Watching Do the Right Thing in 2020

From Radio Raheem to Eric Garner and beyond, will this country ...

"At the end of the film, I leave it up to the audience to decide who did the right thing." - Spike Lee

If you watch Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, you won't feel like you're watching a movie made three decades ago. Well, maybe you will, but I didn't. I know that I have a nostalgia for all things '80s and '90s and can run on the media from that era forever, constantly amazed at the creativity and beauty that came out of that time. And with music featured prominently by Public Enemy and others in the film, I get all that I want and more out of it. But this movie does more than merely resonate with my admittedly deep nostalgia.

Do the Right Thing tells a story of American racism that hasn't changed all that much over my lifetime. It hurts to see that. I first saw a clip of Do the Right Thing in 2012 as part of Amit Baishya's Theory course at Ball State University. Nearly a decade later, the movie continues to reflect a reality continuing to play itself out on the streets of our country with young black men choked to death and young black women shot and killed by the police.

How many Radio Raheems have disappeared? How many more will die before we collectively agree that enough lives have been lost? Malcolm X says, “The price of freedom is death,” but I hope that freedom for minorities and the disenfranchised in America arrives without filling our cemeteries with young black and brown bodies.

In the movie, the neighborhood drunk, himself an unlikely but lovable hero, tells Spike Lee's character Mookie to "Do the Right Thing." Mookie tries to follow that counsel. But in a neighborhood and country rent by racism, it's not always clear what the right thing is. As Robert Chrisman describes in "What is the Right Thing? Notes on the Deconstruction of Black Ideology" Do the Right Thing leaves one with a melange of contradictory and, at times, confused messages that suggest that the film has no clear vision of racial relations in a m├ętropole (53). Chrisman points to a plurality of attitudes and perspectives in the movie. Doing the right thing isn't clear when messages abound. Should one fight the power, as a song by Public Enemy admonishes, should we give in to hate for the other, or should we make every attempt to love those around us, even if they are different?

Rhetorical question notwithstanding, differences abound in Do the Right Thing, ultimately leading to violence. During a flashpoint moment, Mookie picks up a garbage can and tosses it through Sal's Pizzeria, inciting the crowd to loot and burn the restaurant. But Mookie doesn't do anything further. He sits across the street in dazed disbelief at the destruction playing out before him, as if he's not sure if he did the right thing or not. He had already been standing up for himself to Sal and Pino, Sal's racist son. But upon witnessing Radio Raheem's death, he's goes beyond words directly to action. Mook is working out the tension between Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for nonviolent protest and Malcolm X's promotion of violence as a catalyst for change.

In the aftermath, Mookie sees that the other right thing is to work to support his girlfriend Tina and their young son, Hector. To this end, he doesn't accept a handout from Sal, but only what he rightfully earned. He doesn't have a ready solution to the difficulties he now faces without employment, in a neighborhood where hate has risen up to overcome love.

As a way forward, the movie offers a lot of suggestions. Maybe we all just need to chill. Or maybe salvation will arrive from an infusion of cash from an insurance claim, the ever present reminder of  capitalism's victory, if not over racism at least over seeing the haves become the have nots. But King's and X's picture is tacked onto the wall at Sal's Pizzeria. So, a recognition of black heroes is gained. All through Do the Right Thing, Lee gives us black heroes. The great accomplishments of black musicians are front and center and midway through the film, we even get a long list of many excellent artists, from Sade to Dr. Dre to Miles Davis.

Probably the most important statement of the movie is that a clearly victorious way forward isn't postulated. Rather, 1989 carried its own nostalgia for the power of the Civil Rights movement and the great cultural achievements of a century's worth of black artists. But, at the same time, that nostalgia is contrasted with a darker picture of black bodies sprayed violently by firehoses and policemen attacking black men in a clear continuum with a deeply racist past.

We've got to break out of that continuum. We've got to do the right thing.

Sources

Chrisman, Robert. “What Is the Right Thing? Notes on the Deconstruction of Black Ideology.” The Black Scholar, 21.2, 1990, pp. 53–57. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41067684. Accessed 28 June 2020.

1000 Year Old Science Fiction Writers


Let's posit a world where medical interventions radically extend the lifespans of mankind to rival Methusaleh's length of days. So, you get writers spinning out yarns for centuries.

Question 1: What is the creative capacity of the human. Would time allow a human to keep digging, keep finding more stories to tell? Or does imagination run out at some point? I suspect that creativity could continue, but one's perspective would surely alter. The human perspective is already quite different in the various stages of a 75-80 year lifespan. Everything a person writes until they reach twenty years is mostly garbage. Then you get a flowering born of a maturity of vision and skill chained to the rocketing excitement and newness of youth. This doesn't last, of course. The following decades gradually give way to greater perspective and, commonly, a decrease in passion or vital energy.

But what would happen if this greater perspective just kept on going for a thousand years? I suppose that few people under the age of 200 would find a great deal of interest in the writings of, say, a 700 year old. Not least because it would take a long time to build up the requisite knowledge needed to appreciate the work of a septuacentennarian.

Question 2: Provided a writer could build up an income stream from previous works over the course of a few centuries, would they care to continue writing? Highly successful artists with our current lifespans commonly pause to rest from creative endeavors for a year to a decade of time. Consider Steely Dan, who went on a hiatus through the '80s. Or consider Thomas Pynchon, who didn't publish a book after Gravity's Rainbow (1973) until almost two decades had passed with Vineland (1990).  Though, Pynchon is an anomaly. He takes such care with every word and sentence in his books, that maybe it really just took that long for him to finish his project.

Okay, so what I'm saying here is, if I wrote two hundred novels over the course of three hundred years, earning enough to let the stock market do its thing for me, I think I'd be ready for a break.

Question 3: Would readers keep reading your stuff several hundred years in? For the argument, let's say that Stephen King had another 900 years to keep writing. Would you be down to read eighty more Dark Tower books? That's a lot of tooter fish sandwiches. My guess is that people would continue to be fans of their favorite authors across the centuries. Unless . . .

Question 4: If everyone is living for centuries, at what point do former fans turn their back on reading and take up the pen. With a thousand year life spans, surely almost anyone could learn to perfect the literary art.

Question 5: Do other forms of media and forms of entertainment along with advanced AI eclipse the need for human writers and human work? Maybe thousand year old men do little more than recline on a throne of forgetfulness as robotic servants buzz around them, clipping toenails, changing catheter bags, massaging striated muscles, fetching channel changers, writing original screenplays, the whole works.

Taking all these questions into account, I assume that if a science fiction writer could live to be 1000 years old, they would give up on writing long before their abilities flagged or their readership vanished.

Fortunately, I don't have any of these problems. So, cheers to everyone as I continue writing.

The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian from the Star Wars show

So, space opera is sometimes not much more than westerns in space. That's The Mandalorian for you. This isn't necessarily a criticism. While the series has a couple of heavy-handed "You're watching TV" moments, the western themes are mostly deployed intelligently and don't crowd character development. The exceptions? A gratuitous learn how to ride a horse-like creature sequence and an interminable standoff, with Imperial soldiers doing a lot of standing around on a street outside an Old West looking storefront and the Mandalorian's cohort doing a lot of hand wringing inside.