Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Michael Dyson Versus Cornel West is Not Boxing, It is Professional Wrestling

Michael Dyson and Cornel West are involved in a very public and ugly feud.

Dyson attempted to "ether" West in an almost 10,000 word essay written for The New Republic called "The Ghost of Cornel West".

Dave Zirin, sports writer, intellectual, and all around smart guy at The Nation offered up the following observation about Dyson versus West in his essay "Cornel West Is Not Mike Tyson":
As a sportswriter I am very sensitive to the use and misuse of boxing metaphors. Few analogies are either more powerful or more universally understood than comparing a public figure to an iconic fighter. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, in a panoramic, painfully personal, deeply researched 10,000-word excoriation of Dr. Cornel West, published in The New Republic, has compared the 61-year-old professor to Mike Tyson. He describes West as someone who once “tore through opponents with startling menace and ferocity,” but who has since devolved into a “faint echo of himself,” an ear-biting sideshow, more interested in celebrity than serious academic and political work. 
With all respect to Dyson, who wrote the intro to my book Game Over and has been a friend to me on numerous occasions, this is in my view the wrong choice of championship pugilists. West is not Mike Tyson: he’s Muhammad Ali. 
Not the Muhammad Ali of ESPN hagiographies or Hollywood films starring Will Smith. But the real Muhammad Ali: effortlessly provocative, undeniably narcissistic, and unquestionably brilliant. 
The deeply hurtful quotes that West has aimed at Dyson (he has “prostituted himself intellectually”) and Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry (“she is a liar and a fraud”) are 21st-century iterations of Ali’s regrettable, and for many unforgivable, questioning of the blackness of the great Joe Frazier, comparing the proud fighter to an ugly gorilla, all in the name of hyping up fights and throwing Frazier off of his game.
[And if a person really wants to understand the meta game between West and Dyson they need to read Political Scientist Dr. Adolph Reed Jr.'s classic article "What are the Drums Saying Booker?"]

I largely agree with Zirin's take on the fracas. However, he is too generous in his analysis of the organic nature of the dispute. Nevertheless, Dave Zirin also has a large piece of the puzzle mostly figured out.

Michael Dyson versus Cornel West is more like professional wrestling than it is boxing.

I offer some additional connective tissue for Zirin's great essay.

Muhammad Ali was a huge fan of professional wrestling and credits Gorgeous George as a having had a great influence on his style, demeanor, and ability to work an audience:
Gorgeous George would shout, bulge his eyes and threaten to annihilate his ''enemy." Some of his opponents feared George's tough talk outside the ring far more than his technique inside it. In short order, the anger aimed at him made him one of wrestling's - and television's - biggest attractions. And he cried all the way to the bank. 
His act lasted so long that a little-known boxer named Cassius Marcellus Clay, who won the 1960 light heavyweight championship in the Rome Olympics, took careful note of George's success. 
"Soon after I turned pro," Cassius mused, "I discovered that even though I won the Olympic title, I wasn't making any money. I was the only champion that didn't have no jack jangling in his jeans. So I studied Gorgeous George and began doing his act better than he did it. 
"Before I became champ, I used to go in the ring and fight and when I went to the dressing room, people didn't pay much attention to me," Ali recalled years later. "One night, I was watching Gorgeous George on TV. He was jumping around making a lot of noise and threatening his opponents and I said to myself, 'this guy's on to something.' I think I'll put some of that in my act." 
Boxing fans plunked down their hard-earned cash to see Ali get knocked out. But alas, he had become as fine a boxer as he was a showman, and routinely whipped his opponents - "as if I was their daddy," he enjoyed saying. 
He also told reporters he probably owed Gorgeous George a lot of money: "Wasn't for him, nobody would have heard of me," Ali insisted."I didn't use no perfume or high heels, but I became real boisterous and the fans began paying attention to me. They hated my poetry and came to see if I would knock out my opponents in the round I'd predict. Fans would spend their money and rush to my fights, hoping to see me get my head whupped."
I have no doubt that the animus between West and Dyson is real. But, there is more money to be made in the build up, climax, and then blow off match, than there is in Dyson and West being compadres and brothers in arms forever.

As in other areas of life, we and they make up to break up.

For example, West, Dyson, and Smiley made a ton of money on their various tours during the Age of Obama and the twilight years of Bush II.

What better way is there to make money and get attention, i.e. return to relevance in popular culture and among the more literate audiences for the chattering classes, than to have a feud between former "brothers?"

Emotional issues between talented competitors plus good creative equals cash in professional wrestling.

It is no different in the world of public intellectuals.

West and Dyson will feud today. This will put a butt every 18 inches in a seat. West and Dyson will reconcile and sell it as a story about two lions and titans in the Black Prophetic Tradition who love justice and "The People" so much that they had to duel in order to place their ideas in a fiery crucible as a way of reducing their brilliance down to its essence.

Public jawing is West's and Dyson's way of applying black intellectual power to Plato's Theory of the Forms.

If Dick Gregory is not available to referee the series of matches between Michael Dyson and Cornel West, I am more than willing to do it for a very agreeable rate of payment.


balitwilight said...

Speaking of "what the drums are saying"...to me, "black intellectuals" are like "black leaders". My "race music" detectors go off when people are slotted into the "black XYZ" ghettos, or assigned some representational role that people in other populations are not. "Step 2" to that process is a hermetic sealing of interests: containment into the zoo of "special interests".
Both Dyson and West are academics who - admirably - have devoted much of their lives to the study of the effects of racism in America. It would be wonderful if more academics grasped this thorn (regardless of their degree of melanin), since race/ism is a Frankenstein of the "white" population, terrorising the "black" population.
I stopped taking anything Dyson says very seriously the 99th time I saw him on MSNBC, or heard him on NPR, rapping for the nice "white" people like Bill Bojangles in a 1983 beatbox timeloop. Because that's what "black intellectuals" authentically do: they rap. My sense is that Mr. Dyson took to his cage a little too well.
Cornell West, on the other hand: say what you like about him, but he has maintained a ferocious integrity, and a refusal to tap dance for any audience. Cornell West has refused to stay in a cage.
It's ironic that Dyson critiques West for showboating, while Dyson is the one who performs "blackness" for "white" audiences and Power (within all its established limits) with most zeal.

azspot said...

*West and Dyson will feud today. This will put a butt every 18 inches in a seat. West and Dyson will reconcile and sell it as a story about two lions and titans in the Black Prophetic Tradition who love justice and "The People" so much that they had to duel in order to place their ideas in a fiery crucible as a way of reducing their brilliance down to its essence.*
*Public jawing is West's and Dyson's way of applying black intellectual power to Plato's Theory of the Forms.*


Though I must say that West's bombastic tirade against Dyson (and Sharpton and other Democratic party apologists) is rooted in calling out their obsequiousness in lining up with Democratic party rubric du jour, whereas Dyson is taking it more personal, more banal, attack on West's intelligence & integrity. Though to be fair, West, I guess, by calling Dyson a sellout is just as personal.

joe manning said...

West's bravado painfully reminds Dyson that he must self censor in order to maintain his lofty pulpit on MSNBC. West's showmanship effectively communicates his formidable body of scholarship. www.cspan.org/video/?234747

Plantsmantx said...

...and who is Dyson tapdancing for (at the moment)? The white neoliberals?

Black Sci-Fi said...

Who among the potential 2016 AA voters are listening to this sideshow? This is the build-up to a MAJOR payday for the AA elite dialing for political dollars. I decline to be drawn into a "blacker than thou" contest between 2 men I once respected.
I've learned enough, at age 61, about our history and the old battles for the "Soul of Black Folks" that was the tiff between BT Washington and DuBois to recognize that each had a contribution to be proud of and each made, in hindsight, shameful mistakes Such is life and the human condition.
Take what you find useful. Share the best ideas with friends and family, And, vote for those who are working toward your interests.
It will be interesting to see if a new crop of AA political leaders emerge in anticipation of the money train that is the 2016 Presidential Election. Considering the leading candidates for the job, I'm not inspired at all and only look forward, with disgust, to more Repuclican congressional antics based on shocking insults and twitter apologies aimed at the most dubious Clinton Monarchy. Let the show begin...!!!
On another note: What EXACTLY is Sen. Warren's record on Civil Rights. I'd like to know before she is drafted by the liberal left to be the (2016 VP running mate) Dutchess of Clintonland.
Oh, Brother...!!!

Gable1111 said...

It's always sad to see people you hold in some level of esteem publicly feud in such a personal, dirt-dishing manner. If, Zirin theorizes, this is akin to pre fight hype, then what's "the fight"? Is it about something I used to call, "the only black syndrome" where in this case who is the unparalleled go to black intellectual? Damn.

It really doesn't matter who "the left" calls on in the run up to 2016 to inoculate them. Dyson has been called on far more than West, and that's not necessarily anything to be proud of, though it's made him some money. In those canned and scripted formats, they seem far more comfortable with Dyson. West is prone to not follow the script. Good for him.

Lastly, these brothers are laudable in their own right, but King vs Malcolm this ain't.

Michael Varian Daly said...

The whole thing is repulsive.

kokanee said...

Content goes to West. Demeanor and poise go to Dyson.

The possible beginnings of the feud:
http://m.democracynow.org/stories/13241 (skip to 42:40)

(MED vs. Glen Ford)

7thangel said...

as opposed to the white purity self professed progressives.

two peas in a pod

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

The day after the Dyson article dropped a colleague of mine was pretty adamant at the wrong-headedness of the boxing metaphor. At the time I was thinking she was right, but that there was another better metaphor out there, but one I couldn't grasp. I think you hit the nail on the head.

chauncey devega said...

This is big big money. All the players involved know it. Millions?

chauncey devega said...

You are using the boxing fighting lingo. Is is that obvious?

chauncey devega said...

Is it? Please do share?

chauncey devega said...

How? Why?

chauncey devega said...

The fight is the national tour, the C-Span shows, the debate in the public sphere about the essence of "black authenticity". This is going to be epic. Do you think the audience gets the bigger picture?

chauncey devega said...

Great comment. The timing is very curious is it not?

chauncey devega said...

Cornel is going to come out so strong that Dyson is going to be stunned. Cornel is the master. Dyson is the heir. This is some epic Hulk Hogan vs. Andre stuff. The whole show is gonna be amazing. Again, does Joe Q. Public get what is happening?

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

For sure. Seeing West and Dyson cut wrestling style promos would really kick things up a notch.

SW said...

I suppose the “pointless” aspect of my comment referred to the public airing of Dyson’s grievances. To me his grievances are deeply personal, but along with everything else in our Western Civilization, he is going to try and capitalize and thing-ify his personal grievance for gain.

More specifically, it seems as though he believes that achieving the level of prophet is the penultimate designation for someone with adequate wisdom, body of scholarship, as well as access to, and acceptance by power. To me Dyson’s words read as if he himself aspires to the level of his prescribed prophet, and that he believes West is short-cutting the process that Dyson believes he understands so well, and may even himself deserve. Could it be that the student is attempting to surpass the master? And that West’s occupancy as a self-prescribed prophet is getting in the way of Dyson’s? Moreover that West’s attacks on Dyson are threatening his attempt at achieving prophet status? Or maybe Dyson’s just pissed.

But it appears as more than Dyson just being angry. One reading, mine, is that Dyson is attempting to usurp West’s position, not through what Dyson describes as necessary to be a prophet (wisdom, body of work, access to power), but by publicly diminishing West’s contributions and current relationship with academia, Black America, and those in power.

So is all of this pointless? I suppose not if we are indulging Dyson. I guess I’m choosing not to indulge in his personal grievance, so perceive his vast article lambasting West’s entire contribution as pointless.

kokanee said...

Nah, it's wrestling. ;)