"Do the Right Thing" vs. all the other lessons learned today

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.

Revisiting the "Field"

Small towns in the vast, too-often-flown-over middle of America rarely trend in a good way on the internet. But all things "Dyersville, Iowa" and "Field of Dreams"-y scored a major traffic bump over the weekend. Due to this past weekend's event staged there at the cornfield ballpark made famous by the movie. I've shown my sentimental proclivities with respect to that flick before. Hence my visit to that picturesque movie site. Twice (since 2012). If you've never gone the distance...well it's sure purdy there. Click through if you'd like to see a few examples.

In the winter, the charms are a bit harder to pinpoint. But they nonetheless exist.

Buried lead...I hope to visit Dyersville one evening this July. Maybe the lights will be on. That and an ample lineup of stars (not the movie or even sporty kind) would truly complete the series.

Connecting censorship (in China) and uncensored storytelling (in Norway).

The combination of this week's 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and Evan Osnos's engaging new book Age of Ambition drew me back to an old photo library. I made my first (and thus far only...) visit to China three years ago this September. Since I'd embargoed most of my photos from that trip, I choose now to share a few (click through for a handful of images from around that central part of Beijing).

The most thoughtful things I've read to help understand this dark anniversary opened a bit more the tiny window I saw through while there. Massive overstatement alert ---> China moved on quickly and changed massively after events in 1989. Yet when I look at pictures of the aftermath, I'm shocked in many cases for the first time by the scale of it all. If the events of "liu si" (the term for June 4th) come up, most people feign ignorance or look for a polite segway elsewhere. Here, there, or anywhere. The best advice I was given before visiting China was simple - "don't talk politics." Whether or not that sounds cowardly, the coping mechanism worked well. 

Since I still don't know what to say...I'll dramatically spin the globe to recap a lit event I'm still digesting. The Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard came to Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Company earlier this week. The release of the 3rd English-translated book in Knausgaard's six volume autobiographical "novel" (more on that in a bit) drew him to the United States for a brief tour - just L.A., Seattle and NYC stops before returning home in a week as he told me in the book signing line after his reading. This rare event kicked me square in the brainpan. Leave it to a somewhat reluctantly self-aware Norwegian to offer a powerful glimpse of how much we all stand to still learn about our skills and motives.

To drill down a bit...Knausgaard offered a disarming, great reading. He proved that banality can be deeply meaningful. He uttered a beautiful mantra in passing that I will borrow and try to use with attribution for some time to come - "self-criticism kills everything." He gave insights great and small, personal and universal, hopeful and darkly prescient to a standing room only crowd in a sweltering basement. Knausgaard's opus is called "My Struggle" and in the original Norwegian would not have been called a memoir. Because there is no such literary category in Norway. In American, we call it "Fiction" because we get all weird and wonky about storytellers manipulating their memory. Some call his work boring - he joked about it in fully owning up to the characterization. It is also deep, rare, and written in a twisting stream-of-consciousness. Hypnotic might be a great description. But I should stop there, because I have much more to read of his "Struggle." Needless to say, I am an immediate admirer and fascinated empath with respect to what Knausgaard has done in this work.

Seattle gets more than its share of authors with real star power jaunting across the stage. Knausgaard's appearance was something quite otherwise, however. This was a Salinger moment. If he comes anywhere in North America when Book 4 gets translated, I suspect Seattle may once again float up near the top of a very short list. But I would not count on him coming back, America. If you have the rare chance to see Knausgaard, do not let that pass without taking great pains to get there. No matter what happens with his work (or his personal struggles with success and happiness), I am quite pleased to have spoken with him briefly while he sat at what looked like the loneliest signing table imaginable...all while a line of dozens and dozens of fans waited for their chance to also thank him for doing us a solid by swinging through town.