6 thoughts on “Brin-Jonathan Butler with a penetrating look at Mike Tyson 25 years after the Douglas defeat: “After the Fall”

  1. Good find, Jeremy.

    It’s a decent piece reaching for a bit more than it can supply. I winced at a few of the metaphors, and thought it went on too long.

    What it does well, I think, isn’t its hook — the promise of explaining Tyson by way of sexual abuse. That was always going to be too reductive. Noosed and nearly thrown off a rooftop — tormented constantly — 38 arrests before puberty — mom hooking and dad pimping — there was just too much for a single atrocity ever to be his “Rosebud.” Rape is a supernova in any life, but Tyson’s rage grew out of constellations.

    No, I think Butler is better at reminding us that boxing lives are made out of misery. He’s right to be skeptical about the “white liberal’s wet dream” that is the D’Amato rescue narrative. All I’d add to that is the observation that the 1980s, the dread Reagan years, drained any force liberalism might have had left in US life. In fact, Tyson’s rise coincided with the build-out of the most rapacious right wing economic system seen since the 19th century, giving rise to the war zones we’d see charted so well a little two decades later in David Simon’s The Wire. But with each massive purse Mike Tyson was heralded as a rags-to-riches poster child. Proof the bootstraps economy really works!

    His place, then, was firmly in the conservative wet dream, too, as a vicious Horatio Alger. But not only that. For my money the sharpest insight comes from Teddy. He nails the way Tyson fed vicarious fantasies and desires in white, affluent America, including the overarching one to see the fighter revealed as a crazed animal and destroyed. (Teddy, famously, once threatened Tyson at gunpoint over touching an underaged relative — a curious omission in Butler’s abuse inquiry). For my money, this is where the Tyson narrative leads if followed to its truly disturbing center — well beyond boxing and into the very heart of American culture.

    • Agreed. Imperfect but a quality piece nonetheless. I recommend Butler’s Kindle book on Rigondeaux and Cuban boxing.

      Very interesting analysis, Richard, and I too was struck by Atlas’ quote. (It is indeed strange that the famous Atlas/Tyson gun confrontation didn’t get a mention, especially given the article’s central rape-‘Rosebud’ hypothesis.) Tyson certainly holds a disturbing and unique place in American culture of the 80s and 90s.

      I’ve probably mentioned this to you before, but if you’ve never read Atlas’ autobiography, you should make it a priority. Equal parts tremendous insight & (at least borderline) hagiography, but compellingly readable throughout

  2. Nice tip, I should read his book. Also want to get hold of the New Yorker profile from which that quote was taken.

    How are you getting on with the Herzog set? You probably mentioned what’s in it, but I can’t recall if it contains his Bad Lieutenant film; wondering how it compares to its namesake by Ferrara.

    Must mention: if you were a fan of the American series Breaking Bad, then the new spin-off Better Call Saul is also superb. More Coen Bros than Dostoevsky this time round, but dark and very funny.

    • Coincidentally just finished watching the first episode of Saul literally minutes before writing this — promising start.

      Bad Lieutenant is not in the BFI set, but I’ve seen it before. Very different to Ferrara’s masterful original (all they share really is the title & some aspects of the central character) but thoroughly enjoyable. Herzog set is good so far. Some of his early shorts and documentary work are illuminating.

      Didnt know there was a New Yorker profile on Atlas. Will be around an old college I attended in the next couple of days, so may search their archives for it. If I get a pdf, I’ll be sure to email it on to you

  3. Cheers, I expect the quote’s from the 8/21/2000 issue:

    Also, this looks interesting, might give it a listen:

    I love Herzog’s early docs, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, La Soufrière, etc. Good to know his BL is worth a look. I should see more of his Kinski collaborations, too.

    Saul has got better with every episode — the second one’s a stunner.

    • Steiner is terrific. His early film Handicapped Future should be the blueprint on how to turn a rote TV doc into something genuinely emotionally affecting

      That Remnick link isnt working unfortunately

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