On Mike Tyson and the War on Terror
By Connie Atkinson
Last night I walked into the family room of my sister’s home. The family was watching HBO’s special of the film Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, an autobiographical one-man stage show filmed by Spike Lee. I sat down to watch. I have always thought Mike Tyson a curious and somewhat alien personality and I have never been interested in understanding much more about him outside of the occasional television interview that grills him about his brush-ups with the law. After all, what does an expat American writer, working a citrus orchard in New Zealand with her Kiwi husband, care much about a black American who became famous for knocking people out, spent time in jail for rape that he claims never happened, and who has been struggling to resurrect some kind of career ever since? Nonetheless, I sat down, curious to see what Mike Tyson could come up with to do on stage besides box.
What I got was a curious surprise. Mike Tyson can tell a story and his story is very good. It is filled with hard-knocks, adversity, bad behavior, tragedy and sorrow, love, hard work and triumph. By the sheer effort he makes onstage, one can tell exactly why Mike Tyson achieved the highest heights during his boxing career. Yes, he has natural boxing talent and, it seem, he was lucky enough to be discovered and mentored by a tough and irascible Italian trainer, Cus D’Amato, who didn’t pull any punches with Mike. Despite the breaks, there is still that indescribable something that people who make it big have that Mike Tyson amply displayed during this ninety minute show. I was certain as I watched that I was seeing exactly the same hard work, discipline, passion, and drive that had brought him heavyweight championship titles. There it is, I thought, that same tenacity; that “keep going, you can do this, no matter the odds that say you can’t.” And what are the odds that someone like Mike Tyson could pull off a one-man show? Yet, he did, and I found it compelling.
When the show was about half-way through, I realized I was gaining much more than I imagined I would. I was gaining some insight into this person that I could not have guessed or read about in a newspaper or even seen in an interview. His stories, the manner of his speech, his gestures, facial expressions, and antics made him grow on screen to a more multi-dimensional man than I ever imagined was there. He became more of a real, live person than the fierce fighting-machine-warrior of the ring or the ex-convict protesting he didn’t do it.
Yeah, I know it’s a show. I know it is supposed to evoke some degree of sympathy. I know a show is not the complete, unvarnished truth. Yet, I saw so many of those things that make us all human, that make us all the same and, more than that, I got to see a little of what made the man and that, for me, changes everything.
Before, I thought of him as a one-track man fuelled with an overabundance of testosterone and a generous dose of that macho stuff from the 'hood that I have never understood. But now I also know that his complete ‘foreignness’ to me is illusion.
Yeah, maybe I don’t know exactly how he thinks, and why; maybe his background is so different from mine that it would be hard for us to actually be friends, even impossible. Perhaps the way he thinks would really rile me but now I know one thing: Mike Tyson will never seem quite so foreign, sinister, or frightening to me again. I can respect the man even if we don’t see eye-to-eye. That is what education is supposed to do for us, and this show educated me. It validated the risk I took when writing about the mind of a terrorist and the rationale behind his very evil plans, while also exploring whether or not knowing what he thinks, and why, changes anything.
I have never been able to escape the feeling that understanding who someone is, where they come from, and what they have come to believe and care about, and then coming to the conclusion that they are not so very different from ourselves, might be the surest way to peace. Maybe when we know, we can trust. Maybe when we trust, we can be hurt but not trusting also gets us hurt, doesn’t it?
I can’t help but suspect that the way we have been fighting the War on Terror, though perfectly understandable under the circumstances, mostly results in producing more terrorists. It is hurting us as much as them. We have not found a way of killing the message of the jihadists and rendering it impotent to attracting masses of new recruits. Don’t we need to wage peace at the same time we are defending ourselves? Isn’t knowing and understanding our “enemies” a place to start?
Foreigners I meet during my travels, from around the world, especially the young, have often asked me, “Why don’t Americans care about us? We know everything about your culture, why don’t Americans know anything about ours?” The real question, for Americans, might be, not whether there are more of them dead than us, but what, in the end, has the best chance of taking us to the place where there is no more need to kill at all.
Connie Atkinson is the co-author with her brother, Thomas DiCarlo, of The Brotherhood of Purity, a novel exploring the mind of a terrorist and whether mankind can build a world at peace. You can find it online at www.Amazon.com and www.BarnesandNoble.com.