I am not even going to comment on the irony of casting a violent, convicted rapist in a show that claims to be all about condemning heinous, sexual violence.
Instead, what I am going to comment on is the fact that we live in a culture in which a sex offender is being treated like some fallen-from-grace-knight who allegedly served his time and is now finally getting to return to his rightful position on the throne of fame, wealth and luxury - which he and everyone around him believe he’s totally entitled to and deserving of after the brief “hiccup” that was his trial and conviction for rape.
Mike Tyson is untouchable. He cannot ever be asked to talk about or even reflect upon his heinous crimes. Instead, everyone is working diligently to have his reputation rehabilitated, while his victims remain forgotten and the veracity of their testimonies questioned to this day.
Clearly, in the rape culture we are fostering – from lawmakers who believe that there is such a thing as legitimate rape and the House GOP attempting to redefine rape altogether so as to apparently make it easier for the perpetrators to navigate the murky waters of the legal system after having committed such an act, to rape jokes that signal to and encourage male sexual aggression and support violence against women, to those who believe that a pregnancy resulting from rape is something god intended - it’s the accused, the criminals, and not the victims, who need looking after and given second chances. That is especially the case when those accused are “legends” and famous and especially if the second chance means not actually doing three of the sixty years you were supposed to - which I call a huge second chance – but the return to fame and fortune instead.
Mike Tyson is a man who was convicted of rape, has a history of violently beating and abusing his wife, is someone who assaulted and bit off part of another boxer’s ear during a boxing match and who possesses so little integrity, compassion and just dignity that he got married a mere two weeks after the death of his 4 year old daughter.
Speak of your terrible human being.
Yet, to the world, those things are beside the point apparently.
He is being graciously invited to talk shows, was invited by a major network to have his own show, he has been offered cameos in highly marketed box office hits; in 2008, a documentary painting him in a sympathetic light was released and he has been asked to give his opinion and expertise on domestic violence. Heck, he was even asked to participate in what they think is a skit filled with hilarity at the 2010 Teen Choice Awards, where he gave Joe Jonas a haircut and was, once again, painted as this really cool guy for an audience of children who aren’t old enough to know how horribly violent this man is.
His come back has included receiving top representation in the industry and a management team that’s been working hard to fix his brittle image to insure a swift return to fame and fortune – which he is clearly entitled to.
The Culture of Victim Blaming
The mechanisms of the rape culture we live in work in subtle, yet effective ways. Putting Tyson on stage with the Jonas Brothers, for example, makes him cool as hell to a certain young, female as well as male demographic who see this guy palling around with the likes of Joe Jonas and think that’s cool because you gotta be cool to be hanging around with the Jonas brothers.
When those kids, who are not old enough to remember what he did, then go looking up Tyson on Wikipedia and find out that he was a convicted rapist, wife-beater and just overall violent piece of shit abuser who thinks that women are nothing but fuck-holes to be “boned” - as he once eloquently put – the message inevitable get is that rape is no big deal; that violence against women is no a big deal because, hey, look at Tyson: this guy is still famous and cool hanging around with the likes of Joe Jonas. What he did was no big deal. In fact, he must be ok and what he did must be ok too.
A message that prompts the kid to not only not see anything wrong with this picture, since clearly Tyson – despite prison sentence and conviction – still managed to come out on top – but to also subsequently rationalize that stuff away as “everyone makes mistakes” and “such is life”, ultimately leading to narratives that make excuses for the perpetrators and trivialize their acts while simultaneously creating a culture that blames victims and engages in rape apologia.
Doing Three of the Ten Years You Were Supposed To Is A Second Chance
To be clear, I am all for giving people a second chance, although – as mentioned above – it can be argued that facing 60 years in prison, actually getting sentenced to 10, and only serving 3 out of those 10 is a second chance in and of itself. But still. Everyone has a right to find a way to feed, clothe and shelter themselves, a right to bodily safety and autonomy as well as a means of maintaining their health.
However, no one is entitled to fame and fortune and a place in the spotlight.
Putting a violent sexual offender - who doesn’t even have any remorse for what he did as he still denies it and who fifteen years after the first time he raped Desiree Washington talked about wanting to rape her again and who still maintains his innocence despite all the evidence to the contrary - back in the spotlight just normalizes, if not trivializes his crimes - treating the restitution he was forced to make as if it was some bureaucratic checklist one had to go through to no longer be considered an outlaw under the law. As if there weren’t actual victims who are seriously damaged and harmed by the abuses and which is the reason that “restitution” had to be made in the first place.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that tends to exactly do that, trivialize crimes that involve violence against women by rewarding the perpetrators with the kind of empathy and understanding they never granted the victims.
I have noticed that over the years, and especially after the trial and his conviction, the tone and direction of the news outlets discussing Tyson’s comeback have been overall accommodating, warm and sympathetic; like some long, lost hero had finally found his way home after he had been unjustly made to stand trial and pay for his crimes. As if some great injustice had been done to this grand man who had to give up a promising career as a violent miscreant getting his skull smashed in for craploads of money but now was finally returning to take his rightful place in the spotlight, just like he had always deserved but was robbed off with that pesky lawsuit.
As the New York Post put it
“Tyson served three years for rape in the mid-’90s and effectively ended his fight career two years later by biting Evander Holyfield during a bout. But he is now well on his way to remaking himself into a sensitive guy. He cried on Oprah’s show last year and starred in a stunningly candid documentary about his life, “Tyson” (which many in Hollywood believe was robbed of an Oscar nomination). “
Notice how he is being described as having been robbed of an Oscar nomination, as if he was entitled to being nominated for the Oscar and instead was robbed off that opportunity that rightfully belonged to him by that damn slut who was raped.
And then we are supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy when he declares that “I never hurt anybody until somebody hurt one of my birds.”
Yeah, sensitive guy my ass.
I Was Just Depressed I Couldn’t Bone Her No More
During an interview this past April, Tyson discussed the day he walked into ex-wife Robin Givens’ house to find her in bed with Brad Pitt. As Tyson put it with the delicate sensibilities only a sensitive guy like him can:
“One day, I’m going to her house to bone her again and no one’s home, and I’m leaving and she’s pulling up with Brad Pitt, and I’m sad. He wasn’t Brad Pitt back then. He was just some little beach-bum-looking dude. [...] “I wasn’t thinking about attacking him,” Tyson told Global Grind. “I was just depressed I couldn’t bone her no more.”
Sensitive guy my ass.
During the notorious Mike Tyson/Robin Givens interview some twenty years ago, the majority of people sympathized with Tyson, not Givens, who was being accused of being a lying gold digger who had no right to talk about their personal life to the public with him sitting right next to her. Apparently having the living shit beaten out of you is personal dirty laundry that ought not to be shared with the world. It took a freaking rape conviction to take her seriously and even then, the victim blaming continued.
When Tyson was tried in Indiana, his accuser, Desiree Washington, was also called names – from a filthy lying whore to a gold digger who was falsely accusing this pillar of a man and was after his wealth. She was being shredded through the press as someone who was just crying wolf with a “history of at least one false accusation of rape“.
And here we are, over twenty years later, and still no one is asking about either Washington or Givens or any of the people Tyson has hurt.
On the contrary, in countless magazines, interviews and all staples of the entertainment business, including Wikipedia, all sorts of doubts are being cast on their reputations and motives just so that Tyson’s can be rehabilitated.
One look at the commenting section of any article concerning Tyson’s come back and it is abundantly clear who people empathize with and pity. Either that or they see a commercial opportunity to exploit the situation, giggling that putting a freak like Tyson in their movie would be just so much fun and hilarious. Hardi har har har.
Never mind that he doesn’t have any remorse for what he did and in fact in an interview in 2006- while lamenting the “hard life” he faced after his conviction and incarceration for the rape of Desiree Washginton – not only still denied that he raped Washington in 1991 in an Indianapolis hotel room, he also said that the burden of being labeled a convicted rapist made him want to do it now even more.
“I just hate her guts. She put me in that state, where I don’t know,” Tyson said. “I really wish I did now. But now I really do want to rape her.”
Sensitive guy my ass.
He cannot even admit to having committed a crime. How can people think he paid his dues and made amends and then
forget about it altogether celebrating him as if he was a war veteran on the return?
Should he be able to make a living? Sure. But making him famous and rich? Some kind of a public figure people inevitably look up to?
All such behavior does is sweep a history of violence under the rug rather than confront how well that violence is abetted and normalized by the wider culture that tells women and other victims, over and over again, that violence against them is tolerated and will be fought even if it means dismissing their rape claims as mostly a result of “miscommunication” or a sex act gone wrong, as opposed to a serious crime.
Entertainment Value Continues to Trump Appropriate Human Behavior
We’ve heard the story before when Michael Vick strolled out of prison right into a new multi-million dollar contract and thus back to that high status with all the privileges therein. He couldn’t even be bothered to serve as a messenger to all those kids that look up to him explaining why it’s wrong to torment and abuse weak, defenseless and innocent creatures.
Instead, he just went back to the high life signaling once again to society that there really are no serious consequences to your crimes against women as long as you have the privilege of maleness, wealth and fame behind you.
You Can’t Rehabilitate Someone Who Denies Any Wrong Doing
Ultimately, if there is a chance for Tyson to be truly rehabilitated, with which I definitely don’t mean the rehabilitation of his career but of his person as a human being – it is doubtful that rewarding him with wealth, power, entitlement and with it unlimited privilege would accomplish that. In fact, those are the very things that give credence to his behavior and are likely to exacerbate it.
Being famous inevitably puts one in a leadership position as people, in one way or another, look up to the famous person. While I’m not suggesting Tyson wear a scarlet letter, I must point out how reprehensible it is to use his image and persona in such a way as to suggest that his violent past, including rape, is no big deal. When Tyson realized that the world was welcoming him back with open arms, the message that was sent to him, all males, kids who admire him and the whole world as such was that Hey, what you did was no biggie. We’ll understand. Life throws you a curve ball every now and then. We get it. Note that if he had murdered someone, like OJ Simpson, it is highly unlikely that he would have been welcomed back. But rape – we can work around that as no sexual offense is heinous enough that fame and fortune would not take you back.
Is it then any wonder that our very own legislators dismiss and trivialize sexual violence against women with a straight face, trying to redefine rape, even going so far as to believe there is such a thing as legitimate rape? Judge for yourself.