The Mike Tyson paradox

I was peripherally aware recently of Mike Tyson being denied a visa to enter New Zealand to perform his one-man show.

Yesterday it hit the news in America following comments Tyson made in an interview with a Las Vegas radio station, picked up by the Associated Press. Whenever New Zealand makes the news in America, my ears prick up.   

Thinking on it, I found the decision to deny him entry into the country to be slightly pointless. It does, however, raise some interesting questions about the privilege of travel.

(From what I gather...) Tyson is disqualified from entering New Zealand under section 15 of the Immigration Act 2009, which bars someone from entering the country who has been convicted and sentenced to more than five years in jail. Tyson was convicted of rape in 1992 and sentenced to six years in jail, of which he served three.   

Visa application processes usually have some discretionary allowance for people to get a visa who do not technically qualify. Tyson was granted a visa with a sponsor's letter of support from the Life Education Trust, which was going to be a partial benefactor of Mike Tyson's performance. The letter proved to be the work of an over-zealous volunteer and was withdrawn. With it went Tyson's visa.

I want to state high up in this piece that I think Mike Tyson is an idiot. He is a convicted rapist, which is hard to swallow.   

Tyson's one-man show, which he took to Broadway in the recently finished American summer under the direction of Spike Lee, from all accounts was terrible. It blows my mind that seats were on sale for as much as $395 in Auckland, but there's no accounting for taste and I guess the promoter felt confident enough that it could book out one of the largest indoor venues in the country.

I have four interconnected reservations about this decision to deny him entrance into the country.

Reservation number one...

Mike Tyson had cameo appearances in Entourage, Rocky VI and the Hangover (parts one and two). He's a cultural landmark, a punchline, and has veered off into David Hasselhoff, Chuck Norris-ish territory. Through the sheer volume of American content we consume, he has a presence in New Zealand as part of our cultural makeup whether we like it or not. Thousands of New Zealanders have thrown $15 down to laugh at him in the Hangover, a safe big business American import. I can remember the festival hype in New Zealand surrounding the 2008 documentary about his life. Leaving the physical Tyson out of our country isn't really banishing him in any real way.

I accept that the five-year imprisonment cutoff for visitors' visas is probably a good place to start when deciding who to let in and who to keep out, but it is still arbitrary. The visa denial becomes a lot greyer when you take it away, and view Tyson on a scale with other performers who have come to New Zealand to play. You could look at someone like Snoop Dogg, who was driving a car in 1993 from which his bodyguard shot and killed a man, an event that ensnared him in a legal battle over the next three years, who has been sued for assaulting fans, been arrested countless times for drug possession and on weapons charges, and who actually has been denied visas to perform in  Australia.

What separates Mike Tyson and Snoop Dogg? When does protecting the interests of a country turn into picking and choosing politically convenient cases?

Reservation number two...

Mike Tyson's father walked out on him and his two siblings when he was two. He came from a dangerous part of Brooklyn, New York, fell into juvenile detention in his teenage years, but rose above that to be a junior Olympian and world-acclaimed boxing champion. He was jailed for rape in 1992, was released and made a boxing comeback, which fell apart when he bit Evander Holyfield on the ear. He declared bankruptcy in 2003, made another boxing comeback, battled drug addiction, and got sober. He lost a child in tragic circumstances. He's prone to making violent and misogynous remarks. He's bipolar, probably broke, and he likes to raise pigeons. His show itself was centred on the idea of redemption.

Say whatever you want about Mike Tyson, and you could probably say a lot of negative things about him that would probably be close to true, but this is a captivating story, worthwhile even if just as a how not to for troubled youth.

Reservation number three...

He was going to be in New Zealand for less than one whole day and in that time economically benefit our country.

Reservation number four...

Mike Tyson was not going to endanger our public safety.

So what, then, is the moral imperative to stop him from visiting us: that it is unseemly for us to be associated with him, or that because of his conviction for a repugnant offence, he doesn't deserve to travel?    

Tyson has taken his show through much of Europe and South America. Which is fine, we're a different country and we can make our own decisions.

But here is where this debate starts to fascinate me. Where do we want to set the line of who can and can't enter New Zealand?

To you, what actions are severe enough that the privilege of travel should be revoked? And should this revocation be permanent, or is there a statute of limitations on it? 

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