Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Face

Unless you’ve been living under another Rock, you can probably guess the subject of this post. There are far too many people out there suggesting that when he slapped Chris Rock on live television in front of millions upon millions of people, Will Smith was simply defending his wife, as any man would do.

Let’s start by completely pulverizing any notion that Will Smith was instinctively defending his wife. It is trivially easy to find the footage of him laughing at the offending joke. Not just cracking an uncomfortable smile – outright mouth-open teeth-baring eyes-twinkling laughing. It was not until he got the daggers from his wife that he decided to do anything different. So for the love of all things jiggy, can we please abandon the defense argument?

Next: it was a joke. It is perfectly valid to argue that it was a joke in bad taste. There was enough uncomfortable laughter in the audience (which Rock essentially acknowledged before Smith got out of his chair) that the message was already delivered. But anybody who has watched past Oscars telecasts knows that there have been a multitude of equally uncomfortable jokes directed at a wide range of celebrities. The opening monologues have usually served as extensive, multi-targeted roasts of specific people in the audience. Never has any of those targets followed up on the joke with an assault on the joker. Until now.

The impact of that act is nowhere near sufficiently understood by the masses. This goes beyond the Oscars. There are comedians at various stages of their careers working all over the world, and Smith has just normalized the idea of going up on stage and slapping the comedian if they tell a joke that offends you. The Machine has run the numbers on this. There is a 100% – not rounded, 100% – chance that someone somewhere will do just that, as a direct result of Smith opening the door to it. And if it happens in the wrong place, it might escalate to something much more severe, potentially even ending with someone lying dead on the floor. In less sanitized settings than the Oscars venue, violence begets violence.

Now let’s turn to folks that are equally infuriating – the ones saying “everybody makes mistakes”. Yes, we all do. I’ve made a hundred so far today, forty-seven of them while writing this post. But some mistakes are not innocent, and I’ve made many of those in my life as well. Those mistakes require accountability. Smith finally took a couple of steps down that road with his Academy resignation statement. He said all the right words, and now the actions must follow, as they must with any of us after letting our emotions or other factors drive us to harm others. But his apologists wanted us to just file this incident under “everybody makes mistakes” long before that statement was issued. Smith showed no accountability the night of the Oscars. He buried a “you missed it if you blinked” apology in an otherwise self-serving soliloquy when he accepted the award. That apology didn’t even include the one person most harmed by his actions. And then the afterparty… no, that didn’t look like a remorseful man.

The craziest thing? How did any of this help the person Smith was supposedly defending? Is it good that now any time she talks about the condition, people will immediately think of the slap? Does that help other people with alopecia? I’ve seen far more comments about open marriages than about medical conditions. As usual, when reason gives way to violence, nobody wins.

One of the things Smith’s much more complete apology contained was an acknowledgement of how many other people’s accomplishments were overshadowed. Up to now, this blog post has only been contributing to that problem. So let’s close with a much truer expression of love and kindness: the powerful image of the audience applauding in sign when Troy Kotsur won the Best Supporting Actor award: