Jaap’s Recitation 3.21, 9:30
We began class with Jaap telling us the results of the evaluations conducted the week prior. Students felt that too much time was spent on the readings, and as a result, text presentations would be limited to five minutes.
From there, we watched the end clip from Rocky, in which the title character loses the big fight but remains standing through the last round. Despite the outcome, he embraces Adrianna, “winning” her.
This led into a brief discussion of Guerrero’s text, “Recuperation, Representation, and Resistance: Black Cinema through the 1980s”, which focused on the racial elements present in that scene and in the movie. The author argues that Rocky exemplifies the classic white American hero, especially as he fights a black challenger as his final match.
Nick presented on the Andrew Ross, “Ballots, Bullets, or Batmen: can cultural studies do the right thing?” reading, an interpretation of the sociopolitical and racial themes found in the two big summer movies of 1989, Do the Right Thing and Batman. The late ‘80s saw a shift to a more “pop culture” perspective than a historical perspective, with a strong youth movement. Although racial tensions existed, they were unspoken, swept under the rug; however, these tensions were evident in both films, which were “polar opposites” in their perspectives on the issue. Batman had a number of subtle, “invisible” comments, like the white family who is mugged after failing to get a cab, or Batman’s similarities to a Klansman (white aristocratic male who breaks the law but wears a costume while doing so). Do the Right Thing is much more blatant in its exploration of racial issues of the time – with its destruction of white property, whites playing a more “neutral” role.
Jaap then explored the differences between Raging Bull and Rocky, how the former was a representation of the American masculinity in crisis during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Rocky, on the other hand, is an attempt to represent the ideal American male, much like Stallone’s Rambo.
The Mitchell reading pointed out that Do the Right Thing contained discrimination against Italians and Puerto Ricans as well. It focused on the idea of public versus private: the idea of the photographs in public view, despite being in a privately-owned business; the radio’s music, a violent message echoed publicly. Mitchell points out Sal’s “silencing” of that voice when he destroys the radio.
We then watched a clip from Spike Lee’s later film, Malcolm X, in which the title character gets his hair straightened, goes dancing, and his mother’s home is broken into by the KKK. These clips showcased the African-American community at the time, and some of their attempts to assimilate into white culture.
The class ended with discussing the politics of Do the Right Thing – who was right? Who was wrong? Jaap mentioned the idea that what was right for humanity or the individual was not always right for that person’s ethnic background, and the conflicting messages at play. We examined the two quotes at the end of the film, one by MLK, the other by Malcolm X: the former advocating peace and discussion, the latter claiming violence was the only means to change.
But even these two race relations leaders – despite their differences – were able to smile in one another’s presence, as reflected in the powerful photograph in