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The Spike Lee Enigma

Challenge and Incorporation in Media Culture

Bill Yousman

The Spike Lee Enigma is an exploration of ideology and political economy in the films and career of one of America's most controversial filmmakers. Since the 1980s Spike Lee has created numerous films that are socially challenging, some would even say radical, while simultaneously maintaining a collaborative relationship with mainstream Hollywood and the global advertising industry. Lee, thus, seemingly represents an enigma – operating on the margins of both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic cultural production.
This book incorporates multiple perspectives, ranging from media effects theories, critical cultural studies, and the political economy of media, to semiotics and ideological, auteurist, and feminist approaches to film theory and analysis. Early chapters provide a clear explanation of these theoretical and methodological approaches while later chapters explore several of Lee’s films in great depth. In a social environment where popular culture has supplanted education and religion as a primary force of socialization and enculturation, this book demonstrates why a popular filmmaker such as Spike Lee must be taken seriously, while introducing readers to ways of viewing, reading, and listening that will allow them to achieve a new understanding of the mediated texts they encounter on a daily basis.
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Obama was right. No one “builds” anything all by themselves. In the case of a book there are always multiple authors, multiple voices.

Spike Lee must be acknowledged first for his massive achievements in shaking up the American film industry while constructing an incredible body of cinematic work.

I have drawn inspiration from many scholars and critics whose names are referenced throughout the text of this book. For their critical readings of previous versions of these words I want to specifically thank Elizabeth Burt, Lynne Kelly, Robert Lang, and, especially, Jack Banks who taught me so much and has provided years of knowledge and friendship. Sut Jhally, Michael Morgan, and Justin Lewis made my years at UMASS some of the best and most important years of my life. They deepened my understanding of critical and cultural media studies in ways I never imagined before I first took my seat in that dirty Machmer seminar room. David Sterritt and Douglas Kellner have recently been wonderfully generous with precious time and extremely encouraging in their support of this text.

Generations of personal influence must also be given their due. To my father, Morris Yousman: You are gone but you are not gone. Every time I glance ← ix | x →at the stacks of books piled high beside my bed I see your face. You were the first person to teach me to “do the right thing.”

Rachel, Nathan, and Kayla are empirically, objectively, quantitatively the...

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