Smith's WTF moment encapsulates how badly Americans need a time-out. Everyone go to your room and take ten years!
CC0 Creative Commons image from PeakPX
WTF happened at the Oscars?
Right now I feel like an exasperated mother who wants to send Will Smith and Chris Rock to their rooms so they can both think about what they did.
And the rest of us too, as this story unfolds.
The exasperated American in me understands, if not condones, how Smith felt, because frankly, I'd love to bitch-slap some sense back into a country backpedaling to the maturity level of a sandbox brawl.
Both of you! Go to your room! Image by rickey123 from Pixabay
Smith demonstrated even the nicest Hollywood stars can lose their damn minds in the moment. I'm disappointed in him. I think we all expect better from one of Hollywood's most well-loved stars.
Where did his out-of-the-blue moment come from? Not truly out of the blue.
An unkinder, darker Hollywood
I didn't understand why Chris Rock's 'G.I. Jane 2' joke was supposed to be funny until the camera cut to Pinkett-Smith rolling her eyes, clearly unamused. Okay, she was bald. A fashion statement, right? Lighten up, girlfriend! I bet Lupita Nyong'o would have laughed.
I didn't understand Smith's anger until the backstory. I hadn't known Pinkett-Smith suffered from alopecia and that black women are especially at risk.
Any woman can relate. Black women may have a very special relationship with their hair, but we all get the emotional devastation of alopecia. Hair is our 'crowning glory', as the Book of Corinthians, Oliver Swinburne, and others have noted. It's been deeply traumatic for Pinkett-Smith, and going bald illustrates a milestone in her journey of owning her condition, encouraged by her daughter.
Rock says he didn't know about her alopecia. If so, he thought he was making a fair-game joke. Had her baldness been a fashion statement, I'd have expected her to suck it up. She's not, first and foremost someone's wife, she's an established actress in her own right, and Oscar fashion is fair game.
At the time of this writing Rock hasn't apologized to Pinkett-Smith but he sure owes her a public apology. His unintentionally cruel joke ridiculed her in front of millions. Hopefully he'll be man enough to do so, and soon, because Smith has already apologized to Rock.
Rock has known Will Smith from his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days and there's existing friction. Several years ago Rock joked it wasn't fair about Jada Pinkett-Smith not getting invited to the Oscars, and that it also wasn't fair Will Smith got heavily paid for 1999's Wild Wild West, not exactly his greatest movie.
Comedians make fun. It's the intrinsic nature of humor, pointing to egos and the hypocrisy of life.
But humor has gotten a lot nastier in the last twenty years, particularly in Hollywood.
Unkind digs received a rocket boost from Ricky Gervais, who slaughtered Hollywood celebrities at the 2020 Golden Globes. One watches, cheering him on for rooting out Hollywood's ugliest hypocrisies, like how Jeffrey Epstein was their 'friend' - touché! - and LOL when he eviscerates them with a verbal machete:
"Well, you say you’re woke but the companies you work for in China — unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?
So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg."
Simultaneously, I cringe when he leverages nuclear-level cruelty, calling some actor I never heard of a 'fat p--sy' and 'jokes' about a venerable actress 'licking her own minge'.
So, blame Ricky Gervais too.
But why did Gervais think he could do that? On social media people freely utter much worse, often behind anonymous accounts, with little pushback from platforms who only grudgingly step in when enough politicians ponder aloud about 'potential legislation' and the public accuses them of altering the course of elections or prolonging a pandemic.
So, blame Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Let's turn our attention now to Kanye West ruining Taylor Swift's big moment at the 2009 Video Music Awards, except at least he didn't slap Swift for getting an award he thought should have gone to Beyoncé.
Blame Ye, or whatever the hell he's calling himself now.
And we can't forget Donald Trump, encouraging and further normalizing violence, laying the groundwork for a future riot when for four years he chronically vomited a constant twitstream of hate speech, slurs, violent musings, bald-faced lies and insults. No one was safe, not even a journalist with cerebral palsy or the family of a gold-star military veteran.
I'm glad Rock and Smith didn't meet on the street, or they might have settled their differences the Wild Wild West way, with Rock bleeding out his life on the curb.
Will Smith is 100% responsible for his lack of self-control. Guaranteed he wouldn't have smacked a female comedian. Maybe he would have yelled at her, even challenged her on stage, but I'll bet he wouldn't have hit her. Not in the #MeToo era.
He. Was. In. Control.
Smith's moment encapsulates how crazy America has gotten. An Insider writer who attended Vanity Fair's Oscars after-party describes encountering an unnamed famous comedian who mentioned how 'thin-skinned' celebrities have become and compared Los Angeles, currently experiencing a spiraling crime rate, to Gotham City. He may well have a point; stress levels have risen even for tony, celebrity neighborhoods experiencing brazen home invasions and stick-ups, and Angelenos calmly stand on line at the Rite-Aid while smash-'n'-grabbers take what they please.
Smith exhibited the worst excesses of 'honor culture', where a man is 'compelled' to violently defend himself and his family from insult. In our Founding Fathers' time, (white) men settled these differences by dueling. Smith felt his wife was dishonored and his emotional hijacking dick-tated his behavior.
Any of us would have gotten as angry. But no one, even celebrities, has the right to lash out. Unfortunately, a fair chunk of Americans disagree. When they have a 'bad day' they feel entitled to grab the nearest firearm and blow away as many innocent people as they can. Or they 'pop a cap in someone's ass' when they feel 'dissed'. Or they storm the Capitol because an election didn't go their way.
I'm glad Rock isn't filing charges against Smith, and I'm gratified Academy board member Whoopi Goldberg says Smith won't lose the award he received 45 minutes after going all Sean Penn. I hope this will be a learning moment for Americans. I'm not real hopeful, but an ex-pat can dream.
I hope Rock and Smith both lay low and think about what they did. Just because Smith reacted like a spoiled, entitled child doesn't mean Rock shouldn't think long and hard about the way he treated Pinkett-Smith, whose accidental humiliation he prefaced by saying he 'loves' her.
We've all been overreacting to slights and insults for much longer than our emergence from what may or may not be a post-pandemic world. Our human connection skills have degraded for decades thanks to digital technology, near-psychopathic social media, coddled self-esteem-addled Gen Z-ers taught to believe any opinion they don't like is 'violence', growing income inequality, cruel reality TV shows, police violence, and a state capital resembling Israel and Pakistan more than Washington D.C. Only animal life and the environment have benefited from the pandemic; with humans off the streets the Himalayas re-emerged for Indians and the Bay of Pigs has been invaded again; this time by crabs.
Mass shootings, rare occurrences beginning roughly forty years ago, are today a daily occurrence, often with multiple separate incidents in a single day.
Blame also the descent of trust in the government, politicians, the justice system, the '1%', and journalism, from which arose the monstrous plethora of conspiracy theories, fake news, ungated bloggers and the demonization of those who don't think, act, look like, or share the same political opinions as you.
Will Smith is all of us, yes, even us 'decent' folk who would 'never do that'. We just haven't each had our Chris Rock moment yet when we decide the hell with it, and chuck civilization aside to whack someone else who crossed us, like our cave ancestors with clubs.
Maybe it's time for all of us to take a timeout in our rooms and think about what we've collectively done.
Not ten minutes. Ten years.
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