Friday, January 29, 2010

Life in a Southwestern Mountain Town #6

Wednesday night I went and heard Spike Lee at the local University. It snowed and rained all afternoon and I was weighing the possibility that it might be too dangerous to go out at night. The temperature hovered at around 36 degrees, so none of it stuck and the roads did not become icy. I figured the airport would be open if Mr. Lee were flying in that day.

My friend Lisa had organized the whole event, working on the invitation, contract negotiations, dates, details, etc. She works for an institute on campus whose mission is to educate about the holocaust and genocide, and to foster tolerance and moral courage. Every year, she brings someone in on Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the past, she has brought Paul Rasasabagina and Art Spiegelman . This year it was Spike Lee. He was supposed to be talking on the topic of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation caused to the people of New Orleans. He made a film about it.

He didn't talk about that at all. He didn't really have a prepared talk and I think more than a few people were annoyed by that. Instead, he seemed to be having a friendly, almost grandfatherly, talk about his life, about what mattered to him, and about what got him to where he is today. He talked about following your dreams and how things that might seem to be a roadblock can actually turn out to be the thing that sets you going in the right direction.

I actually, really enjoyed the whole thing. I was relieved and pleased that he had taken such a warm, open approach with the audience. I appreciated the non-linear, story-like approach that he used to get his points across. After all, he is an artist and a visual person. Maybe I liked it because my own style is to go about things circuitously, or maybe it is my Irish genes and heritage that like to see the weaving of a good tale. I generally enjoy it when the meaning of something is implied with examples and left somewhat to individual interpretation rather than a bullet point that is shoved in your face.

At the end, he took questions from the audience and was very patient with people and their inability to formulate a reasonable question. One woman seemed like she was expecting to engage in therapy with him in front of the entire auditorium. A young man started the inevitable political soap boxing tirade.

But the best one was a young freshman student who started by saying that before last week, he had never heard of Spike Lee! Everyone gasped and groaned. Even Spike Lee was taken aback. He said, "not even my TV commercials?" But the young man was calm and polite and he said that he had explored some of his movies to get ready for the talk and that he really liked it and had really enjoyed getting to see Mr. Lee. Spike said thanks, and I think it might have actually turned out to be a highlight for him. I imagine him thinking that it is a good thing to not always preach to the choir. By coming to a small town in Arizona, he might have been out of his element, but he opened the eyes of at least one young white boy and maybe helped us get one step closer to the "post-race" society that he said is at least a few generations off.

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