Day 22  November 12, 2002

1. Names. Policy options/WORTH journals due Thursday, and finish Honky; we’ll see how things go today, but we may spend most of our time on Do the Right Thing. No class next Tuesday; you can use that time to prepare for poster sessions and think about our final explorations. You should have feedback on your War Memorials journal; I haven’t started on the Honky ones.

A bit more on poster presentations—show the one I have left over.

Sheet on “under-reported issues” and our last days together.

2. Into Do the Right Thing, and the discussion that I hope to have today about that film in particular and the whole set of issues and ideas it raises, especially in relation to Honky and the realities of urban and multiracial America.

Start with some general responses to the movie. What did you think? What patterns did you notice? What was different than you might have expected? What about the image of urban life the movie presents?

Does the movie seem an accurate representation of inner-city problems? 

What are the specific problems/issues the movie presents as crucial?

-Employment.  Mookie has a job and some ambition, but where does he go next?  What about the other young people?  There seem to be few options for them.  Even Mookie seems to take his job less than entirely seriously, he’s always sneaking away and doing other stuff on work time. This connects with issues of day-to-day environments, the structures of expectation we learn,  the patterns and habits we develop.

-Family issues: how can people support themselves and a family?  Mookie and Tina and Hector.  Mookie at the beginning, snuggling with his sister instead of with his wife . . .

-Immigration/social movement--Italians mostly gone from neighborhood, Koreans and Latinos moving in. The white guy in the Bird jersey who bumps into Buggin Out early on. Note that Buggin Out lets him walk away.

-Ambition.  Those three guys sitting along the wall, bragging and cussing and commenting on everything. It’s Saturday, OK.  But they seem pretty idle, hmm? They comment on the Korean family who have only been in the area for a year, but already have a store . . .

-Race relations, interactions, stereotypes, suspicions: examples?  There’s some friendship and trust across racial boundaries, but also some problems. Blacks, white, latinos, Koreans . . . what about Mookie? Where does he fit in? He has a Latino girlfriend, he’s pretty tight with Vito.

-Lee’s clearly interested in the texture of the neighborhood, the various groups and how they interact. It is a community, isn’t it? Even granted the tensions and divisions?

-Pride, escalation, violence.

-Public order and policing.  What about the cops?  They’re all white and openly racist, here. 

-The escalation into violence: who’s to blame?  Who starts it?  Who should have stopped it?  Notice the choke hold.

-Final quotes: both Martin and Malcolm, the one saying violence is both immoral and impractical, the other saying that violence in self-defense is “just intelligence.” 

This is a real crux, isn’t it?  Why are those both there at the end?  Does the movie come down one way or the other?  Do we? If we believe that war is sometimes necessary or justified, can we really argue that other violence isn’t sometimes necessary as well?

On the other hand, it’s surely possible to argue that in this scenario the violence used by all parties isn’t exactly “intelligent,” yes?

Whose “fault” is it that the shop gets burned?  At what points could the sequence that led up to it have been broken? 

Buggin Out could have been less intransigent.  Sal could have been more understanding about the wall.  Pino could have been less rough with Smiley.  Rahim could have been less loud.  Sal could have been more polite. Everyone could have yelled less and used the f word less. The cops could have been less violent.  Mookie could have not thrown the trash can.  Smiley could have not lit the match . . .

Cf. Stephen Crane, “The Blue Hotel”: “every sin is the result of a collaboration.”

How should we as a society try to intervene in these situations? How can we decrease the likelihood of such local violence? Who should we expect to back away from violence, de-escalate rather than escalate?

Listen to some of Martin’s and Malcolm’s ideas and images, at for MLK and on Malcolm X Malcolm’s last speech in Detroit, February 14, 1965.

What is to be done? That’s the question. Can we answer it yet? I doubt it. But some sub-questions:

How do we as Americans think about our society?  Do we try to improve the lot of everyone, or accept that some must be poor and miserable and just try to keep them away from the rest of us? How do we distribute the wealth? If we have a surplus, what do we do with it?

My notes:

-Music at start: “Fight the Power,” Public Enemy. “Elvis was a hero to a lot of folks, but he never meant shit to me.”  He was a racist etc.  Woman dancing.

-Heat.  Mookie, working for Sal.  Sons Pino and Vito--tensions between the two of them.  Pino wants to be somewhere else.  Vito’s a weakling.

The Mayor--drunk, but still with some status in community.

Radio Rahim with huge boom box.

Mother Sister in window.  What’s she about?

Mookie’s friend Buggin Out, wants extra cheese on his pizza.  Notices the Wall has no black folks on it.

Three guys sitting by the wall, cussing and bragging.  One is Jamaican?  They’re sort of like the chorus in a Greek play, they comment and provide little breathers in the narrative, without really being involved in the action. 

Koreans: a year off the boat, and they have their own business.  “Either they’re a genius or you black asses are just dumb.”

Smiley--selling photos of Martin and Malcolm together. What about Smiley, anyway?  Is he some sort of symbolic dude or what?

Tina--Mookie’s girlfriend, she has his baby but they’re only occasionally together.

The Latino presence.

Music and public space.  Sal’s cafe--he won’t put up with boom boxes inside.  Struggle to control the space, to exert some kind of power/influence. This is my café, he says.  He’s sweet to Mookie’s sister--why? Because she’s a “nice” young woman, not a threat? Mookie says he just wants to “hide the salami.”

Buggin Out can’t get support for boycott of Sal’s until he finds Rahim.