The slap that was heard around the world? A shameful physical assault that has no place in civilized society? A man just defending his wife, or an act of wanton brawling?
That’s been the debate since Sunday night’s Academy Awards, when the normally chilled Will Smith jumped onto the stage at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater and slapped Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife’s hair loss. It should almost go without saying that neither I nor they Irish Independent condone violence. Apparently.
But the reaction to Smith’s outburst was far more interesting than the slap itself.
Like most of us, I tuned in to the Oscars at the beginning of the show. Like most of us, I quickly grew weary of the award winners’ incessant fuss and self-righteous euphemism.
So, like the fucking idiot that I am, I switched channels and watched something else (a documentary about Hitler, if I remember correctly) before the most memorable moment in Oscars history happened.
It didn’t take long for me to realize my mistake — my phone, tablet, and laptop all instantly lit up with news stories and social media notifications, and as I started scrolling through some of them I really thought that the man who played Muhammad Ali had just KO’d Chris Rock. Live in front of Hollywood royalty and live in front of hundreds of millions of viewers at home.
Luckily for Chris Rock, it wasn’t quite as dramatic. In fact, if you saw someone throwing a chipper so openly on a Friday night, you’d laugh at them.
But that wasn’t a hit on a Friday night. It was the biggest televised event on the movie calendar, and even looking back on it now, it still seems completely insane. What the hell was he thinking?
Many viewers initially thought it was some sort of publicity stunt – Rock has a new tour and Smith has a new movie coming up, so that would have made some superficial sense.
But the sight of Smith still angry even after returning to his seat and twice shouting “Keep my wife’s name out of your damn mouth” to a visibly stunned Rock was sure proof that this wasn’t a Publicity stunt was – this was an angry guy standing up for his wife.
After all, Smith has spent three decades building a reputation as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, and it just wouldn’t make sense for him to set his own reputation on fire to sell a few extra tickets to his latest movie.
I think it’s fair to say that he allowed his emotions to get the better of him, and if anything, it almost humanized Hollywood stars and made them more approachable – after all, for all their millions, wealth and power, there’s nothing more normal than a man defending his wife.
But the bead-clasping platitudes that came out in response to the incident were unintentionally hilarious. The extremely boring “wake-up brother” Judd Apatow was quick to denounce Smith, saying that his slap “could have killed Chris Rock” — a remark that is perhaps more amusing than most of Apatow’s on-screen work.
Others were quick to chime in with the usual duckling that “violence never solves anything,” and everyone seemed keen to join in the condemnation chorus.
That too is understandable on one level. But on another, more fundamental level, we’re talking Hollywood here, so it’s a bit rich to see such pacifist preaching coming from an industry that specializes in producing some of the most violent and depraved films on earth.
Do not get me wrong. I love violence and depravity in movies and my tastes tend to lean toward the darker side of cinema street.
At a time when modern strips are becoming increasingly gruesome and graphic, the stench of hypocrisy that has hung in the air since Sunday night’s Contretemps is enough to make your eyes water.
Furthermore, the cliché that violence never solves anything seems to ignore the biggest thing celebrated at the Oscars: heroic Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invaders.
How many of those who parrot this hackneyed and hackneyed claim that violence is always bad would deny the Zelenskyi regime more weapons in its fight against Putin’s marauding troops?
I actually had this conversation with a former colleague a few years ago when she solemnly emphasized that violence could never be the answer to an international disagreement. As I pointed out at the time, “Tell that to the Russians in 1945.”
That such an argument should now be used against the same Russians is a depressing indicator of how low this great nation has fallen under the leadership of a man who looks increasingly insane and now poses an existential threat to the entire world – yesterday’s news, that Putin now apparently lives in a nuclear shelter in a remote region of Siberia has given me a case of Heebie-Jeebies as the threat of nuclear war grows ever more likely.
Should Will Smith have reacted the way he did? Apparently not, and he could still find himself in a world of legal troubles.
There are even calls for him to be stripped of the Oscar he won King Richard On Sunday evening. In fact, he’s lucky that Rock has so far declined to press charges, as under the California criminal justice system, Smith could potentially face up to a year in prison for wanton assault and assault.
Indeed, Rock’s line, “I’m the first person ever to have been hit by Muhammad Ali and not get a scratch,” shows that he sees this scandal for exactly what it is: a case of basic human stupidity and a monumental blunder Judgment made in the heat of battle.
But seriously, instead of throwing up their hands and pretending to be shocked and horrified, people should just be thankful that Smith finally did the impossible — making the Oscars look relevant and interesting again.
That being said, I bet Ricky Gervais is furious as hell that he turned down the opportunity to moderate it…
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/will-smith-was-out-of-order-by-hitting-chris-rock-but-he-made-the-oscars-relevant-for-the-first-time-in-years-41501707.html Will Smith was out of order beating Chris Rock, but he made the Oscars relevant for the first time in years