Richie Hardcore - Cuts to the core

Steve Braunias meets Richie Hardcore, a former martial arts champion-turned-personal trainer and social justice campaigner who was judged to have said the wrong thing in public.
Richie Hardcore is 36 years old, very fit - "cut" in fact - who works as a personal trainer. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Richie Hardcore is 36 years old, very fit - "cut" in fact - who works as a personal trainer. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Richie said this thing about Kim and everyone was like, 'oh man you suck' including Jessica who made fun of him but Pebbles was like 'nah you're all good' and Lizzie sort of did too but Pebbles told Lizzie she sucked and Richie was like, as in he actually wrote this on Twitter: "There's enough awfulness out there without creating more. I suggest positive discourse."

All of which is a condensed version of a recent social media hullabaloo caused by a striking and unusual fellow who goes by the name of Richie Hardcore. He is 36 years old, very fit - "cut" in fact - who works as a personal trainer. He lives in Grey Lynn in a villa that I figured was quite easy to keep tidy, because it was so sparse. There was a lot of empty space, and he filled a great deal of it when I visited him in the afternoon. He raced around, flung open windows, crashed his hip into the kitchen island, flung open the fridge door - and all he was trying to achieve was make a cup of tea. The whole time he talked and talked and talked.

I said, "Am I making you nervous? You seem very nervous. You're bumping into things, you're talking too much."

He said, "No! That's par for the course. That's just how I am. Like, I fluctuate between being really animated, and melancholic and morose."

"Do you do laid back?"

"Not especially. I do exhausted, or like super-tired and burnt out. I'm not particularly good at down time."

And then I asked, "Who the hell is Richie Hardcore?" I asked it several more times in the two hours we sat at a bare little table next to the kitchen.

He answered at length. He said he saw a psychologist every fortnight; I bet he talked a lot then, too. He moved in noise. His body is tattooed with manifestos ("Positive Mental Attitude") and memos ("Be Kind"). Talking too much had got him into trouble earlier this month on social media. He got hated on. He couldn't sleep. He felt anxious, baffled, wounded. It would have been deeply unsettling to experience, but I had the sense that it was bound to happen sooner or later. He had a quick, alert mind and spoke lucidly and passionately, but he was completely guileless; he believed in social justice, worked hard to make things better - he was a sort of blundering Jesus.

Social media is so volatile, so vampiric. It needs fresh blood. Richie Hardcore was always going to be a donor.

For a start, he's a social media addict, always posting and liking and retweeting, giving freely of his many and various liberal opinions. He's also very active in the real world, too. Just the other day he wrote on Instagram, "Privileged to be at a great workshop on suicide prevention within the LGBTI/Rainbow community."

Social media is so volatile, so vampiric. It needs fresh blood. Richie Hardcore was always going to be a donor. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Social media is so volatile, so vampiric. It needs fresh blood. Richie Hardcore was always going to be a donor. Photo / Brett Phibbs

He does drug and alcohol counselling, most recently in association with the Prostitutes Collective. He mentors. He reads widely on feminism, politics, vegan living. He recently posted a link to his girlfriend, TV3 reporter Kim Vinnell, on Twitter: "You see this? Really good article on workplace wellbeing, supporting menstrual leave."

So anyway, one day he went online and expressed his reservations about the Kim Kardashian nude selfie, and for a whole week he had people he'd never heard of calling him a douchebag and worse on Facebook, Twitter and wherever else. They decided he was "slut-shaming".

The journalist Jessica McAllen mocked him in a column on The Spinoff, and every time he tried to defend himself, he made it worse. Social media exile Pebbles Hooper and modern manners adviser Lizzie Marvelly joined the debate, inevitably, but fell out, also rather inevitably.

Thus his plaintive tweet, "I suggest positive discourse".

How high school, how essentially meaningless (Kim Kardashian!), but actually the whole thing also concerned serious issues about standards and practices of moral behaviour. Plus, everything about a person - their name, their reputation - is at stake in the scorching and unregulated moral desert of social media. The stoush fizzled out around the time an unnamed feminist commanded him on Twitter, "You're going to need to practice a whole lot of humility, and listen more. Good luck!" He wrote back, "Starting now! Cheers".

Always wanting peaceful solutions. As a kid, he said his parents always fought: "And I was like this little peacemaker. Mum and dad screaming through my bedroom door every night, and I'd wake up and try and get in between them, calm them down."

At college in Kelston and then Green Bay, he was an outsider, roaming around with friends who had pierced noses and pink hair. He got into straight edge - hard music, no drugs or alcohol - and took up martial arts. He got very good, winning national titles, and fighting in Japan, Thailand, Australia, other places. These days he trains kickboxers and anyone wanting to learn a combat sport.

I had some of like New Zealand's top politicians and leading journalists privately message me and say, 'I'm really sorry about what happened to you, but I can't say that publicly, because I'm scared of being caught up in it.' People are really scared of social media backlash, man.

I asked, "Were you an unhappy kid?"

"Most definitely. Growing up I had nil self-esteem, none at all. It took me a long time to like myself and be confident in myself."

"Did you do self-loathing?"

"Some people would say so, when it comes to eating and body image. You know, I was weighing-in to fight for like 15 years, and you become quite particular about what your body looks like. Even now there are times when I'm like, 'Oh no! I ate too many organic macaroons! I better go running for 20km tomorrow to run it off otherwise I'll be all fat and disgusting!'"

He talked for a while about how fighting gave his life a sense of structure, and purpose. "You really put your life on the line sometimes," he said. "Fighting's dangerous. In my first professional fight, I got my skull fractured. It was in 2006. Fighting this guy who's now in jail. First round, he comes out and rips me to pieces. Just like, drops me with a right hand in the first minute. And then grabbed and kneed me in the scalp. You can still see the dent in my eyebrow."

"Did you do harm to others?"

"Totally! I've kneed people in the head and knocked them unconscious, and kicked people in the legs so many times they can't stand up anymore. I remember one time at a fight in Kyoto, with this guy who is also in jail now. He got me to the ground, and headbutted me - have you ever been headbutted?"

"I don't think so, no."

"It's like the most painful thing. I've had a million and one injuries, but being headbutted really stands out. The explosion of pain. So I was on my back and I felt like I was drowning but I managed to cut him in the eye, and I distinctly remember lying there getting the shit being beaten out of me and rubbing the cut in his eye, and wanting to open up that cut - it brings out a real primal part of you."

I said, "Is fighting, in part, an atavistic impulse to kind of like, you know, kill someone?"

"I carry a lot of hurt around," he said. "It's a place to put it."

He poured the green tea, and offered a packet of organic macaroons made by Little Bird, the only bakers in the world who can make a biscuit taste of nothing. I said to Richie, "I wonder if you have an enduring relationship with pain. This social media episode - it's like another fight to the death. I have a life and didn't follow this whole thing very closely. How did it start?"

"It was so wounding! And, you know, it wasn't unique. I had some of like, New Zealand's top politicians and leading journalists privately message me and say, 'I'm really sorry about what happened to you, but I can't say that publicly, because I'm scared of being caught up in it'. People are really scared of social media backlash, man."

I said: "You're starting this story at the end."

He said, "When Kim Kardashian put up her nude selfie, a guy went online and said words to the effect that it's hard enough for young girls to find healthy role models and learn healthy ways of validation when celebrities are doing this sort of thing. So I wrote, 'We need to teach healthy ways of validation'.

Richie Hardcore faced backlash over his comment on social media about Kim Kardashian. Photo / AP
Richie Hardcore faced backlash over his comment on social media about Kim Kardashian. Photo / AP

"Someone came back and was like, 'Richie Hardcore is slut-shaming and telling women what they can do with their bodies'. Like really ripped into me. And then so did a crazy number of angry outraged people - I didn't even know what a pile-on was until then!"

"Was it swift?"

"Reasonably swift, and then enduring. For like a week. So I went online and said, 'If you are putting your nude image out there as a selfie, and you have an audience of hundreds of millions of people, then you need to put caveats around that'. Because I don't care if you put a nude image out. I really don't. Like, I've got friends who are prostitutes, who are strippers. I know people who are nude models. I've dated them. I don't judge people on what they do with their bodies.

"But in an age where young girls are pressured to send sexualised selfies to young boys who will then pass them around, then you need to be careful about the images you are putting into the public sphere. That's all I was trying to say! I wasn't saying anything radical. But people made all these assumptions, saying I was 'mansplaining' things to women, that I was a misogynist, that I'm telling women how to be feminists."

I asked with a straight face, "Are you a feminist?"

"I'm a feminist ally," he said. "I think that is the safest terminology."

I said, "Are you PC gone mad?"

He laughed, not at my question but something that suddenly occurred to him, and said, "Do you know what I felt like? I felt like I was Dominic Harvey! You know, who I think intentionally says sexist shit. A bro texted me saying, 'First they came for Max Key, then they came for Dom Harvey, now they've come for you'. I was like, 'Yeah!'"

I was like, "What's the lesson from all of this?"

He said, "You either have to really go into bat, or you have to be really mindful of your language. Initially I thought, 'I'm not going to talk about gender politics ever again'. Even though I think it's genuinely important. Because when a girl you know tells you that she lost her virginity when she was 13 because she passed out drunk, and someone raped her..." He began to weep.

"Sorry. It's just - that impacts. And I've heard that kind of story so many times! So if I'm in a position to say something that young men pick up on, and they think about consent, then I should be able to say things! And not have people f***en attack me! I'm not a f***ken arsehole! Like, teach me how to do it better, or give me a point to consider! Like, I was taking to my friend Dai Henwood today, and I said, 'Yo man, I've been through all this shit, tell me, why did you quit Twitter?' And he said, 'I just couldn't handle the negativity'.

"And this one woman was like, 'Hey, I've seen you at hardcore shows, and seen you talking to young men about the language they use and that it's inappropriate'." His voice cracked, and he wept again. "Sorry," he said. "I get upset when I talk about this.

"She said, 'My boyfriend broke my jaw. You're the only person he'd listen to and change his behaviour. So please don't stop talking'. That counted a lot to me. Or the 43-year-old mother who privately messaged me and said, 'Your critics have never had to delete over a thousand almost porno images on their daughter's computer that they're doing trying to emulate people like Kim Kardashian. It broke my heart seeing my daughter look like that. You're raising an important issue'."

He wept a third time. The empty room, the awful macaroons; I gazed at the backyard, where he said his counsellor had advised him to spend more time, just chilling. He said he hadn't taken up that advice yet.

I asked how long he'd been seeing his shrink, and he said, "Ten years, No, 12. I was 24 and my mum was like, 'What's wrong?' I said, 'I just hurt all the time, mum'."

"Why?"

"I don't know, man. I guess there's a degree of vulnerability with anyone who grows up in a dysfunctional household. But I don't know. I just feel things. I feel things very heavily."

It was as though the animated Richie was collapsing. I said, "Would you like to have children one day?"

"Sometimes," he said. "But the world's a cold place, man."

- NZ Herald

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