Jewish World Review June 5, 2003 /5 Sivan, 5763

Jane R. Eisner

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Folk heroes of violence: Tyson, Rudolph wouldn't be celebs without some support | (KRT) Amazing what you can find on the Internet. Why just yesterday, employing no more than my generally mediocre technical skills, I was able to locate a pair of Mike Tyson's boxing trunks - a rare pair, proclaimed the advertisement - available on E-Bay for only $489.

Photographs, trading cards, posters, books, videos, postcards, screen savers, and other memorabilia emblazoned with Tyson's ferocious image that were only a keystroke away.

Not only that, but in trolling the inner reaches of cyberspace, I came upon a helpful description of how to create my very own "bug-out bag," the kind of survivalist kit that alleged Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph may have used to sustain his five years as a fugitive in the woods of North Carolina.

In fact, Christian Media Research reported that a clever survivalist vendor has even marketed a bug-out bag labeled the "Rudolph Getaway Kit." Alas, my technical prowess was not up to the task of locating the kit online, but I'm sure any proficient 10-year-old could.

I let my fingers do the walking to make a point.

It didn't take much time or skill to uncover the modern-day marketing potential of these two toxic celebrities. Both men made the news recently for unrelated reasons, but together they highlight one uncomfortable truth: They could not exist without some sort of public support.

My point is not to make all of us feel responsible for Mike Tyson's continually outrageous, violent threats, or Eric Rudolph's allegedly violent acts of murder and mayhem. Such men are, clearly, their own worst enemies.

But they had help. They had enablers. They have enablers - those who purchase the Mike Tyson Playstation game for impressionable youngsters, those who pass the cup for the Eric Rudolph defense fund. The cult of celebrity sustains them far longer than they deserve.

They snapped into the headlines lately for two very different reasons. Tyson once again opened his foul mouth on national television, to the unedifying detriment of anyone within hearing range. In an interview broadcast last Thursday with Fox's Greta Van Susteren (who, I recall, used to be involved with actual news), Tyson threatened to rape Desiree Washington, the woman he was convicted of raping in 1991, for which he served three years in jail.

He spat out other nasty things about her, too, which can't be repeated in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say that if you were one of the five people on the planet who still thought Iron Mike was a sane man - after he bit Evander Holyfield's ear and threatened to eat the children of another opponent - even you would have been converted by this repartee.

Tyson is a hateful, dangerous man who should never be allowed into a professional boxing ring again. Maintaining his celebrity in any way, even by bidding on the videos of his supposedly glorious past, elevates his gross misdeeds into the realm of the acceptable. Where they do not belong.

The alleged crimes of Eric Robert Rudolph are far more serious, and his guilt is not yet established. Arrested early Saturday in Murphy, N.C., Rudolph is accused of killing two people and injuring more than 100 with bombs at two abortion clinics, a gay nightclub and Atlanta's Olympic Centennial Park.

Even with a million-dollar bounty on his head, Rudolph eluded capture for five years, and his clean-cut, well-clothed appearance on Saturday led authorities to believe that he had help along the way. Not to mention the overt signs of support greeting his arrest in rugged western North Carolina, such as the exhortations to "Pray for Eric Rudolph" posted on a restaurant marquee.

The mayor of Murphy called Rudolph "an army of one." But this army of one had moral support. We can't ignore the songs and bumper stickers celebrating the government's inability to catch the fugitive, or the fact that, according to Christian Media Research, he became "something of a folk hero" for those attuned to his virulently anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, white-supremacist views.

It is highly unlikely that Rudolph would have survived five years on the run and a massive, multimillion dollar manhunt without outside support. It is highly unlikely that Mike Tyson would still be able to nab a TV interview if it weren't for the lingering homage he is paid.

Rudolph should have been turned in, Tyson tuned out. End of story.

Jane R. Eisner is a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.

06/02/03: Never underestimate Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's ability to surprise


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