Effective Living | Activism

Summary. This page contains an excerpt from a DePauw University article about a presentation by Spike Lee.

The excerpt below specifically deals with the topic of how young people perceive culture as presented in popular music, television, and movies. These impressions shape their beliefs about themselves, their future, and their opportunities.

The salient point in his presentation is that those involved in the entertainment industry shouldn’t glamorize the harshness and violence of poverty and inner city life. Young people tend to romanticize and imitate the images and stereotypes of gang members who are popularize and immortalized in the media, and this perpetuates poverty and violence rather than creating opportunities for escaping cycles of violence and self-destructive behavior.

Learn More. You can learn more about Spike Lee through the following resources.

Cultural Impressions. Below is the excerpt that describes a presentation by Spike Lee about cultural impressions in media.

Turning serious, the director of Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X said, “It’s very important that young people become conscious and understand what’s happening in the world. I’m not asking you to think my way, what I am asking is to question and don’t just digest everything that you read or see on television. Ask more questions. When you get out of that American Idol, Survivor, Joe Millionaire, Temptation Island mode of thinking, leave that alone for a second and deal with some stuff that’s really impacting your lives. ‘Cause who’s to say they’re not going to bring back the draft?”

Lee, who has made 18 films, says there are many more black filmmakers and actors working today than when he began nearly twenty years ago. He says he is “building a body of work” that is designed to “somehow showcase different aspects of the African American experience. Growing up, I’d see all this richness of our culture just standing on the corner or looking out the window, but rarely was it reflected on the screen or on television.” Despite the gains in recent years, Lee says there are only three genres of black films being made today — romantic comedies, lowbrow comedies, and hip-hop/shoot ’em up drug movies — which reinforce stereotypes and don’t begin to display the richness of black America.

“It’s much more dangerous now, and the reason I say that is this: when I was growing up, we looked up to guys who were great athletes, guys who knew how to talk to ladies, and third but not least, guys that were intelligent,” Lee told the DePauw crowd. “Now somehow between then and today, the whole value system has been upended, what’s down is up, what’s up is down. Because amongst many African-American youth today, if you strive to become educated and get your grades and speak correct English and be able to speak a sentence without profanity, then you are ridiculed and ostracized as being a ‘white boy’ or ‘white girl’ or ‘sellout’, an ‘oreo’, which is crazy. But if you’re on the corner, drinkin’ a 40, smokin’ a blunt, holding your privates, then you’re keepin’ it real. And that is pathological, that is genocide.”

Lee says those negative behaviors are influenced by popular music, music videos and films. He cited best-selling rapper 50 Cent as the highest-profile recent offender, “the reason why he’s huge is because he’s been shot 12 times… How more legitimate can you get? He got shot and lived to rap about it. This whole mythology and fascination with gangsta culture… look at the title of the CD, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. That’s crazy. That is the motto of many of these young black kids.” Lee says the CD’s booklet displays pictures of guns, “and this whole fascination of drug stuff. It is crazy, insane. He’s on the cover of Rolling Stone this week, and at the end of the article his mother comes in the dressing room proud as a peacock showing everybody who’ll look the custom made bulletproof vest she made for his 5-year-old son. Bulletproof vest for a 5-year-old kid and that’s supposed to be hip, something we should strive for. That’s some b.s., I’m sorry,” Lee said to applause.

Spike Lee urged students to dream and pursue careers doing things they love, not chase careers because they come with the promise of a hefty salary. When asked what young people who are interested in becoming filmmakers should focus on, Lee responded, “writing.” He added, “One of the reasons I wanted to teach [he’s a professor at NYU and has taught at Harvard] is because students are at a disadvantage when they’re being taught something by instructors or teachers that are only teaching from theory. It’s very important that film students are taught by people who’ve made a film, by someone who has written a script, who’s written a TV show, who has sat in a room with executives — other than that, it’s just theory. Not to say that you can’t learn from them, but I think there’s great value in students’ understanding when they have a teacher who has a film in a theatre now.”

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