Searching for Controversy

When four simple words are placed in an order we’re not used to, our default setting is to automatically qualify the statement as controversial. The statement “Race is a merit” should spark debate. It is an interesting argument, and it shouldn’t merely be tossed aside. We should examine this because the key in unlocking Spike Lee’s words can help elucidate the pro-affirmative action argument. The incessant and unintelligent discourse that has come about because of Spike Lee’s speech disappoints me. While I can’t say I speak for everyone, it seemed to me that a majority of the student body waited to jump on Mr. Lee for saying something controversial. There was an apparent strong sentiment in favor of making Lee look stupid. Frankly, he was not treated like a respected director or social commentator. Let’s remember that at the core, Mr. Lee is a filmmaker. While he can brand himself as a social expert or historian, we should all know his best skill is to let the pictures do the talking. If he were a writer, he would write a book about race. If he were a public speaker, he would have come with a more prepared speech with less rambling. We seemed to forget that Spike is an artist. This is not to assume that an artist can’t give a good speech. It’s to assume that we can learn the most from Spike Lee from his movies and questions about his movies. Andover did everything they could to get students to see Mr. Lee’s films. “Do The Right Thing” was shown three times. Many people were required to see “Bamboozled” as well as “Jungle Fever.” His films raise important questions. They are designed to challenge the way you think about your values and beliefs. Those who didn’t take advantage of or seen any of his films are automatically unqualified to comment on his beliefs or values. I would have loved to talk to Spike Lee about his movies for the entire day. Instead, I heard largely plain vanilla questions from a panel. I would have loved to ask Mr. Lee: What’s the fairest criticism he’s ever received? How did he feel other directors have done at examining similar racial divisions or stereotypes as you? How would he respond to the criticism of his portrayal of women in He Got Game? But instead of focusing on how his films function as a movement towards social change, we chose to try to make him out as a person who prevents change. My evidence? What did students expect to hear on MLK day when they asked Mr. Lee why slavery was important if it happened 100 years ago? Why was another student cheered merely for defining the word meritocracy? Was some of it because she showed knowledge and sharpness with her response? Sure. Was a lot of it to make Spike look bad? Definitely. Why has a large portion of the school chosen to harp on Mr. Lee’s assertion that race is a merit? People sometimes hear what they want to hear. They heard something that could be viewed as controversial and attacked him for it. We need to end the Rush Limbaugh comparisons now. You can say that Spike claims to speak for a demographic just like the radio host, but you cannot say they advocate the same things. In all of Spike Lee’s controversy you cannot say he doesn’t deeply hope for social change – similar to Dr. King and Malcolm X. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck signify a regression. “In Obama’s America black people beat up white people” is an example of calculated racist rhetoric designed to incite people and set our country back. “Black people can’t be racists” comes from a man who was trying to explain how the past has impacted black America today. In the end, I’m just sad that most of the school chose to refer to their default settings and preconceived notions, refusing to take what Mr. Lee had to say seriously. Dave Knapp is a four-year Senior from Salem, MA.