Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” is not an example of rhetoric as described in Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, which defines Aristotle’s opinion of rhetoric as “the power of finding the available arguments suited to a given situation.” Rather, in the movie, Lee uses the lack of rhetoric in the racially divided Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood to emphasize the title of the film. Like the so-called “debate” in the clip of Jon Stewart on Crossfire, the arguments in the movie achieve nothing. The racism is so prevalent that the arguments only consist of commonplaces, and no man listens to anyone else because he is too focused on when to insert his next point. For example, in one scene, a black man, an Italian man, an Asian man, and a Hispanic man each list all the racial slurs they employ on a daily basis for a particular race. The upward camera angle gives the viewers the impression that the character is talking down at them as he would talk down to a person of the particular race to which he was referring.
The fact that there was no true rhetoric in the film encourages the viewer to take another look at his or her opinion of civic engagement. Does shouting commonplaces at one another accomplish anything? In the film, the racial slurs and ubiquitous disrespect led to an explosion of anger that resulted in the death of Radio Rahim, an intimidating but relatively innocent character. Although Rahim’s death is a worst-case scenario, the scene reminds the viewer of the power of language. Words, in some cases, have the power to drive people to violence. However, words can also have the opposite effect. “I no white! I black! You, me, same! We same!” the Korean store owner shouts at the mob after Radio Rahim’s death. This realization prevents further violence in the neighborhood. The viewer learns that the utilization of proper rhetoric could potentially mean the difference between a violent outbreak and a civilized argument.