The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Britney, Tyson, and Bruce Lee

Watching an apparently nice person completely implode is never fun. Always sad, but fascinating in a queasy way. Tananarive loves tabloids, and I admit that when they come in the house I brouse ‘em. And they had a lot to say about Ms. Spears and her coming melt-down.

Who didn’t look at her marriage to Kevin Federline and say “ouch!” I mean, the guy dumped the mother of his first two kids, so we knew he was scum. But now it looks as if he was considerably smarter than Britney. He saw an opportunity to raise the level of his game, and went for it. What was disaster for her was the chance of a lifetime for him.

Watching Tyson disintegrate was similar, in some ways. He was a violent boy who was adopted by a man (Cus D’Amato) who knew how to channel that violence into something fairly constructive: the practice and demonstration of the “manly art of self-defense.” Tyson was a genius. At his peak, his defense was so good it looked as if he didn’t have one. He brought lightning in both hands, and terrified his opponents like no one since Sonny Liston. Amazing. But D’Amato died just before Tyson gained the championship. He was 19 years old, just a boy. He didn’t have control of his emotions yet. If Cus had only lived a few more years…but he didn’t. And the sharks circled. And Tyson was offered the world, a world in which there were apparently no limits. I don’t know what happened in his hotel room the night he was accused of rape, but his public treatment of women suggests he is capable of the crime he was convicted of. Whatever that reality, he lost touch. Lost his way. Doesn’t know who or what he is any more.

Michael Jackson is, I think, the same. With more money than his own parents, he was a human being turned inside out, a machine designed to solicit approval from the crowd. He wanted so desperately to be the most loved performer in the world. Looks as if he tried to turn himself into Elvis, doesn’t it? Marrying the King’s daughter. Straightening his hair, thinning his nose, whitening his skin, adopting white children. So incredibly sad. I don’t know what happened in the bedroom between Jackson and those children, but I know that if he isn’t a pederast, he’s some even sadder, sicker creature, who destroyed his life not out of an unnatural appetite, but because he couldn’t seem to understand that his behaviors were so bizarre that he would be considered such. I mean, all he had to do was install a video camera in the bedroom to have a record that this was all just snores and giggles. Maybe hire a nanny to pop in on them with milk and cookies. A strange world…but he could have protected himself. He didn’t get it. Or, he’s a pederast. My money is on the latter, but I don’t know.

Britney has generated much good will. Seems to be a decent human being, but confused beyond belief. She had a one-note act: perfect face and body, and innocent sexuality. It is perfectly reasonable for people to criticize her body: hell, what else was she ever selling? If she was an opera singer, would it be unfair to criticize her voice? A ballet dancer, couldn’t we criticize her dancing? Britney never had much voice, or much ability to dance. But she could project a perfect image. And as that image began to erode, she didn’t have the chops to re-invent herself like a Madonna or even Christina Aguilara. And now she’s lost her children.

Britney, get help. Grow up. Take responsibility for your life. There’s still time. But not a lot of it.
Mike R. made a perfectly reasonable challenge to my position about the external world reflecting our internal state:

“To take some extreme examples: I doubt the world within European Jews in the 1940's was accurately reflected in their world without, or that the middle passage reflected the world within of African slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Mike: perfection. My answer: no map is the territory itself. Any philosophical position is not a “this is what is” but rather a “how does the world look if I look at it through this lens?” And like a map, it breaks down into dots if you look too closely. But have you looked too closely? I don’t know—let’s investigate and see where the edge of the map is.

I remember watching an episode of “Human Weapon,” the show where two fighters travel around the world, studying different martial arts for a week or so, and then jumping in the ring with a local champion. Fun stuff. One week, they went to Israel, to study Krav Maga. I watched a young officer demonstrating baton techniques with a rifle. He looked so much like Jewish kids I’d known in school—except for his attitude. Man oh man, his attitude was pure: NEVER AGAIN. The young Jews of Israel grew up with their parents and grandparents telling them of the ghettos, and the Holocaust. Clearly, they have educated themselves that it is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to keep Jews safe. That, in other words, their forbears made a mistake to think that anyone else could be trusted to defend their lives and freedom.

And that is a mature, adult position. I remember Dawn Callan, the finest women’s self defense instructor I’ve ever known, say that her biggest problem in teaching rape victims is to get them to take responsibility for their rape. Not guilt, blame, or shame: responsibility. The ability to respond, get it? Without that, you are a victim, and victims attract predators. It is the natural order of the universe.

Go deeper. What is the nature of man? If one considers us to be part of the natural order, then violence has to be accepted as part of our spirit, because violence, the cruelty, death and terror of the constant dance of predator and prey, is part of our existence, and always has been. It is in our hearts, and because we long to be angels, we try to ignore it, push it away, pretend it is not true, externalize it onto the Other.

This denial can make us too optimistic. Foolishly blind. I look at the Jews who could see what was coming and flee Germany and think them not lucky but clear-headed. Of course, there were Jews without the resources to flee—as there were citizens of New Orleans who hadn’t the resources to flee. Blame them for their fates? No. But hold them responsible, yes. If they aren’t, no one is. And the children die.

The Jews of Israel respect their ancestors. But hold themselves responsible for the safety of their children. And that young man I saw with the rifle had fire in his eye. He was an animal in a uniform. An animal that walks upright and drives a car and speaks Hebrew and English. Scratch his surface, and you have war to the knife. THAT is something so easy for civilization to numb us to. If you don’t work in the slaughterhouse, it is so easy to forget the blood.

We must never forget. There is a war inside us, and external to us as well. Don’t prize the world of the mind and spirit so highly that you forget the drives of the body. Lethal mistake.
and as for my own African ancestors: there was little that they could have done, if the basic theories I accept about the formation of civilizations was correct. The difference between levels of technology and social organization meant pretty inevitable pain.

And human beings exploit each other. Always have. Slavery may well have mutated into something even more horrible than usual in the New World, but it was the same continuum: treating human beings as machines, as animals. Valuing their external aspects at the expense of their inwardness. We all do this to greater or lesser degrees. Africans did it to each other, Europeans did it to each other, and that’s the way of the world.

But even had they realized this, they didn’t have the communications or trade or social organization to create weapons systems that could have resisted the European advance. And from the position of adulthood, it wasn’t Europe’s responsibility to be “nice.” It was Africa’s responsibility to slaughter every European who landed on African soil. And they couldn’t do it.

Now, if you can’t resist physically, you can try negotiation, or non-resistance, of course. It takes time: maybe your great-grandchildren will succeed. Ghandi thought that it could have worked even against Nazis. That’s a lot of faith, right there. Certainly more than I’ve got.

So what else is there? Well, not everyone was caught and captured and dragged onto the ships in chains. What possible place might personal power, perception, clarity have had in this? On an absolute level, probably none. But on a practical level, those who run fastest and first, who have the best social connections, who understand human motivations, and who are best at achieving and holding rapport have always been most likely to survive wars, pestilence, captivity. Clarity of perception, practiced within, benefits without.

No matter what, it is likely that great numbers of Africans would have suffered the Middle Passage. But I’ll bet there was some individual wiggle room. If only two people from my village were going to escape, I would sure as hell try to be one of them.
Of course, in a broader philosophical sense, what does it all matter? There was nothing really happening. Life is what it is. This is all just a dream anyway. Of course, that’s why you have to be careful about broader philosophical senses.
Ever wondered just how good Bruce Lee actually was? There are very few direct comments from anyone other than worshipful sycophants. A few people like Joon Rhee (“the father of American Tae Kwon Do”) who said that Lee was so fast that he, Rhee, couldn’t even get set. Or Louis Delgado, a fine competitor in the 60’s, who said he couldn’t touch Lee. Of course, there’s also the very believable story that grappler Gene LeBell simply tied Bruce into a knot—but then again, LeBell did that to EVERYONE. He’s simply the baddest bear on the block.

But regarding Lee, I came across an interesting clue yesterday. 60’s Karate legend and kickboxing pioneer Joe Lewis wrote a book called ‘How to master Bruce Lee’s fighting system.” Now, Lewis was arguably the greatest Karate Fighter in American history, and one of three people to be considered Lee’s private student/competitors at that time. The other two were Chuck Norris and Mike Stone. You might remember Stone as the guy who took Pricilla Presley away from Elvis. Elvis is rumored to have tried to take a hit out on Stone, and no one would take it. Stone, you see, was an absolutely awe-inspiring fighter. Earned his black belt in six months. Was unbeaten in individual black belt competition. Was never even scored on to the face! Considered an absolute animal, with a level of athleticism, speed, and aggression that was simply phenomenal. I saw the guy on “the Guiness Game” trying to break the world record for the flying side kick, many years ago. He injured his leg on one of the metal clamps used to hold the target board. Was bleeding all over the stage. But every time he made an attempt at the jump, he moved as if he had no injury at all. It was frightening to watch. What the hell kind of human being is THAT?

At any rate, Stone was, and remains, pure ego. I mean, he had no respect for ANYONE as a fighter. Thought there was no one any good at the time he was competing, and that he hasn’t seen anyone he thought was good to this day on the tournament circuit. Just not impressed by other fighters, at all. What does he say about Lee? Two things jumped out at me.
1) “He was much too fast to have competed in tournaments.”
2) When people thought that Stone was Lee’s student, he generally corrected them, stating that they worked out together. He thought that Lee had nothing to teach him about techniques. He didn’t consider Lee his teacher, he considered himself an equal. Wow. For a man with this record, that level of ability, that great an impact on the men competing against him, that much pure ego to say “I considered myself an equal” even though he was at least four inches taller suggests that Bruce Lee was, indeed, an absolutely superlative fighter, I kid you not.


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