Did Spike Lee Sell Out the Neighborhood from Do the Right Thing?
Liquor companies often come under fire for advertising in poor neighborhoods where alcoholism is already a huge problem, but now ten Brooklyn teens are accusing director Spike Lee of taking part in the same type of predatory marketing. After conducting a survey of posters and billboards advertising alcohol in the low-income Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the teens found that a series of Absolut Vodka posters for a limited-edition "Brooklyn flavor" endorsed by Lee dominated all other ads. This is the same neighborhood Lee put on the map in his 1989 classic Do the Right Thing.
So far, Absolut Vodka has no immediate comment on the survey, which was conducted for the Children's Aid Society, and apparently Lee himself hung up on a reporter who reached him on his cell phone. But, though his hands aren't entirely clean, I'm not sure that Lee deserves all of the blame here.
Even singular filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson have embraced this post-sellout era of American pop culture and signed on for advertising campaigns. Also, according to the original press release, $50,000.00 in profits from these bottles went toward Habitat for Humanity. I'm not sure how that number compares to what Lee was paid, but it's probably more than Dior donated on behalf of David Lynch.
So let's call the campaign itself a non-issue for now. The real backlash stems from the placement of the posters. To be fair, Lee most likely had nothing to do with the location of the ads or the campaign strategy. At the same time, given the type of branding involved, it really doesn't take a genius to figure out what demographic Absolut was going for, and Lee probably should have seen this coming. Unless he assumed that they were just going to focus on exploiting liberal guilt in the Upper West Side?
Moreover, Lee has established a reputation behind the camera and in interviews as a spokesperson against this type of predatory exploitation of urban culture, and in that regard, it doesn't look great. It's especially disappointing coming from the guy who directed this sharp bit of satire in the uneven, but ambitious and still scathing 2000 film Bamboozled.
(Warning: This clip is NSFW and will probably get you in a lot of trouble if it's overheard without context.)
http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/11/02/2010-11-02_teens_trash_spike_lee_over_absolut_brooklyn_vodka_marketing_presence_in_neighbor.html">NY Daily News via Gawker]