“Don’t worry – everyone’s leaving with both ears tonight,” joked a dapper-looking Mike Tyson toward the start of his travelling one-man performance, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, which ran this weekend at SHN’s Orpheum Theater. “I’ve been domesticated.”
On the occasion of Tyson’s living to the age of 46 – a significant achievement for someone whose life can be more or less neatly divided into two halves: fighting and drugs – and being four years sober, the former heavyweight champion of the world ostensibly feels the need to give his own version of his exceptional life story.
The whole gesture, which takes the form of Tyson on stage with a slide projector, is mendacious on at least two levels. First, it is not at all clear to what extent this version is in fact Tyson’s and to what extent it owes to director Spike Lee, whose hand is manifestly present throughout (Tyson occasionally calls it out explicitly, bemused by how his collaborator’s sensibilities contrast with his own), in particular during the performance’s more politically pointed moments.
Second, to call the account “undisputed” is plainly false; at least the Court of Indiana, whose rape conviction Tyson flatly contests, would disagree. One has to imagine that Tyson’s ex-wife, Robin Givens, whom Tyson paints at length as a gold-digging bitch (in more or less those words), would also offer a contrasting perspective.
If this curiously rhetorical word makes anything clear, it is that Tyson still feels himself to be on the witness stand, his future in the hands of a public jury. “I didn’t want to be one of those boxers who became nothing,” says Tyson toward the end of the performance. Undisputed Truth is framed as Tyson’s plea that he be spared from such a void.
As such, it is completely unnecessary. Tyson does not need to seek forgiveness or appeal for right of transformation; we have already granted him both, at least to the limited extent that we allow any public figure. Despite his well-documented brutality and uniformly pockmarked past, which most infamously includes a rape conviction and biting off a chunk of competitor Evander Holyfield’s ear, the boxer has somehow emerged as a cultural teddybear figure nonetheless, appearing de-clawed and lovable in films like The Hangover and the sitcom How I Met Your Mother.
In fact, nothing makes Tyson’s cultural standing more clear than Undisputed Truth itself, in which he is able to dismiss or gloss over with impunity (and often to loud applause) all the moments in his life that most warrant reflection – Givens’ description of their domestic life as “torture, pure hell, worse than anything I could possibly imagine,” the rape allegation, the ear biting, et cetera. Instead, Tyson uses the hour and forty five minutes to paint himself as in turns a street hero, perennial victim of dupery and reform case, all the while poking fun at himself with a charming lisp that makes the account very easy to swallow.
Of course, Tyson should not be an object of celebration, if only for his appalling misogynism which pervades Undisputed Truth unchecked.
“How was I supposed to know the difference between miscarriage blood, menstrual blood, and just beat-a-pussy-up blood?” Tyson queried jocularly with respect to a miscarriage that he alleges his first wife faked in order to manipulate him. His phrasing got a good laugh from Thursday’s audience.
Tyson clearly has a way to go in achieving anything resembling a genuine self-consciousness. It is something we should allow him, rather than hamper by approving a gesture as false as Undisputed Truth, which essentially amounts to an entertainment event capitalizing on Tyson’s new, Hollywood-minted identity as a vegan, pigeon-raising reform case – a domesticated animal – so that fans and potential fans may continue applauding his former cruelty from a comfortable remove.
If anyone is unforgivable here, it is Spike Lee. For his complicity in this shallow and unnecessary spectacle, he has no excuse.