Update: See also Tales of the city: applying Situationist social practice to the analysis of the urban drama (Winter, 2003). An excerpt:
Existing critical literature frequently identifies Mookie as a type of Baudelairean flaneur--a kind of dandy figure who wanders the streets, marked by detached interest in the environment in which he chooses to observe. (56) But while certain critics have named the derive and the flanerie as kindred spirits, (57) the Situationists had different thoughts:
The concept of derive is indissolubly linked to the recognition of
effects that are psychogeographical in nature, and to the
affirmation of a ludic-constructive behavior, something that opposes
it in all respects to the classical notions of travel and
The temptation is, of course then, to identify Mookie as a deriviste, but this analysis also misses the mark. In fact, Mookie is explicitly anti-situationist, adopting a passive, detached stance toward the world in which he moves. His interaction is friendly, terse, and smooth, but it is, above all else, his own. This is all the more striking in light of his action at the end of the film when he is transformed into an active, engaged, and enraged man. The disconnect between Mookie's detachment and final action is confirmed on a semesterly basis as students debate the motivation behind Mookie's attack on Sal's Famous, its plausibility, and its connection to his earlier characterization. Ultimately, they emerge unsatisfied.
The suggestion here is that Mookie's role as flaneur (and not as deriviste) represses the psychogeographical effect of his Bed-Stuy neighborhood, and that its collective effect erupts with the death of Radio Raheem. It is at this point that Mookie becomes the closest thing, we might say, to an actual Situationist. His detournement of both Sal's and the neighborhood becomes the explicit and literal playing out of psychogeographical effect--the inherent violence of the spectacle. It is, in fact, the creation of a situation.
A second point, and one that was framed by Mitchell in his appraisal of the film as "public art," is the consideration of Spike Lee himself. The genius of Do the Right Thing lies not only in the sophistication of its textual movement, but that it, in its own right, participates in the construction of a situation. The anger and confusion that the film generated (and continues to generate) from people who see Sal as a compassionate character and Mookie's action as destructive and unwarranted, is nearly unparalleled in popular cinema. The point is, however, that at its climax the film moves well beyond the clarity of character and narrative motivation. For Mitchell, it is a work of public art, necessitating an interaction between art and spectator, living in the interaction of the two. Adding the language of the SI, it is the transformation of everyday life. "Wake up, wake up, wake, up!" are the first words of the film (and not coincidentally, the last words of Lee's previous release, School Daze). "Revolution is not 'showing' life to people, but making them live," wrote Debord. (59) By constructing a situation both in the text of the film and in the larger apparatus of the cinema, Lee lashes out at the spectacle and begins carving out a space for a transformed life.
A familiar enough example, that. Of course Spike Lee also likes to create uncomfortable situations for the NBA spectacle. Is it always misplaced to criticize a black man for appearing to pander to a stereotype?
Another thought: Someone should really write a thesis entitled, "Engagement or Passivity? From Debord to Agamben and Stepping(Not)Beyond."
Final related link:
"Triumph of the Spectacle" by William McClure (Borderlands)