Small Interaction

Screenshot 2016-02-23 17.13.16

Today in class we briefly discussed the interaction between Buggin’ Out and this white gentleman who has returned from a bike ride. The white male accidentally steps and scuffs Buggin’ Out’s Jordan’s, a popular sneaker brand. Instead of calmly discussing the issue, Buggin’ Out calls him out, gathering a crowd of other youth bothered by the heat. Despite the short 2 minute interaction in film, the scene covers issues of  who belongs to what spaces because of their race and the value of certain black merchandise.

The first thing I noticed in the scene was the white male is wearing a Larry Bird jersey, a famous basketball player who was once dirt poor. Bird models the American Dream for white Americans: from rags to riches, extremely talented in a single aspect, hardworking, and inspiring for youth. On the other hand, one of Buggin’ Out’s peers is wearing a Magic Johnson jersey, the complete opposite of Bird in race, style, and background. The rivalry between Magic and Bird lasted for years, often being described as black vs. white by the media.

This wardrobe choice represents the tension between the characters and between race. Buggin Out and his peers question why the white male brought a brownstone in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, a black neighborhood. He replies because America is a free country and he can own property anywhere. To counter this, Buggin Out’s peers yell this white male messed up his Jordan’s, an item $108.38 after tax, which they claim warrants a beat down. The youth exaggerate the value of sneakers so that an audience may consider Jordan’s as priceless. Blacks value this type of black merchandise despite its cost because of the name.

Because of his dress, Buggin Out and his peers tell the white male to move back to Massachusetts, an insult common to white Americans living in black neighborhoods in New York City. However, the white male informs the youth he is from Brooklyn with confidence. In frustration, the youth yell out a few more slanders in hopes to rile up the white male and convince him to leave Brooklyn. Yet their attempt fails, since the white male walks into his brownstone relaxed and ignoring them. Since Buggin Out’s interaction did not resolve as he hoped and he also feels disrespected, he continues to carry that tension through the film, until it boils over during his duel with Sal.

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Author: jayjay

photographer, dancer, aspiring lawyer

3 thoughts on “Small Interaction”

  1. Cracking vs. Doing The Right Thing

    To me, this scene feels like it begins with Mookie and Vito at 34:06. When it is juxtaposed with Radio Raheem’s victory scene, the scene can be seen as an image of black failure–or doing the “wrong” thing. But Buggin’ Out’s role transforms its meaning.

    Buggin’ Out immediately changes the dynamics of communication between Vito and Mookie. Their body language goes from loose and open to taut and rehearsed. The two go from shift from being two friends arguing about athletes to a performer and an observer. Although Vito is literally central to the scene (34:34), he isn’t acknowledged by Buggin’ Out except in the third-person.

    As Buggin’ Out says, he’s “a struggling black man trying to keep [his] dick hard in a cruel, harsh world.” This line isn’t just some crass but believable humor, it reflects the ever-present threat of emasculation that haunts Buggin’ Out’s life. As we see in the progression Buggin’ Out’s outrage from 34:40 to 34:50, he isn’t just mad about his kicks, he is at his limit. He feels that he just let a white man off the hook as a favor to a friend, and in the next moment he gets proof that he should be pissed when a white man bumps him. Not only that, he punks him by messing up his pristine Jordans.

    The scene before the confrontation as well as the lead-up to it provide context in the same way that the state of race-relations in the U.S. provided context for the Bird-Johnson rivalry that you point out here. I can see how the scene plays as blacks against white gentrification but what do you make of Buggin’ Out in relation to the rest of the young black people around him? To me he seems to be somewhat different from them. Let me know what you think.

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    1. Thank you for comment. After reviewing the scenes, I find Buggin Out to be an outsider. He does’t fit in at Sal’s pizzeria because he wants to add famous black men and women to Sal’s wall of fame. Buggin Out is also an outsider because he allowed his peers’ words dictate his responses to the white male. He also has his hairline dissed by his friends and his favorite shoes messed by a stranger. Buggin Out may just have bad luck when it comes to his encounters with different groups of people, especially his friends. I also feel as though many characters in the film just tolerate Buggin Out’s presence as long as he doesn’t start trouble. Buggin Out struggles throughout the film until the end because only Mookie, Radio Raheem, and Smiley can empathize with his concern to add black people to the wall in Sal’s pizzeria.

      My question for now is what spaces does Buggin Out belong to? Does he have true friends the film or just supporters of a single cause?

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  2. I believe Buggin’ Out’s role in the film to be similar in some ways to Smiley’s–he’s fighting for a cause that not all black members of the neighborhood want to fight for, which alienates him within the community. I don’t know what spaces Buggin’ Out belongs too, but I feel as though he thinks that he can claim the space of the neighborhood as his own. Relating to my earlier post, when he, Radio Raheem, and Smiley decide to boycott Sal’s Pizzeria, Raheem uses his radio as a tool with which to reclaim a space he sees as rightfully his. Buggin’ Out aligns himself with this action, and I see his alliance with Raheem as a true friendship.

    The scene where the man in the Larry Bird jersey steps on Buggin’ Out’s shoes is significant because it once again brings up the idea of cultural capital, and the power that popular culture has in racial relations (Images of Rocky Balboa in Sal’s, the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson rivalry, etc.). In addition, the very action of the white man stepping on Buggin’ Out’s shoes is important because it reinforces the cramped feeling of the film. There is not enough physical space for the different cultures of this neighborhood, and this is why tensions overflow at the end of the film.

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