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    Monday, June 12, 2006

    To Kill A Mockingbird

    Like most people, I haven't read To Kill A Mockingbird since I was about 10. It's probably not surprising that I loved it. I was among the millions of non-"girly girls" who identified with Scout, and I also thought my dad was a hero. I had gone to a mostly black school for a few years, where our history lessons were Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X, Selma and Brown v. Board of Ed, so I was well-trained and passionate about racial injustice. It was a perfect novel for a kid like me (despite my violent streak).

    Now, Stephen Metcalf looks at it with adult eyes, given the new Harper Lee bio and the attention paid her due to the Capote film. He makes an interesting comparison of Harper Lee to Spike Lee:

    To defend To Kill a Mockingbird, which I will here admit I immensely enjoyed, I would begin by pairing it, not with Uncle Tom's Cabin, the book most frequently mistaken for its first cousin, but with Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. Each is afflicted with its own version, one white, one black, of the maudlin insanity that grips American artists when they confront the issue of race. The two Lees: Each told their audience exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. Harper counseled whites to be forbearing when they might better have exploded; Spike encouraged blacks to explode, at just the moment the gains they had made into the middle class were consolidating. Nonetheless, both produced, almost in spite of themselves, works of transcendent American genius, garish murals streaked through with subtleties that, upon inspection, appear wholly unbidden.

    My relationship with Do the Right Thing is similar in that my viewing of it was when I was young and impressionable (though in a different way). I was a college student, having lived in NYC (a very different racial and ethnic climate from any I had known) for a couple of years. I still think of it as one of my favorite films of all time, because it sticks with me. But I wonder what I'd think if I saw it now.

    For me, the comparison of the two Lees makes a certain sense and also asks an interesting question: does the age at which a work most ideally acts on your psyche (or your aesthetic sensibility) indicate its quality?

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Rey said...

    I wondered that myself recently when my love of Gregg Araki's work was challenged by a co-worker just before Mysterious Skin came out (and, subsequently, hit it big).

    So I started revisiting things I hadn't seen or read in ten or so years, and I have to say that a lot of them stand up. Particularly for me Virginia Woolf, Gregg Araki movies, the Oz books, the X-Men, and Twin Peaks. They all have stuff I still think about and work through in life and my writing, for example new/non-traditional literary/sexual narratives, progressive gender roles, criticism of bigotry (as early as 1963!), and trust in an intelligent audience.

    You should revisit your Lees. I bet you'll like them even more.

    4:30 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    You know, I think I will.

    I had quite a strange experience with Blue Velvet actually, since you brought up Lynch. When I saw it at 13 or 14 or something like that, I found it so very erotic. This time, it affected me in a TOTALLY different way. It wasn't sexy, though sex was part of it, but I actually think it made a bigger impression on the second round.

    4:46 PM  

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