Frankly, I wasn’t sure if this post should go here or on my arts education blog. I chose here because the insidiousness of what Mike Tyson represents is broader than the impact of arts education. The arts can do many things but they can’t save us from the strangle-hold of a capitalism which has lost its humanity. Last night I saw “Tyson” and this morning I have read an op-ed piece, “The Disease of Permanent War”, at Truthdig.com. Both are disturbing for what they so plainly say about our values.

Tyson is a disturbing documentary when one recognizes what the US spent on military expenditures in 2007. And what isn’t being spent on the young people Mike Tyson used to be. It is not disturbing because of what Iron Mike does or doesn’t do. No. It is disturbing because as I watched the film I realized that Tyson is a mirror. He is the culminating production of a house of mirrors and insults to the human spirit.

The US spent almost $550 billion dollars on military expenditures in 2007 but we can’t fund childcare. Actually we could fund childcare but we don’t value children except as subjects of TV movies and game show slum dogs. We raise kids in neighborhoods completely devoid of social and familial support. No supports, no scaffolding of services – and the CIA even introduces crack into South Central and other neighborhoods to ensure oppression. In this way, we teach kids (by not teaching) to be feral. Here are the lessons: no one gives a shit about you, especially not your community; might is right; take what you want, when you want it; hate yourself so much that even you don’t care about you and so on. It’s this way in every major urban area I’ve seen: Detroit, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Paris. Dickens would roll over in his grave at our enormous progress.

We expect these kids to then spend the rest of their days in the capitalist/consumer machine. As polite, shut down producer-consumers. How we expect to grow as an economy when we insist on keeping present and future consumers unhealthy and uneducated is beyond me. It makes sense when we can’t even keep our bridges from collapsing. A misunderstanding of capitalism focuses on short term gain and a market devoid of regulation – and humanity. If one studies capitalism (you could start with the Wealth of Nations or A Theory of Moral Sentiments, both by Adam Smith) you would learn that it’s only insanity to pursue short-term gain solely while forsaking long term health.

In terms of Mike Tyson, though, the capitalist machine depends on stories of triumph (if Tyson’s story could be construed as such) over adversity such as his. Tyson is disciplined, has an older sage mentor and, rightfully, a subliminal rage against the machine. He is not a stupid man; he is courageously honest (admitting he had gonorrhea in his first title bout, that he is an addict and that fear has motivated his entire life).

There are these “black boy does good then goes bad” tropes strung around Tyson’s neck, most of which curl themselves around the events of his life (triple champion, object of sexual fantasy, abusive husband, rape & perversion, defeat) and tell us little but strangle him. What is disturbing too is that after almost 25 years of being in the public eye, we know little of Mike Tyson’s inner life. He has been a blank slate for the stories we lay upon him.

In this milieu, what else is there? Tyson said it himself: if he hadn’t become a boxer he would be strung out in a collapsing building in the Bronx, doing time in prison or dead. All of his friends are. Juxtaposed with just the one statistic of military expenditure, “Tyson” tells us that there is a little room in our society for an uneducated, angry, lisping, hulking man who, really, isn’t that different than the rest of us. Is there?

And if there isn’t room for the humanity of Tyson, there sure isn’t room for ours.

~ by Thom on May 19, 2009.

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