I've spent a lot of time analyzing my long-term, stable(r), monogamous attachment to Law & Order: SVU (how do we keep the spark alive!?), and one of the main conclusions I've come to is that—for all its gratuitous trauma-porn issues — it's a show largely about women that actually acknowledges how scary and vulnerable it can be to walk around in possession of a vagina. It focuses on victims, not perpetrators. Bad guys, almost always, are reported and shamed and aggressively pursued and tidily punished within an hour. Actual convictions! So satisfying! And I know they're not real people, but the idea that Olivia and Casey and Judith Light would have my back if I were to be, um, raped inside a TV show I guess, makes me feel like ladies can get some shit done. Also, Stabler, I have feelings. DM me, bro.
So the news that convicted rapist Mike Tyson—MIKE FUCKING TYSON—is slated to guest star in an upcoming SVU episode is blowing my mind (and many other minds) all the way up.
In the episode, slated for February sweeps, Tyson will play a murderer on death row who was damaged by a "troubled childhood." If I know my SVU tropes, that's setting us up for an ambiguously sympathetic exploration of the cyclical nature of violence—how the lines between perpetrator and victim can easily blur—and, no doubt, a bit of meta-commentary on Tyson's own personal history. I actually loved James Toback's 2008 documentary Tyson, in which the washed-up boxer (this was pre-Hangover) tells his story with chilling candor and almost no self-awareness. He's like an overgrown toddler with zero intellect and less impulse control who could kill you with his hands. "I may have tooken advantage of women before," he said about his 1992 rape conviction, "but I never took advantage of her." Ugh.
Now, Tyson completed his sentence and is free to live his life at this point. But that doesn't mean we all have to be complicit in the rehabilitation of his image. That doesn't mean SVU has to hire him. Like I said, SVU's not perfect, but it's something—a small counterpoint to the rape apologia that currently pervades our culture. It at least attempts to unpack tough ideas about shame and victim blaming and the way we protect rapists by stigmatizing sexual violence. Mariska Hargitay runs a foundation to support victims of sexual abuse, for Christ's sake. When I wrote about SVU before, I heard from a lot of victims who say they find SVU therapeutic.
I wonder, though, if they'd find it so therapeutic knowing they were watching (and, most likely, being asked to extend some sympathy to) the guy who did this. (Warning to everyone: All the triggers.)
Tyson held his huge forearm across her chest, Washington said, and pulled off her shorts and underwear. "He put his hand in my vagina, he jammed his fingers in me really hard. I said, 'Ow, please stop! You're hurting me.' My eyes were filling up with tears. Then he started laughing like it was a game." She said he called her a "crybaby."
"I said anything I could to get him off me," she told the packed courtroom. "I was begging him. 'Please, I have a future ahead of me....Please, I don't need a baby....Please, I'm going on to college.' He said, 'So we have a baby,' and jammed himself inside me." The pain was "excruciating," she said. "I felt like someone was ripping me apart." A few seconds later, she recalled, Tyson told her, "Don't fight me, mommy." Then he pulled out and ejaculated on the bed. "Don't you love me now?" she quoted him as saying. As she got dressed, Tyson suggested she spend the night. "I said, 'Why? So you can do this again?' " With that, she left and went back to her hotel in his limousine.
SVU showrunner Warren Leight responded on Twitter, saying that "While in no way excusing his past actions, it's worth noting MT was convicted over twenty years ago, and served his time," and "Our intent, as always, is to provoke discussion and awareness." Ummm, mission accomplished? Because there's no better way to provoke awareness of sexual assault than by paying a convicted rapist a buttload of money to swan around on a TV show dedicated to championing victims' rights. Gotcha. It's the only way.
Marcie Kaveney, a rape crisis advocate from Florida, has started a petition to get Mike Tyson booted from the show (you can sign here). She writes:
We are requesting that you re-consider your decision to have Mike Tyson on Law and Order: SVU. While we understand Mr. Tyson has served his time; it seems as though the only person who will benefit from his guest appearance will be him. There are many sexual assault survivors as well as others who consider your decision to be in poor judgement. Mr. Tyson has never publicly apologized to his victim nor has he admitted his crime. In fact, he has publicly ridiculed his victim. Your show has been a great comfort for so many and is one of the few media outlets that discourages victim-blaming. We would like for the show to continue to have that same integrity.
This is why we don't put Michael Vick in ASPCA commercials.* This is why Godzilla doesn't have his own remodeling program on HGTV. BECAUSE ALL HE WANTS TO DO IS STEP ON YOUR HOUSE. In addition to being a colossal display of poor taste, Mike Tyson playing a murderer on SVU is directly counter to the implied mission of the show. Either you're a genuine advocate for victims, or you don't give a shit. You don't get to do both.
Are there not enough anti-rape celebrities out there to guest star on SVU? Here, this Google search ("male celebrities who don't like rape") took me two seconds and turned up a whole bunch of dudes. How about Daniel Craig as a charismatic cult leader who regrets donating sperm in his youth and trains monkeys to steal his sperms back? (Cryogenic monkey-backpacks, obv.) How about Peter Gabriel as a hangdog veteran detective who got so close to this case that he became the very thing he was trying to destroy? (Ooh, ooh, he can be the "Your Eyes Killer," who does weird stuff with your eyes and then reaches out of you from the inside!) How about David Schwimmer as a guy unloading a van??? ("Yeah, I seen him. What's it to you?")
ANYONE. ANYONE BUT MIKE TYSON. FOR FUCK'S SAKE, TELEVISION. GET A GRIP.
In conclusion, here are some ponies wearing sweaters. For your brain-hurt.
*Oops, bad example, but instructive in its own way.