I watched "Tyson" Saturday night. It's not something I would have seen on my own, but my son has a bit of an obsession with Mike Tyson, so I tagged along. Much of the movie consists of just Tyson talking; these scenes are interspersed with clips showing various highlights (and lowlights) of his life.
Before the movie started, my son asked me, "Is Mike Tyson a sociopath?" I said I wasn't sure. (But I did come to a conclusion by the end of the movie.)
The obvious answer would be yes. Tyson seems to be out of control. His run-ins with the law, including his rape conviction, his almost bestial quality in the ring, including the infamous ear-biting incident, and his numerous colorful quotes ("I'm going to eat his children," etc.) all emit the odor of sociopathy.
But sociopaths are always, at root, dishonest creatures. A sociopath is concerned with presenting a certain image, and to that end will try to hide his true nature. Tyson is the opposite. His personality is basically just one big primal scream. It can be a scream of joy (when he was on top of the world), of rage (when more duplicitous types took advantage of him), and of regret (more recently). There is an almost childlike quality to the way he talks so honestly about his life, and the way he doesn't try to hide his emotions, raw as they may be. This was particularly apparent when he spoke of his early criminal history and other bad behavior.
The most poignant scene in the movie came when Tyson talked about his relationship with Cus d'Amato, the trainer who semi-adopted him: Tyson's tears welled up and for a while he was unable even to talk. Whenever I've seen a sociopath cry, it is always out of self-pity. (Witness Leona Helmsley breaking down after her arrest.) You can say that Tyson broke down partly out of self-pity, since d'Amato was the only one who ever gave him love and consideration. (You can also say that d'Amato's "love" was also somewhat selfish, since he wanted a heavyweight champion and saw Tyson as that vehicle.) But there also seemed to be genuine affection, on both sides.
Verdict: Mike Tyson, though he lacks self-control, is not a sociopath.
One aspect of Tyson's makeup inseparable from his behavior is his hyperandrogenization, giving him his own inbuilt genetic supply of "steroid rage." He was in the grip of this rage when he bit Holyfield's ear. Evidently Holyfield had continually head-butted him during their match, and referee Mills Lane, an avowed Holyfield fan, had refused to call Holyfield for it. So Tyson became enraged and lost control.
Tyson has certainly had other, better reasons for rage. (At the head of that list would be Don King, who most definitely is a sociopath. Second on the list is Robin Givens, a probable sociopath.)
Another person who may have exploited Tyson is Desiree Washington, the woman whose "rape" he went to jail for. Tyson claims he didn't do it. He admitted having "taken advantage of" other women in the past, but insisted he hadn't done so with her. Given how honest Tyson is in every other aspect of his life in the movie, it seems telling that he is so bitter against her.
Google "Desiree Washington," and you'll find nothing. But look at the Wikipedia entry on Tyson, and you'll see a paragraph about the trial. It came out there that Washington had a history of leading other men on, and despite her original statement, she later admitted that she had had several opportunities to leave his hotel room that evening, but hadn't taken them. The jury was evidently put off by Tyson's demeanor during the trial, which they read as sullen and arrogant. (That may in fact have been a function of his resentment about the false charges.) Such an attitude may be good reason to dislike someone, but it is not reason to convict him.
We'll never know, but my guess is that he was innocent of those charges. It certainly wouldn't be the first time a man has been sent to jail on false rape charges. One can say, given Tyson's admission that he had "taken advantage" of other women, that his conviction was in fact poetic justice. And maybe it was. But our legal system is not set up to render poetic justice.
Tyson represents everything that the black middle and upper classes like to dissociate themselves from: he is primitive, uneducated, lawless, and out of control. (Talk to any member of these groups, and you'll find they almost invariably prefer -- and prefer to identify with -- the lighter-skinned, eloquent and elegant, playful and politicized Muhammad Ali.) But watching this movie, I was left with the impression that Tyson is, in his own way, far more noble than most members of the black -- or white -- upper classes.
There is a nobility in the way Tyson is brutally honest with himself, and the way he makes no attempt to be anything other than what he is. There is a nobility to the way he fought in the ring. (In an earlier era he might have been referred to as a valiant warrior, and not just because of his ferocity; against both Buster Douglas and Lennox Lewis, although he was losing from the start, he kept battling until he was well and truly knocked out. It's called "going out on your shield.") There is a nobility -- as well as a naivete -- to the way he was so trusting of others. (People almost always assume that others are as honest as they themselves are.) Tyson even looks noble, with his outsize cheekbones, arched eyebrows, fierce eyes, and shaved head. (The hulking physique doesn't detract from this impression.) Even the way he tattooed his face with that Maori war motif, at a certain level, showed a certain reckless courage.
You can interpret all of these things as simple-mindedness, and there may be some truth to that as well. But while he is more childlike than most, he is also more manly than most of us could ever dream of being. And I don't mean that in just the physical sense.
If you've seen any of the King Kong movies, you know that King Kong was a scary, elemental force of nature who knew only the laws of the jungle. Everybody loved to marvel at and be scared by his primordial strength and ferocity. He was not well versed in the ways of humans, and eventually fell prey to some cunning showmen. But he was at heart an honest creature who was capable of love. And by the end of the movie, you know that he was essentially far better -- far more noble -- than the people who exploited him.
I emphasize, strongly, that I am not calling Mike Tyson an ape; I am merely making an analogy.