Here’s a story: an old guy who thinks he’s a boxer flies a drifter to Moscow for an exhibition match and pays him to lose. Not much of a story. One of those things that only happens in movies. You feel dumb just mentioning it, because it’s such a labored anachronism. Nobody says “so this guy, he takes a dive” in real life unless they’re writing a book about how gritty New York is, man.
In 2014, an old coulda-been boxer is a plot device, a construct; a mechanism for wannabe Bukowskis who think writers should always have Jameson on their desks to talk about the death of machismo like we didn’t knock that out in the 70s. A guy rigging a boxing match to reclaim his lost youth and fading virility; it’s just too easy to exist. It’s the stuff of a West LA “tough guy” taking a creative writing class to pad his GPA.
You know the type of writing. It goes like this. “Pugilism. The sweet science. Boxing. Blood and guts. One guy in a ring, goes up against this other guy, gotta tear him apart for his bread. My old man, before he went crazy, he used to ask where all the real men went, and I always told him: to the sewers, old timer. To the gutters. We all got a one-way ticket from Harlem to Hell and it’s a quick ride because they’re the same place.” Secondhand sports mythology. Pure bullshit.
It just doesn’t seem real anymore, a rigged boxing match. It’s the dominion of “the scuzziest guy at the dog track” – old-timey dirtbags who think drunk driving is fine if you have enough practice and you’re allowed to smoke cigarettes at fast food places. Cartoon dirtbags.
Specifically, it’s the dominion of Mickey Rourke.
This is the best scandal the guy could possibly have at his age. I mean, he looks like he spends his free time nursing a can of Steel Reserve outside every Texaco in America. In the era of personal branding, it’s the quintessential on-brand scandal. If you close your eyes and imagine what Mickey Rourke is doing right now, it’s rigging a boxing match in Russia, and here he is, doing that in real life. It’s a Jay Leno gag given consciousness, and worth savoring.
The beauty of it, from a PR angle, is that he doesn’t even have to apologize. He’s a dirtbag, and dirtbags don’t need to apologize. So his next move is a blank canvas. He can do whatever he wants as long as it’s something that might happen in a Bukowski poem. He doesn’t have to reemerge in penitence because nobody will buy it; he just has to reemerge as Mickey Rourke. It’s total freedom to invent his own greasy, disgusting mythology.
Now he can ride a motorcycle cross-country; go into hiding at a Texas motel and hire a photographer to catch him clutching a Bible on his way to the ice box. Pick fights at road houses, fall in love with a dying woman, claim he saw a UFO; get cancer and kick it in Mexico. Anything to entrench his on-screen reputation as your uncle who goes to strip clubs during the day and asks you for money at family reunions.
And like that uncle, he’s worth having around at arm’s length. He keeps you on the straight and narrow. Nobody wants to be Mickey Rourke. You scrunch your nose at his name. It’s easy enough to understand good and evil — good is your dog and evil is somebody who wants to murder your dog — but it’s more important to understand dirtbags. And as long as he’s still around, he’s the guy you point to as the archetype, and that’ll be his legacy. Mickey Rourke: An American Dirtbag.