When Spike Lee went off about the evils of “motherf*cking hipsters” in Brooklyn last month, I was all set to point out what a jerk he was, until I read what he’d actually said, and found it to be pretty reasonable, inflammatory language notwithstanding. His basic point was “don’t be an asshole,” which seems like a reasonable goal for everyone, gentrifiers or not. Of course, that didn’t stop the NY Daily News from digging up some facts about Spike Lee’s own culpability in the very gentrification of Brooklyn that he was railing against.
The New York Times’ chief film critic, A.O. Scott, wrote his own gentrification essay over the weekend (in keeping with the Times ethos to be at least a month late on trend pieces), which included such awesomely New York Times-y sentiments as:
“In the mid-20th-century imagination, [Brooklyn] is like a small, provincial town that happens to lie just across the East River from the capital of all aspiration. The journey from one side to the other is long and freighted with symbolism, and at times impossible.”
“Long and freighted with symbolism,” yes, what an elegant way of saying not much at all.
The piece again referenced the NY Daily News charges of hypocrisy against Spike Lee, without really taking a stand one way or another. Nonetheless, Spike Lee apparently interpreted it as an attack on him by A.O. Scott, and wrote a lengthy and creatively-capitalized rebuttal to the piece on WhoSay:
The Truth is The Truth. The Truth is The Light, and as they say in Brasil “One Finger Can’t Block The Sun.” The Truth is Gentrification is Great for the New Arrivals in Harlem, South Bronx, Bushwick, Red Hook, Bed-Stuy Do or Die and Fort Greene, and in many other cities across the U.S. But not so great for The Brown and Black Residents who have been in these Neighborhoods for decades and are being forced out, to the Suburbs, Down South or back to their Native Islands.
Your criticism of me as a hypocrite is lame, weak and not really thought out.
As poorly thought out as Spike writing this whole rebuttal to someone who never actually criticized him? You be the judge.
You stated in your Article that because I live in The Upper East Side and I’m talking about Gentrification that makes me Hypocrite. The fact is where I live has nothing to do with it. Your argument is OKEY DOKE. If you did your research you would see I’m a product of The New York Public School System, from Kindergarten to graduating from John Dewey High School in Coney Island. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia and my Family moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn when I was Three. The Lees were the 1st Black Family to move into the predominantly Italian-American Brooklyn Neighborhood of Cobble Hill. My Parents bought their first home in 1968, a Brownstone in Fort Greene, where my Father still lives. Did you know his and a Next door Neighbor’s Brownstone were vandalized by Graffiti after my remarks on Gentrification at Pratt Institute? Curious you left that out of your article.
I don’t think anyone was arguing that Spike Lee can’t complain about gentrification because he lives on the Upper East Side, I think it was more that he was complaining about something he was personally profiting from. Also, you’d think he’d recognize the irony of complaining about all these changes to his neighborhood out of one side of his mouth, while talking proudly about how he was among the first black families to change a previously Italian neighborhood out of the other. And this in a piece about how he’s not a hypocrite.
Lee goes on with this tangent for another three paragraphs.
Let’s just say Mr. Scott, we follow your ill thought out, half developed argument that I’m a Hypocrite. Since you are a New York Times Film Critic this should be very easy for you. According to your logic I should not have Written and Directed JUNGLE FEVER because I have never lived in HARLEM and BENSONHURST. I should not have Directed CLOCKERS because I have never lived in Boerum Hill and the Gowanus Projects. I should have not Written and Directed HE GOT GAME because I have never lived in CONEY ISLAND. I should have never Directed my two Epic Documentaries on Hurricane Katrina – WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE and IF GOD IS WILLING AND DA CREEK DON’T RISE because I have never lived in NEW ORLEANS. Or maybe, perhaps I should have never WRITTEN and DIRECTED DO THE RIGHT THING because I have never, ever, ever lived in BED-STUY (DO OR DIE). Do you see where this is going?
Does Spike Lee ever have an argument that doesn’t reference almost every movie he’s directed?
In any case, Spike Lee and A.O. Scott should think about squashing this beef, because if you actually read what they wrote, their closing paragraphs are remarkably similar.
In closing please understand it’s what you get growing up and learning on the Streets of Brooklyn that empowers you to go anywhere on this God’s Earth to “Do Ya Thang” to be successful in the path you have chosen. It doesn’t matter where you choose to live because Brooklyn goes where you go. It still lives inside Larry King, Sandy Koufax, Big Daddy Kane, Bernard and Albert King, Barry Manilow, Stephon Marbury, Rhea Perlman, Adam Sandler, Neil Sedaka, Jerry Seinfeld, Busta Rhymes, Mike Tyson, Harvey Keitel, Willie Randolph, Carmelo Anthony, Mel Brooks, Marisa Tomei, Marv Alvert, Darren Aronofsky, Pat Benatar, Larry David, Mos Def, Tony Danza, Alan Dershowitz, Neil Diamond, Richard Dreyfuss, Debbie Gibson, Rudy Giuliani, David Geffen, Lou Gossett, Jr., Elliott Gould, Mark Jackson, Jimmy Kimmel, Talib Kweli, Nia Long, Alyssa Milano, Stephanie Mills, Esai Morales, Chris Mullin, Chuck Schumer, Jimmy Smits, Joe Torre, Eli Wallach, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand and may I mention none of the above still reside in B.K., but they will always REPRESENT BROOKLYN. Mr. Scott, please learn “SPREADIN’ LOVE IS THE BROOKLYN WAY.”
The Brooklyn of that time, as recalled by Mr. Lethem and Mr. Lee, is a place where a painter and a writer — or a schoolteacher and a musician — could raise their children in relative comfort. It was also a place where such families lived in close, sometimes uncomfortable proximity to people in very different circumstances, where class and race could not be wished away. That Brooklyn still exists and cannot entirely be bought out, built over or exiled to the kingdom of memory. It will be the task of the artists and writers who live there now, native and otherwise, to discover it.
What I took from this is that it’s impressive how many poetic, heartfelt expressions about what it means to be of a place can come from the same basic sentiment of “Things were better when I was a kid!”