When Mike Tyson
left Dapper Dan's boutique sometime after 4 a.m. on Aug. 23, he was carrying
the new custom-made leather jacket that he had come to Harlem that morning to
pick up. Tyson is one of those impulse shoppers who never know when they're
going to wake up in the middle of the night and realize they're running
dangerously low on leather coats. "He ordered a jacket, and we told him to
pick it up anytime he wanted," explained Dapper Dan, New York's all-night
couturier des pugs.
After months of
headlines about his bizarre public behavior and his equally unusual private
life—some of the stories were almost certainly plants to help promote his June
27 title fight with Michael Spinks—Tyson was ready to make a fashion statement,
and he knew that the salon of the ever-tasteful Mr. D carried plenty of clothes
with writing on them. Tyson had just picked up his $850 white jacket, with the
words DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE in gold and black appliqué across the back,
when he had the bad luck to stumble on that other noted shops-till-he-drops
heavyweight, Mitch (Blood) Green.
The funny thing
about people who have nicknames like Blood is that they are likely to do
anything at four in the morning; you can't reason with them. First thing you
know, Green was calling the heavyweight champion of the world a "homo."
Then he fractured Tyson's fist with his eye, which resulted in several
postponements of Tyson's next fight, which were followed in turn by bouts of
depression, which may have accelerated his breakup with his wife, actress Robin
Givens, and her mother, Ruth Roper. Perhaps Tyson's fashion statement was worth
all that to him, but even if he wishes people wouldn't believe the hype, he
probably wouldn't want to do away with it entirely, either. For while his iron
fists have led him to an undefeated record in the ring, hype is what made it
possible for him to earn more than $50 million in purses by the age of 22.
As recently as
1981, Webster's Third New International Dictionary, a 2,662-page colossus,
didn't even acknowledge the existence of the word hype as slang for hyperbole.
In fact, hype—in its many forms and under many names—has been with us for a
very long time. Among other things, hype is what makes it possible for sports
teams to fill their arenas game after game despite relatively small advertising
budgets. "Hype is almost intrinsic to the coverage of sports," says
Vince Doria, sports editor of The Boston Globe. "We provide the teams with
free advertising on a daily basis. That's what we're there to do."
itself up in Armani jackets these days, and it has grown far more sophisticated
since Gregory Peck appeared in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit in 1956. "I
don't know much about public relations," Peck told another p.r. man.
"Who does?" the man replied. "You got a clean shirt, you bathe
every day, that's all there is to it."
press takes an indulgent view of hype, to say the least. When events come along
that have no intrinsic value of any sort (a partial list of these: the week
before the Super Bowl; virtually anything that happens before a major
prizefight; all intergender grudge matches, such as the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean
King fiasco of 1973), rather than simply ignoring them, the press behaves as if
it were guided by an invisible hand to hype them. This often requires the
seeker of truth to suspend disbelief. "Let's face it, the media like talk
of all kinds, even if they know in their hearts they're being put on," says
Mike Brown, assistant general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals. "The media
actually seek out some of these stories."
In the mid to
late '60s, when television began in earnest to deliver games into people's
living rooms—remember when the expression "Live and in color!" really
meant something?—and later, when news was delivered for the first time in sound
bites, the trick for the hypemasters was to make sure their message wasn't lost
in the babble. The most outlandish of them was arguably a young publicist named
Andy Furman, who specialized in theme-night stunts. While working at Oral
Roberts University, Furman conducted such promotions for the Titans basketball
team as Bulgarian Night (anyone of Bulgarian ancestry would be admitted free)
and Satan-Worship Night (when Oral Roberts was taking on the DePaul Blue Demons
and all self-avowed devil worshippers were let in at no charge). Furman finally
went one tasteless step too far while working at Monticello (N.Y.) Raceway, in
1980, when he fired off an invitation to a local klavern of the Ku Klux Klan
proposing that the Klan take advantage of the track's group party plan package.
One must assume that the idea was to have more than the usual number of horses'
asses standing in the winner's circle, wearing bedding. "All I did was
write a letter to the head of the Klan and suggest he and his boys take a night
off and come out to the track," Furman explained shortly before being
Now hype is
everywhere. It's the Iowa caucuses and the New York Marathon (but not the New
Hampshire primary or the Boston Marathon). Hype is a pitching statistic called
the quality start (but not earned run average). So much of sports has become
hype that it's a challenge to recognize something good and true when we see it.
The message on Mike Tyson's jacket actually comes from the rap tune Don't
Believe the Hype by Public Enemy, which could replace The Star-Spangled Banner
as the pre-game anthem for the 1990s.
get me a shovel
Some writers I know are damn devils
For them I say
Don't believe the hype...
Don't believe the hype.
GREAT MOMENTS IN
HYPE #1: It was supposed to be just another payday for a boxer named Dummy
Mahon, nothing special, until a promoter came up with the harebrained notion
that if Mahon, who was stone deaf, were to parachute out of an airplane, the
sudden change in air pressure as he fell from the sky might make his ears pop
open and restore his hearing. It was felt that such a miracle was just what was
needed to get Mahon's name in the papers and get ticket sales moving for his
upcoming bout. The press did its part by turning out in force on the day of the
jump. In fact, the whole stunt would undoubtedly have been a rousing success if
Mahon's chute had opened. Looking at it from the promoter's point of view, of
course, the results were mixed. On the one hand, Mahon no longer had a hearing
problem. On the other, the promoter had undeniably violated the first canon of
hype: Never kill your attraction.