Colin Brazier: Tyson Fury exemplifies the irreconcilable contradictions that face young men today
In a culture where many working class white men feel that depictions of masculinity are prohibited, Tyson Fury is a throwback.
Ours is a country where it can be controversial to use the word ‘woman’, so I ask this question hesitantly. In Britain, what is it to be a man? More precisely, what is it to be a male role model.
The woke answer to this question is to dismiss the question altogether. Or to ask another one. We saw this last week. Asked about James Bond, once the epitome of British masculinity, Keir Starmer asked in return: why can’t Bond just be replaced by a woman.
Well, there’s another answer to the question..."what is it to be a male role model?" I’m not saying it’s the right answer, or even one I agree with, but it is one that many working class men relate to. The answer comes in the 6 feet, nine inch tall form of Tyson Fury, who this weekend fights Deontay Wilder - again - for the world heavyweight boxing title.
In a culture where many working class white men feel that depictions of masculinity are prohibited, Tyson Fury is a throwback. A walking, talking, punching, tweeting, sometimes snorting, rebuke to the sensibilities of the age.
I challenge anyone to show me a modern Briton who exemplifies more of the irreconcilable contradictions that face young men today.
Fury is a triumph of social mobility, but he left school at eleven. His father was jailed for gouging out another man’s eye. Fury, with the exception of a single offence for speeding, has avoided prison. He’s accused of disrespecting women, but has been married to the same woman since they were teenagers.
They’ve just had their sixth child. Fury is worth tens of millions, has fought all around the world, but he lives in Morecambe.
The biggest contradiction is the one we see played-out before us, between his ears. On the one hand, massive, Mohammed Ali quantities of self-confidence. The showman in the Batman suit or the Lamborghini, taunting his opponents, quoting the Bible, with that particular brand of impish Lancastrian wit. But then the other side. The crumpled crying broken bipolar boxer sitting in his Ferrari, seriously contemplating driving into a wall at 100 miles per hour plus. In no other sport outside of fiction, do we, the public, get to watch this happening. These tensions. In real time. The extrovert who goes on massive benders, followed by the control freak whose weight yo-yo’s from 27 stone to 18 for a fight. It’s a wild, pay-per-view ride, and one we get to vicariously share.
Tyson Fury’s life is often a mess, a glorious mess, but then so are the disorderly lives of many of his most devoted fans. His life, his struggles, his sheer effrontery, exemplify a vision of manhood that appeals to a cohort of men who do not accept that masculinity is inherently toxic.
There’s nothing new in a working class hero who feels wealth allows him to tell it like it is. But there are bits of this story which could only be happening now. Social media has amplified Fury’s voice. Cancel culture has created multitudes, who in years gone by wouldn’t even have recognized his name, but who are now waiting to be triggered.
Of course, Fury says things which alienate polite society. 140,000 people signed a petition to have him dropped from the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year after he made homophobic remarks.
He once tweeted a picture of a glass of Stella Artois, a drink colloquially known as wife beater, with the words “4 down 6 to go. Then I’m off home to break the wife’s jaw.” Outrageous. Beyond tastleless, especially given the reputation for domestic violence in Traveller families. But also a joke. Just words, not hate speech. A reminder that if you grow up to be 6 feet nine, you’re probably not in the habit of worrying about the reaction of people around you.
In the Guardian Alice Arnold patronizingly wrote: “The sadness is that Fury chooses to express his views to an audience that may not contain the most enlightened people and those views get reinforced and accepted.”
No Alice, that’s not the sadness. The sadness is that many working class men want for role models. Many of them don’t have a father who’s around. They go to primary schools where there are no male teachers and where physicality is pathologized, where boyhood rough and tumbles are almost seen as an illness. Where dance classes are preferred to anything more conflictual.
There are about a thousand boxing gyms left in Britain. They persist, as they did for Tyson Fury, in turning around lives of little promise. They allow young working class men to find order and discipline and purpose for their natural aggression. Tyson Fury may not win his bout tomorrow in Las Vegas. He may not always fit the increasingly narrow definition of what it is to be an ‘ambassador for his sport’. But like it or not, revile him or admire him, he is one hell of a man. That’s tonight’s Brazier Angle.