Bruno began the class by addressing the hand-written evaluations we handed in last week. There was concern that the presentations were too much of a summary of the reading. Bruno gave us the option of coming to class prepared with discussion questions rather than giving a straight presentation. He let the class mull that over and informed us that, excluding the papers, grades were up.
He then presented a clip of Marlon Riggs’ documentary Tongues Untied that depicted a black male dancing with a spoken word voice-over. He explained that this piece was funded by tax dollars, thus leading some to accuse Bush Sr., president at the time, of funding public art with tax dollars. A student pointed out that the scene seemed like a strong reference to Robert Mapplethorpe’s black and white photography of nudes and flowers.
Bruno continued talking about public art by referencing an essay by W. J. T. Mitchell in which he talks about three ways in which public art is violent. The first is public art as a violent act in itself. Bruno referenced the recent mad men ads that had a black silhouette against a white back drop simply falling. The second is public art as a weapon or tool in a social movement. The third is public art representing violence in its subject matter. We tried to categorize Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, successfully seeing how it fulfilled the latter two categories of violence. We went back and forth as to how the movie could be a violent act in itself. The notion of Sal’s pizzeria as public or private space was brought up. Is it private because he built it and owns it or public due to how much it has integrated into and become a part of that community?
Next, Michael gave a presentation on the Ross reading. He explained how symbols had been used to represent different classes such as the Black Panthers’ sniper logo, the batman symbol, and the closed fist. Ross believes that good and evil co-exist and that one cannot be without the other. There was a notion about racial invisibility vs visibility. The scene in batman is also brought up, debating whether it is racially slanted or not and if so, was it Burton’s intent? This leads into a discussion of whether the artist’s intention or the social context of the film is more important. Bruno stated that perhaps the social context might be more important since once a film is put out there, it becomes public property in the sense that how it is view and received is entirely up to the public.
Then we entered into a discussion about Do The Right Thing. We discussed the climax and whether or not Mookie did the “right thing.” One viewpoint is that his trashcan antic saved Sal and his sons from being the object of the mob’s violence. This accounted for differences between white viewings and black viewings in which the primer is torn about whether or not it was the right thing and the latter is certain it was the right thing to do. As we broke it down further it seems that “doing the right thing” is more complex and not nearly as simple as right and wrong. Bruno also touched on the vast range of black identities in this film.