What do you get when art meet alcohol?– a bunch of pissed off Brooklynites thats what. Critically acclaimed Director Spike Lee is feeling the heat from his childhood neighborhood after he designed (quite well may I add) a limited edition bottle of Absolut Vodka.
The design is apart of Absolut’s City Series campaign. The bottle shows an image of a Brooklyn brownstone with the infamous 165 address atop the building (that is the address in which Lee grew up). The image also displays famous Brooklyn nicknames and phrases such as “Bucktown, and “Brooklyn Good Lookin”
So a critically acclaimed artist stays true to his art and designs a great piece that represents his neighborhood for a leading liquor manufacturer,– Where is the criticism coming from you ask?
Some teenagers in the infamous borough believe that Lee sold out the neighborhood by using historic and culture related images under his name and selling them to a major liquor company. The New York Daily News reported that research done by The Children’s Aid Society showed that Spike’s design was the most popular. One teen spotted an overwhelming 28 of the Absolut ads on one street alone.
Teens in Brooklyn feel as if they have been targeted by the ads, one teen in Brooklyn stated that “He (Spike) was targeting us when normally he would make movies that would uplift our community”
But before we put Spike Lee in a box with Michael Steele, Clearance Thomas, and Former BET Owner Bob Johnson let us take a few things into consideration. Spike Lee has produced over 35 films, all of which have been centered around issues such as race relations, urban crime, poverty, and many other pertinent political affairs;( many of which were New York/ Brooklyn centric) in addition to owning a film company entitled 40 acres and a mule. Not to mention what the teenagers may not know is that Lee dedicated $55,000 dollars of the proceeds of the bottle to the Brooklyn Habitat for Humanity which mission is to create and sustain affordable housing for the borough.
The sell-out moniker always tickles me, because to even have the luxury of being called a sell-out you have to actually be sold-in, and many are not even down for the causes that they are accused of selling out, but Spike Lee has done more than his share to prove his stance. Granted Spike could have had a bit more foresight regarding the long-term affects of the ad, but Lee only designed the bottle, and has no say as to where and the frequency of the ads. That decision is solely up to the manufacturer and the advertising company which place their ads in the areas in which the most people purchase their liquor.
Furthermore, Lee is an artist and used his talent to create an image that fairly represented the neighborhood and aesthetic in which he grew up in. The only downfall was in this case, his art was on a bottle of vodka instead of on the big screen. Absolut Vodka is an alcoholic beverage which is made for adults and not children. I too feel like too many liquor ads in a highly concentrated teenage area is a big problem, but that is a totally different, much needed conversation regarding the current state-of-mind in some of our communities.
At any rate, I applaud and respect the leadership of these teens. In today’s fast paced, rugged, malevolent promoting society, it is refreshing to see kids stand up against the trap instead of falling into it.
However, I don’t think the teenagers beef is with Spike Lee, in fact I know it’s not. Spike is far too influential and cares too much for the children not to be working together with him on this one. This is a communal concern, one that is bigger than just Spike Lee designing a bottle of alcohol. The larger conversation is that alcohol is more accessible and advertised than food, or any other product for that matter. These courageous teens took a stand, and it is up to their community to holistically address it, not pigeon-hole one who has done and continues to do acts of service for his community. I encourage them to focus on finding a common ground with Spike before calling him a sell-out, and labeling him a hypocrite, because Spike always finds a way to Do The Right Thing.