The Spectacle Blog

“When you see me bash somebody’s skull, you enjoy it!”

By on 2.11.14 | 3:59PM

The title above references my favorite of the many notoriously blunt quotes from Mike Tyson. Prior to his 1992 rape conviction, Tyson cemented a well deserved reputation for being, if not the best heavyweight boxer of all time, one of the greatest. Of course these days, "Iron Mike" has been reduced to a pop cultural punchline, known as much for his over-the-top cameo in the comedy "The Hangover," a 2006 drug arrest, and a sad late career fight in which he bit off part of the ear of fellow heavyweight legend Evander Holyfield, as for his glory days in the late-1980s as an untouchable pugilist.

Even as a child in Brooklyn, Tyson was working towards his title as "Baddest Man on the Planet," as he and his friends engaged in criminal behavior such as strongarm robbery. At peak form, Tyson was still a profoundly morally troubling individual. He is not an educated man in the conventional sense. Yet there is something hauntingly perceptive and all-too-human about him. The quote about bashing someone's skull in seems to suggest that, yes, Tyson is an animal. But what of those who watch him ply his craft with glee?

A renewed interest in the fighter began with the 2008 documentary "Tyson," in which he spills his guts in uncomfortable detail. Tyson's candor is such that the viewer almost squirms in his seat. It is as if the boxer lacks that part that makes the more sensible withhold some things. This is the premise behind his one man show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, which was directed by Spike Lee. Tyson dishes on his time in jail, his substance abuse problems, and the other low points in his checkered life.

Some readers have noted--in not so many words--that I find the stranger and darker elements of our popular culture irresistible. They are correct. And so I was characteristically unable to resist when Tyson's traveling version of the show made its way to a small Indian casino in my neck of the woods on Sunday night. He claims to be a man reformed who has left behind drugs and dissolute living. Given his long history of criminal behavior, this is hard to believe. And yet, Tyson seemed genuinely moved to tears when speaking of the joys of fatherhood, and of his four year old daughter Exodus who passed in a tragic accident in 2009. Perhaps more importantly, he seemed to speak with genuine conviction when he denied committing the rape which put him in prison for three years in the early 1990s. There were many things he did in those days that should have put him in jail, he said, but he didn't do that one.

And perhaps that is what is most fascinating about Tyson. One is not sure exactly what to make of him. Both his best and his worst moments are defined by violent and inhumane behavior. He comes from a world best left unexplored by people like us. Yet there is something so relatable about his sorrow. Late last year, HBO aired a version of his stage show which is worth watching if you can catch it. Or you can simply listen to this (expletive laden) song, the lyrics of which are composed of some of his most memorable quotes.

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