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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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Chapter 8: The Mainstreaming (?) of Spike Lee: Challenge and Incorporation

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In this final chapter I explore how Lee’s films may or may not have changed as he progressively became more incorporated within the mainstream film industry. In addition, I discuss Lee’s career in relation to larger issues related to the possibilities of counter-hegemonic cultural production within the mainstream film industry. It is perhaps the case that much of the public perception of Lee as an oppositional media figure (see Lubiano, 2008) is based on impressions formed during the initial stages of his emergence as a media figure, and that as he has become a successful player in the Hollywood milieu the ideological and political subtexts of his films have become increasingly mainstreamed. This is what Lyne argued in 2000 when he posited that Lee is able to “make peace with the corporate power structure while maintaining a veneer of militant dissent” (p. 45).

Thus, as I set out to examine Lee’s work one of the central questions I was interested in exploring is whether a chronological analysis of Lee’s career reveals any significant ideological shifts as he moved from a position of independence to one of incorporation. After all, Watkins has pointed out:

Occasionally, studio executives find it necessary to cut a scene, rephrase a piece of dialogue, or alter some other element considered too risky. This filtering process is an example of how the creative process is routinely purified by industry gatekeepers as ← 175 | 176 →a means of staying within the normative boundaries of dominant...

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