Bruno began class by showing us the first scene from from Marlon Riggs’ 1989 documentary Tongues Untied. The film itself discusses black homosexuality. The scene showed two men dancing together, and Bruno as well as others in the class suggested that the imagery evoked the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe, who explored the theme of the human body (particularly the male’s). Because this film was partially funded by the government as a public art venture, Bruno then left the discussion with questions regarding the issues of public art: Who owns it? Who has the right to condemn it, boycott it, or demand it be removed?
Next was our reading presentation. This week’s piece written by Andrew Ross dealt with the issues of racial identity brought up in the 1989 films Batman and Do The Right Thing. Each film represents a different sect of society, Batman being the white representation and DTRT representing the black representation. In the scene shown in class from Batman, we see the Joker terrorize a museum with his crew of hoodlums. Ross claims that this scene is particularly interesting in how it represents black society without showing a single black person in the film. Joker’s posse are seen painting graffiti and listening to “jungle” music, which are stereotypical characteristics of African-American culture. However, all of the members of the posse are clearly Caucasian. Ross suggests this was a strategy used by Burton to not come off as racist, in which case he creates a invisible racial identity. Do The Right Thing does just the opposite, depicting the African-American Community. However, Ross concludes that it still fails to represent the ENTIRE black community. Ross suggests that Batman is a film depicting “white people problems” whileDTRT is a film depicting problems dealing with the black community and racial issues. We then began to discuss Ross’ (and our own) analysis ofDo the Right Thing.
The reaction of Raheem’s murder by burning down Sal’s Pizzeria, is also a reference to black property being bruned from civil rights era and before. However, this time it is a white person’s property being demolished, creating an interesting contrast. The film also discusses themes of generational respect. Italian generation respect america, while African-Americans aren’t so respectful, much more skeptical, more interested in ancestry and roots. African youth use symbols to go back to roots when in reality they don’t understand the meaning. African insignias are worn to create unity in community.
There is also the ultimate question Spike Lee raises of doing the right thing. What is doing the right thing? Lee never fully answers this, if anything the question is reformed and asked again, thus creating a moral ambiguity. Ultimately Ross, and the class, came to the conclusion that though neither film (Batman or Do The Right Thing) successfully enters a dialog that reflects the question of cultural representation, they do say a lot about the cultures they represent.
Some students in the class had issues with Ross’ thoughts on DTRT. Some students wondered whether Lee should create a film that representation the entire African-American race, or if it’s even possible. We also had issues with Ross’ comparison ofBatmanto old black minstrel shows (white people representing black people, etc.). Could this possibly be over-analyzed. Too far perhaps? Who knows? We’re watching this now, an entirely different generation (the generation of that time) might have thought differently.
We then brought our discussion back to public art, in which Bruno brought up an essay written by W.J.T. Mitchell regarding public art, in which he states that public art has three modes of violence: 1)Art as an act of violence, 2)Art as a weapon for revolution and 3)Art as representation of violence (a war memorial, perhaps. It displays violence as it tries to denounce it).
Do The Right Thing uses all three. It is a persuasive argument meant to disrupt your ideology and make you question your own beliefs.