On a day when the Supreme Court's majority of conservative justices chose to go in another direction, I'm focused upon the 25th Anniversary "Do the Right Thing" - easily Spike Lee's best movie. My memory hasn't faded of seeing that movie for the first time during what was my first summer spent on my own in the City. With all the special screenings and interviews and new-ish details offered up the last few days (including that the Obamas saw it on their first date), I'd like to serve up a slice of my own semi-famous recollection.
I was working that summer on my college campus (University of Minnesota in Minneapolis). Freebie, pre-release screenings of new releases would occasionally show in the otherwise unused, massive lecture halls. They quickly became one of my favorite things, and I grabbed a ticket to "Do the Right Thing" from the info counter in the student union before they evaporated. I remember riding my bike across the I-35 bridge from Dinkytown to the U's West Bank on a flawless summer evening. When I entered the packed auditorium, the air was charged and countless voices echoed off the walls. I'd give myself too much credit to say I was one of a handful of white preppie guys in the room. I didn't another white person, but they might have been just like me - quiet, focused upon finding a seat, so white as to be clear in a jubilant crowd like that one.
No matter the demographic tally, we all had some vague sense of what we would soon see. The buzz about Spike Lee's new movie was everywhere. Regardless of what I brought into that room with me, I had no clue how that evening's slap upside my sensibilities would reverberate for years to come.
I've always fessed up to my reputation as a movie slut. Highbrow, lowbrow, long and dullbrow, popcorn-y embarrassments - most anything goes when it comes to the things I'll sit down to watch. I've had more than my share of epiphanies watching movies, and I eagerly await what I hope to be many more to come. But "Do the Right Thing" showed me something in the shared experience I've never seen repeated with the same immediate power and lingering impact.
While the movie crescendoed, I saw audience members on all sides of me go mad (no spoiler here...if you've not seen it, you have homework...soon). Eventually, Lee's masterful climax pulled us all over the cliff. I distinctly remember dreading what might happen when the houselights came back on. Then I watched...or joined with everyone else...as we read the paired yin-and-yang quotes at the end (again...no spoiler here). Those quotes were projected to precisely defuse the bomb I was sure had been planted in all our heads and hearts. Never before (and, in all do credit, not yet since) did I join with a crowd in being so affected by a movie. When I take a look back from today and drink in the fact that 25 years have passed since then, I don't know if we're any better off now as a society than we were then. I'll be damned, however, if I want to ever forget what "Do the Right Thing" felt like for me that first time.
Today the Supreme Court chose to give corporations religious rights and took yet another brick out of the foundation holding up what remains of this country's labor unions. If it's a stretch to plug my love for this 25-year-old memory of a morality tale...well, you can surely blame me for plugging an apple into this massive orange-shaped argument hole. Call this a first draft of how to wrap my brain around the then and the now...and if there's a middle in there to connect them. I'll tip my hat to Lee and ask...what do you say about something that already happened and can't be changed even though you know it's a horrible shame?
I don't know. Maybe just say, "hey, you wanna watch a movie?" I know I do. And I'll bet you might guess what that movie is in our lecture hall tonight.
Here's hoping something in your queue offers an equally strong moral guide, too. Just don't go see the new "Transformers" movie.