One challenge of being human is that you’re sort of honor bound to move beyond personal prejudices and your own cultural norms in order to see your fellow persons as equally human. Meeting that challenge means acknowledging your inclusion in the grand human venture, whatever that venture may turn out to be. One thing it may be, and this is where acknowledgment is hardest, is a colossal failure. Think of Jeffrey Dahmer, Pol Pot, the Third Reich. Slavery. The acknowledgment of humanness, then, for all its lovey-dovey, is also an implication, especially of the self: the murderer, the despot, the twisted: they are me; I am them. And right here at home in my heart: the slaver with his big cigar.
But maybe the venture’s not so dire. Isn’t it at least conceivable that the Eichmanns and Mengeles, the Stalins and Idi Amins, the Papa Docs and Baby Docs, are aberrations, anomalies? I mean, we have, as a species, developed systems of accountability, have we not? Do we not seek, rather than simple retribution, justice, even if oftentimes crudely? Have we not built courts of law? Have we not refused, right here in the U.S. and just in the past blink of an eye, historically speaking, to move to the back of the bus, to be drafted into unjust wars, to stay at home in our girdles and bras and behave? Do we not, this human species, birth monks willing, in the name of justice, to light themselves on fire?
But all this high-handed talk is easy in the abstract.
What I’m trying to get at is this: how do I reconcile the first 500 pages of Mike Tyson’s autobiography with the final 50?
It’s impossible to overstate the ugliness of the Tyson that his ghostwriter, Larry “Ratso” Sloman, presents for half a thousand pages. It’s ugly enough, and so self-evidently ugly, that I don’t even feel like opening the book to quote from it. This Tyson is profoundly dishonest, vindictive, petty, and cruel. But contrary to what Tyson-cum-Sloman says he believes about himself, it’s not primarily his violent nature that makes him such an outlandishly reprehensible figure. (Though, true, it’s hard to erase from the mind the scores of images we’re given of Tyson’s explosive temper tantrums, the results of which often entail real human beings, women and men, being slapped, punched, kicked, and beaten.) Rather, it’s his pathological selfishness, his seeming inability to understand that other people, especially but certainly not limited to, women, have ways of being in and seeing the world that are different from his.
To Tyson-cum-Sloman, for 500 pages in Undisputed Truth, you are most likely a bitch. By you, I mean you, as in you right there reading this now, and me, and also just about everybody else on the planet, including strippers, prostitutes, wives, girlfriends, boxing promoters, agents, bankers, insurance people, bodyguards, store clerks, passersby on the street, Mitch Green, Brad Pitt, drivers of cars, prisoners, guards, wardens, parole officers, women in clubs, women in strip clubs, women, plaintiffs, defendants, judges, boxing referees, boxing officials, boxers, car salesman, SWAT teams, the Girl Scouts. I’m kidding about the Girl Scouts. And actually that list is off the top of my head, so, in all fairness, Tyson-cum-Sloman may not have actually called the SWAT team that marched on his fortress to free an alleged female hostage a bunch of bitches, but, then again, he may have. I don’t have the fortitude to go back in and check for sure.
A sucker for underdogs, a longtime sucker especially for sports underdogs, a believer, for umpteen years, I mean a believer in the deepest chamber of my heart, in the narrative of redemption, I feel, after Undisputed Truth, less holy. I’ve been taken for a ride, yes. But readers get taken on rides. It happens. Read Michael Chabon. The difference here is that the writer(s), in the lexicon of the book, bitch-slapped me for 500 pages. Here I am, he says, this is what I do. And there you are, Bitch. And I am a bad man for this. I shouldn’t do this. And you are a bitch. Look at that bitch over there. Hey, Bitch! I said, Look at that bitch over there. I’m gonna fuck that bitch and her friend while my bodyguard stands guarding the door. Ha ha! Bitch lawyers. Bitches. You’re liking this, right, Bitch? I’m living your dream! I get to do whatever I want. Are you listening, Bitch? All these bitches keep paying me. I do whatever I want. Ha ha! I am such a bad person. It’s because of my mother. It’s because I was picked on until I was nine. I love pigeons, Bitch. Keep reading, Bitch.
Then, at the end, Tyson-cum-Sloman pulls the recovery card.
Coming up: Round 4 of this scheduled 3-rounder.