Spike Lee VS Michael Rapaport: Gentrification and Do The Right Thing

Richard Lloyd does an excellent job in his book Neo-Bohemia, Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City of being informative and academic on the issue of bohemian lifestyle.  Lloyd discusses the factors leading to urban neighborhoods becoming a center for artists to locate, focusing mainly on Chicago’s Wicker Park through the 90’s.  While Lloyd does acknowledge the historical context along with the economic affect, he does an excellent job of simply showing us a street level example of relocation and gentrification.  The idea of renovating the city is an intriguing idea, however when it displaces the people who live in a city it raises the question of who society is doing a service to and for.  When a certain neighborhood becomes well-known and attractive, artists and others begin to move to that location.  Rents then begin to rise based on demand and certain people cannot afford living in that location, leaving middle and lower income families of the community (and businesses) ultimately forced to re-located to somewhere cheaper.  This all being said, I liked how this reading picked up on our discussion as a class last week where we discussed gentrification briefly and the affects on a neighborhood that Richard Florida presented in his book The Rise of The Creative Class.

maxresdefaultMaybe I’ve just been watching too many Spike Lee interviews as of late, but anytime I think of gentrification I immediately think of the iconic scene from Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do The Right Thing.  The scene I’m referring to for those who haven’t seen the film (If you haven’t go watch it or we can’t be friends) one of the main characters Buggin’ Out runs into a guy named Clifton.  Clifton bumps into Buggin’ Out not acknowledging him, and scruffs Buggin’ Out’s “brand new pristine Air Jordan 4’s” along his way.  The conversation escalates with Buggin’ Out saying “What you want to live in a black neighborhood for anyway, man? Motherfucking gentrification.”  This is a really complex scene and can without a doubt be broken down way further.  I want to stay on a surface level because otherwise I’ll end up writing about this scene for the entirety of this post.  For convenience here’s the whole scene:  This scene shows the idea of gentrification on a surface level, and my description of the scene really doesn’t do it justice.  In an interview Spike discussed how this isn’t just an insiders vs outsiders or black and white issue like it might have been displayed as in the film to an extent.  This is a really complicated issue and the point of the scene for Spike was to promote and encourage the dialogue and stir up conversation on an important issue.  In an interview Spike discussed it as the “Christopher Columbus Syndrome,” where gentrifiers move into a neighborhood without acknowledging the history of the culture in that neighborhood.  Additionally it adds a racial context when many of these new residents are white and the communities they’re moving into are largely composed of minorities, which we see in the scene above.

“Race isn’t what breeds the alienation that comes with gentrification, it’s the position that the new imports take.” – Spike Lee.

It’s actually ironic because I was just watching an interview the other day which was recorded last year with Spike Lee where he addressed a comment made by a former actor from his film Bamboozled Michael Rapaport.  Rapaport essentially accused Spike Lee of benefiting himself from gentrification as much as the people he criticized himself.  Rapaport said, “If the people that donated money to Spike Lee’s last film saw the apartment that he lives in, they’d bug out.” (Pun intended).

See the whole interview here: (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/22/michael-rapaport-spike-lee_n_5610486.html)

Part of Spike’s response was regarding the respect for the history and the culture like I discussed above.  Spike continued to say, “And I’m going to explain the word ‘bogart’ for people that don’t know. ‘Bogart’ comes from Humphrey Bogart, meaning you come in and just…take it over,” he told Cooper. “You can’t do that. Harlem’s a historic black neighborhood. History. Bedford Stuyvesant, Fort Greene…just come and be humble. Don’t come in saying ‘We’re here now, and this is the way it has to be.’ That’s crazy to me.” (ComplexMagazine) However it’s not only the artists who are being dislocated, and it’s not just New York and Wicker Park where citizens are being affected.  While gentrification might benefit the city, it comes at a certain price when it comes to who reaps the benefits.  When people can’t afford to live in the city they grew up in anymore, there is a huge issue.

Final Thought: 

Jimmy Kimmel re-imagined Do The Right Thing as “Do The White Thing” last night and it’s awesome:

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