come from none other than the original 1970’s TV Hulk, Lou Ferrigno.
Ferrigno, now age 65, attended MCM ComicCon London this year to connect with his fans, the lifeblood of The Hulk’s popularity. In a press conference, he was asked about everything from his acting career to the metaphorical meaning of his famous green alter-ego.
“We all have a little Hulk inside us”, he told us, “we all want to express how we really feel.” All of those emotions (fear, anxiety, anger, frustration) are things that many of us want to show, but can’t. Ferrigno argued that The Hulk provides an outlet for these inner demons. This cultural expression of our deepest feelings is part of The Hulk’s attraction – the reason why, as one reporter suggested, The Hulk has “touched so many people”.
In essence, what makes Bruce Banner (The Hulk in human form) so special is that, as Ferrigno states, the character is both “quietly spoken” and “instant death”. Deep down, Bruce Banner is powerful, and he can defend himself. Ferrigno spoke candidly about how the crew, when they were filming, would sometimes burst into applause at his performances. What they may not have realised is that, for Lou, the expression was real.
After an infection as a child, Ferrigno lost most his hearing. His speech was also affected, and he was heavily bullied. He describes himself as “introverted”, but also that he was able to overcome adversity with an “I can” perspective on life, never “feeling sorry” for himself. Like Bruce Banner, Ferrigno wanted to be powerful, and able to defend himself. And goodness, did he succeed.
Ferrigno started body building in his early adolescence, inspired by Hercules whose superhero costume was primarily his own muscle. He went on to win Mr Universe twice, and to become a worldwide icon as The Incredible Hulk – whilst, in real life, being somewhat of a gentle giant. Indeed, when asked what other roles he would like to play, he mentioned the “suave” and “intelligent” James Bond.
I asked Ferrigno what advice he would give to the kids out there who are still struggling with being bullied. “Talk to someone… express yourself, even if you feel threatened”, he told us. “It’s the bully’s problem”. He made it clear that the single, best thing children can do is not to keep it to themselves, and get help.
That’s right. The Hulk himself has said to tell someone if you are being bullied.
So what makes Lou Ferrigno’s statements so timely, and important?
The UK anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found in their 2016 survey that half of children experience bullying, and nearly one fifth of children experience bullying every day. Children’s charity NSPCC provided over 25,000 counselling sessions last year alone. Given how difficult it can be to talk to someone about bullying (often due to fear and shame), having an icon – a superhero, no less – backing you up could be the difference between silence and support-seeking.
Additionally, Ferrigno has told us: It’s not your fault. It’s the bully’s problem. Victims of bullying may blame themselves for how they are treated, thinking they did something to “cause” the bullying, or that they are defective in some way. Worse, young people may think that they will get into even more trouble by telling an adult. It is a crucial and compassionate message to say “This is not your problem”.
Finally, we know that Lou Ferrigno has made meaning out of his childhood experiences which can also be known as “post-traumatic growth”. He quite literally became a hero, and turned his adversity into a superpower. Ferrigno uses his experiences to help others, by supporting a number of children’s charities such as the Starkey Hearing Foundation. And, thankfully for his millions of fans around the word, he talks openly about his own bullying experiences.
This is yet another thing we can take from Ferrigno’s ComicCon interview: bullying is not the end. Even those of us who have been bruised or changed in some way by bullying can find something in the experience to be thankful for. We may have found out about the depths of our personal strength, like Ferrigno himself. We may have discovered the importance of friendships, or the huge significance of a kind word; we may as adults use our bullying experiences to help and understand others. After the pain, after the hurt, there is space for healing and learning. We just need to find ways to do it.
So please, care and share. If Lou Ferrigno can do this at a press conference full of shiny cameras and reporters, then so can we with the children and adults we see every day. Together, let’s have those conversations, let’s raise awareness and take action.
Alongside The Incredible Hulk, it’s time that we “smash” the bullying trap.