Saturday, February 19, 2011

Do the Right Thing

ETA: I read through this today and noticed a lot of typos. I'd had an extra glass of wine (or two?) when I wrote this so thank goodness it was reasonably coherent. I just fixed what I could find. Sorry folks! 

I wrote my master's thesis about Jon Stewart. At the time, I joked that I knew I wanted to quit so I was going to write about something that wasn't pretentious. We joke about the things we least want people to mock, the things that are most important to us. A friend of mine in a PhD program in Political Theory posted the other day about a discussion about liberal pluralism and it was such a lame post. It made me so very thankful that I wasn't in graduate school, because it's really bullshit.

I remember a guy in grad school who would find his next paper by running data and finding some random shit someone hadn't yet tested. STATA ran his research, not an interest in politics. The guy I mention in the sidebar told me I didn't have a passion for political theory because I deigned to mention that Judith Butler should maybe consider writing more clearly if her ultimate goal was to change the status quo. Writing like a person with marshmallows in their mouth does not communicate to most people, I argued. She has such good things to say, I wondered, why doesn't she say them clearly? This meant, apparently, that I didn't have a passion for political theory.

Which is why I am so very happy at this moment to talk about Do the Right Thing. Texts that are not theoretical per se have always enamored Political Theory. Richard Rorty thinks poetry a very useful method for talking about political issues. Beyond poetry, most political theorists LOVE Nabokov. Because a likeable rapist, apparently, is very useful for understanding how to change our most hateful politics.

Which is why I come to Do the Right Thing. I've been streaming it on Netflix these past two hours. I love it. It's a good movie to watch in these weeks of protests abroad and at home.

But I have a larger point to make. And that's to broaden the text. Do the Right Thing lives in certain texts, notably with bell hooks, but the movie rarely find itself in works by (white) political theorists. What lives with other writers is Moby Dick, Lolita, and poetry. These three resources for political theorists are lacking in accessibility. But if you think this, or so I'm told, you must not have a passion for political theory then, you must not have a passion for troubling language, which theses poets and theorists do with their hard-to-understand sentences.

That is precisely why I do have a passion. Spike Lee manages in two hours to present an accessible, complex analysis on race in America. Do the Right Thing is the sort of text theorists need to pay attention to. Not just theorists, but everyone. It's possibly one of the most thoughtful, complex (and funny) movies to grace my Netflix queue. I'd say Spike Lee's analysis of race in America is far deeper and more in tune with the real issues than someone who suffers from marshmallow mouth.

I spent at least 50 pages of my thesis arguing why popular texts need attention. I quoted Rorty. I quoted Foucault. I quoted quite a few others I can't remember. That process, much like running data sets in STATA, is preposterous. We use that process because we must hide passion behind stuff-old-white-dudes-have-said. If we were truly passionate, we'd be writing our own data-sets

A movie like Do the Right Thing is pause for thought. It is intelligent, witty, and inordinately accessible. Spike Lee made my white butt think about race when I first watched this move at 16.

I suppose what I am saying is that texts not in the cannon say important things, and you can trouble the waters significantly with a popular film both deep and funny. I'm sick of theorists turning only to poets and Nabokov. Our political language is not bound my academica and I would argue that academia stifles such language.

Part of doing the right thing, so it seems, is to buckle down and work hard. And watch Spike Lee.

Stuff I Read while Writing this:S
Do the Right Thing
Contingency, Irony, Solidarity by Richard Rorty

Something that is not pretentious to clear your palate:

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