Christine here. Fifty-four years ago in May, 1962, a great character was born: The Hulk. (I was also born in 1962, but in January, so you can think of me as Hulk’s annoying older sister). For as long as I can remember, I have loved the character of the Hulk. One of my prized possessions is a vintage bright red metal trashcan with the Hulk raging on it, and “Ka kroom!” written underneath. When a friend borrowed it (without asking me) in college to use as an ice bucket for alcohol and dented it, I was furious.
Obviously inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Hulk was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for Marvel comics. Interestingly, the Hulk originally was colored gray, but he quickly was changed to green due to some print difficulties.
Part of the origin story in the comics is that the physicist Bruce Banner created the gamma ray bomb that ended up causing his own Hulk transformation. The idea that our worst difficulties are often of our own creation is a recurrent theme in literature (and in life).
I don’t know what attracted me so strongly to the Hulk character. I think much of it was simply that in non-rage form (newly called “David” Banner) he was portrayed so well on TV by the actor Bill Bixby, with Lou Ferrigno playing the Hulk. But another part of it was that I was often very angry as a child, and I just didn’t see any good way to express it and still be a good girl. I think I got a vicarious thrill watching Bill Bixby have his eyes start to glow, then his muscles grow to immense size, splitting his shirt and popping buttons, and then Lou Ferrigno would roar in rage and smash things.
The expression of anger is still difficult for me… as I think it is for many women who grew up in quiet, restrained, religious families. While growing up, I absolutely never saw my own parents yell at each other, and I rarely saw them angry with anyone else (except my brother, but that’s another story). In addition to the ten commandments, in my family there was number eleven: don’t get angry. So I wasn’t blessed with the best examples for expressing anger appropriately – because we all get angry, and sometimes you need to express it to protect your family or yourself.
One of the times I have been the most furious in my life was in dealing with a colleague at the first hospital where I worked as a physician. She saw my soft-spoken-ness as weakness rather than simply being polite and quiet, and my having the lowest C-section rate among my colleagues as being fearful of performing surgery, rather than skilled at obstetrical management.
It came to a head when she was on call for the weekend and refused to round on a post-operative patient of mine whom I had transferred to the pulmonary ICU. She said that if I were too scared to manage my own patient’s breathing problems and had to transfer her to another service, that she wasn’t going to bother rounding on her. (Even when a patient is transferred to another service, as a surgeon, you still care for the patient’s post-operative issues). I had plane tickets out that weekend, but I stayed home to keep tabs on my patient.
That Monday we had a staff meeting, and I definitely was angry. I said that if I couldn’t trust my colleagues to care for my patients while I was away from the hospital, that I was withdrawing from the call schedule and would care for my own patients while I sought another position. Unfortunately my voice shook terribly while I said this. The head of the department backed me up and threatened to kick out the offending physician if she ever refused to round on a patient that was signed out to her again. (The patient stayed in the ICU for a week but recovered fully).
Obviously, I’m still angry about that old issue with a colleague, and I think that’s part of the problem with people like me who don’t express anger well: we hang onto it. To this day I think of that doctor… and I seethe.
Right now I’m angry… the reason is stupid and doesn’t really matter: it’s one of those things between mother and daughter. I know she’s simply asserting her own independence by behaving in a way that goes against her parents’ ideas. I know that it’s even expected and necessary for her development, for her to rebel in order to become her own person. I certainly did, when I was her age. But I’m angry with her, anyway.
You see why I like the Hulk? What would it be like, when you’re angry, to be able to just not care about anyone’s feelings or perceptions of you, and just let it all go, and smash walls and break buildings and even raze entire cities, if you felt like it? What would it be like, to transform into another being altogether, and to roar and scream and just RAGE in anger? No control, no limitations, no responsibility, and no psychiatric commitment in the offing… because after all, it wasn’t you, it was THE HULK.