A Weak Man Cannot Be Virtuous: Are You Not Entertained?
Just prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, a major international boxing event dawned. And if ever there had been a reason to charge 80 dollars for pay per view – the rematch of Wilder and Fury gave it. One of the biggest fights since Tyson and Holyfield (occurring over two decades before). The brutality and mythos that came of the Tyson and Holyfield fight appeared to be parallel by the recent rematch between Wilder and Fury.
Two undefeated giants who left their first matchup with a grueling tie. By the end, both athletes were teetering and worn, reminiscent of the tattered leather flesh of elephant seals after their infamous bloody disputes. With warrior names that allude to uncontrollable qualities, such as ‘furiosity’ and ‘wildness,’ the story almost couldn’t be made up.
Yet there is another parallel between the fights: a public charm/likability crossed with uncomfortable brutality. Mike Tyson’s big fight with Holyfield resulted in Holyfield’s ear being bitten off. Mike apologized for snapping in the spiral of aggression between the two, and Evander forgave, and the two found peace (handling the issue like bigger men than many athletes today).
Tyson has long been a crowd favorite for his punching bag busting fists, his candid interviews, and his ability to story-tell. Yet, there was uncomfortable aggression that once drove him. He admittedly was entrapped. Entrapped in drugs, a fit of festering anger and drive to be great; while on the flip side, who of us would have done better coming from the streets and suddenly showered in gold?
Today, another Tyson has dawned. Ironically, a Tyson who had even been named after Big Mike himself. After the tie between Tyson Fury and Wilder, the undefeated giants had set the scene for an epic match, and with it, the trash talk began. Fury made his stance clear: “I want to taste blood.” No one would have expected that in the very fight itself, he actually would.
Enter Wilder. His face is shrouded behind something like a Mardis Gras mask that has undergone post-apocalyptic tribalization. His bedazzled shoulder pads are skulls. There are rustic spikes draped across his back. His armor looks like a cross between a Gucci Megazord and the Lord of the Rings Witchking, all with the swagger of a Goku-like figure. His herald is a rapper spitting lines a step ahead of him amidst his entrance. All whilst his eyes glow orange through the darkness.
Enter Fury. He is wearing a classic English crown and royal cape with a suit-like robe below it, as this is happening, around him people are making a haka or ‘hoo-rah’ like chants. Que the music. It is soft female jazz vocals and piano–calming almost. Camera scales back to the large crowd and hall of lights. Zoom in – Fury is being carried to the ring on a throne by four valkyrie clad women. Regally, the broad chinned mountain troll of a man sings his lullaby to the audience to then step off of his throne and into the ring.
A Need for Entertainment?
This is entertainment, right? But, is this something more? I can’t help but feel that I am locked in a futuristic parody of the Roman Empire.
Here our gladiators enter the ring as demi-god kings, yet, this time, they enter the ring by choice. It’s hard not to say that we are the Roman Empire – the glitz and glam, the celebration of hair and bodies – the architecture and celebration of our own power or capabilities. The Romans built statues to the glory of bodies, to their idols. Soldiers scalped German men and women for their golden blond hair. They used the scalps to aid their wives in creating wigs for themselves. Yet, do we also have creeping brutality within us?
Do we have an incessant need for entertainment? We worship the gods of musculature, celebrity opinions, ‘doctor suggested’ advertisements – and in some ways, this unquestioning posture has brought upon us our own black plagues (i.e., the opioid crisis, deepened strife in political discourse, etc.). Not to overstate our overreliance, as of course, the WebMD self-diagnosis is not helpful to society, and it is by the internet that most of us stay even remotely updated. Could there be a connection with our wealth (the U.S. collectively existing as the top 1% wealth of the world), and our entitlement, and thus our acceptance of brutality?
Then comes the biggest international head to head fight of our modern century, and I can’t find a single article discussing the fact that a man licked a guy’s neck so that he could keep a promise, and ingest a bit of the opponent’s blood?
Were we just, as a people, accepting everything that comes our way? Have we forgotten how to blush? Is there something to say about the sport of martial arts? Absolutely, something stunning about the stratagem, the doggedness, the embattlement, the leverage, and puzzling between two human bodies. Yet, for those of us who consider ourselves Christians, those of us within the church, how do we see this world?
In honesty, I enjoy boxing, I enjoy MMA, but I do not enjoy it when it extends into the hearts of brutality. I believe there is a distinction. On one hand, I celebrate the good aspects, the challenge, and desire to learn more and more about Krav Maga and Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu. Sometimes I will ask a friend to punch me, hard, and know if I can take the punch. I love the idea of fighting sports and grew up with combat sports, but I cannot support them without caveat – there lies a responsibility within them.
In Roman leadership, there was the philosophy that the people are more easily manipulated and controllable when presented with “bread and circus.” The idea is to keep bellies fed, give the people enough so that they are not hungry for change. It was not only being fed in food, but fed on entertainment. This kept the people desensitized and distracted. You can get a child to do many things when you set a TV in its face, and promise ice cream.
The discussed event is only a microcosm. Yet, in an age when there are some churches who are defending the brutalities of rioting, or to the brutalities of officers misusing their power amidst their ranks, or defending people breaking into the property of others due to a political cause, we see perhaps a similar desensitizing. We too seem to be moldable and bearing today a certain heat that makes glass bend.
And then again, on the other hand, this brutality is eclipsed with an undeniable charm. Tyson Fury, after his victory, gave his 9 million in earnings entirely to homeless shelters. He speaks resolutely, poised, and disarming with his placid British accent. He, like the Tyson before him, is intelligent, likable, and keeps the audience enticed. He taunts the opponent but is visibly enjoying himself.
People in the streets are bringing to the surface conversations that haven’t been had in public discourse, and officer scandals are at times met with complexities of their own. Combat sports involve incredible technique, skill, preparation, and tact. The chess game between each party involves reading expectations. Risk swinging to one direction and you might lose momentum to one angle – this type of feat is internationally drawing. From Kazakhstan to the Philippines, there is a keen intrigue.
Aggression has a place in society; it isn’t all inherently evil. It draws ideas to the surface, it makes one take action. It is a burning in the bones that keeps us from folding when the world is falling apart. The art of this type of loving aggression has both been lost and manipulated in today’s age.
Today, aggression from the masculine is deemed dangerous and evil, unless from the standpoint of entertainment. From the feminine, it has become a new norm, insisted on, that feisty aggression from the feminine is not only good but appropriate in response to those deemed rude. There are underlying failures in our culture that have led to these erroneous caricatures, but they nonetheless bring with them a distortion of the biblical expression of healthy aggression.
Disciplined aggression can lead us to fight off addictions, keep a nurse in the trenches against Corona, and drive us to competitively bring cures to horrible illnesses. Yet, unfettered aggression is dangerous to all surrounding parties, and those engulfed by it are not always aware of its effects. Many of our world’s greatest fighters learned through overcoming great obstacles.
Many of our greatest football players are also incredible individuals in spite of the meathead imagery. Some of whom have moved on to become farmers, entrepreneurs, or surgeons. Brutality on the other hand, if for no other reason than self-defense or protection, is dangerous to society. Aggression, proverbially, is different, as it can relate to our drive and our care. Without aggression, there would never be small businesses, no revolutionary ideas, no change, no growth.
Brutality admixed with charm today appears to be the new way of the jester. It entertains us into a lull of acceptance, we giggle and move along. Perhaps, today’s tragedies could sober us enough to reexamine some of yesterday’s norms. Maybe we can appreciate a little drama amidst a time of political correctness and bi-partisan attitudes. And certainly, we can all appreciate the resulting philanthropy. Yet, is anyone uncomfortable with the fact that a new ‘Tyson’ has proverbially eaten the opponent’s ear again, and not a single article appeared questioning what happened?
Mike Tyson, after his famed fight with Holyfield where he had bitten a man’s ear off, made personal turns from brutality toward loving aggression, in an interview with the Guardian he confessed,
“I’d still be that violent schmuck because that’s all I once knew – how to hurt people. I used to do all that stuff and I never cared about the repercussions. But I’ve surrendered now. I was thinking of my daughter when …[he points to his teary gaze] … but I’m just happy I’m not that same person.”
Accepting forgiveness has changed a number of boxers, men who have often come out of violent backgrounds. But as we many of us know, Big Mike is still someone who will still stand up for something.
How can men revamp the well-studied testosterone-enhanced tendencies of aggressiveness to be used for a brutal good instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
As the famed professor and thinker Jordan Peterson puts it,
“weak men cannot be virtuous.”