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The Slap Heard Round The World (Literally)
Why Will Smith's Actions Have Stirred So Much Controversy
A common trope amongst conservative commentators is that Hollywood stars have become “irrelevant.” Guys like Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson often point to the ever-shrinking viewership of shows like the Oscars or the Emmys, and also suggest that celebrities refrain from political commentary because, frankly, “no one cares what they think.” (Candace Owens is particularly passionate on this point.)
Until yesterday, I would’ve agreed. After all, most celebrities are insufferable, narcissistic, moralizing tools.
But then, during the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday, comedian Chris Rock made a mildly insensitive joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair, and all hell broke loose on a global scale.
Actor Will Smith (Jada’s husband), seemed initially to enjoy the joke, as the camera caught him laughing hysterically, along with everyone else at his table, including the always sunny Lupita Nyong’o—an actress whose appeal I’ve never quite understood, as her temperament seems better suited to corporate tax law than entertainment. But, just as the camera caught Will Smith laughing, it also caught Jada not laughing. Instead, the fifty-year-old actress appeared as if she were undergoing a colonoscopy. At that point, the camera cuts back to Chris Rock, leaving one to assume that Will Smith—still laughing—eventually caught sight of Jada’s discomfort, and then, like the Knight in Shining Armor (wearing makeup) that he is, decided to take bold and decisive action.
Smith struts onto the stage in what everyone assumed was a choreographed stunt, and then proceeds to slap Chris Rock in the face—although it’s unclear if he succeeded in connecting with Rock’s face, and instead delivered a far more awkward blow to the comedian’s sternum. Smith then struts back to his seat, and proceeds to shout, “Keep my wife’s name out yo fucking mouth!” He uses this exact phrasing twice. And honestly, I would’ve given anything if someone had leaned over and whispered to him, “You forgot the word ‘of.’”
Needless to say, this incident sparked a firestorm on social media, and virtually every YouTuber—regardless of background—weighed in, mostly because The Slap Heard Round The World guaranteed a minimum of ten thousand views per video. But the “conversation” wasn’t limited to the internet; every major news outlet on planet Earth showed the infamous slap again, and again, and again, and again. Pundits on all sides of the fence trumpeted their two cents, and by the time the dust cleared, the battle lines had been drawn. Anti-woke conservatives provided viewers with an Anti-Smith position, while the woke Left provided a Pro-Smith position.
So, what is the point of recapping all this? It is to highlight that Hollywood celebrities—no matter how vapid or out-of-touch they may be—are a far cry from “irrelevant.” They are, unfortunately, very relevant. If any one of them says or does anything outside the norm, then everyone from Boston to Bangkok is going to be talking about it. Does that sound like irrelevance to you? These people, somehow, command the world’s attention, and what they choose to do with that attention has consequences. That’s why everyone from popes to presidents to billionaires get excited to meet them, and typically, show them a high degree of deference.
In my estimation, it’s because “officially-sanctioned” celebrities—like movie stars—are the modern world’s nobility. They are the lords and ladies of our time, with all the itinerant silliness and “let them eat cake” moments one might expect. They may not exercise political power (directly), and none of them can hold a candle to the wealth of Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. But what they have instead is far more valuable. They have “The Dream”—that ineffable thing that everyone on Earth is striving for, yet never attains. Celebrities sell that dream by pretending to be living exemplars of it. They are wealthy and attractive; they are happy and charismatic; their kids are adorable and healthy. But most of all, celebrities are larger than life. They transcend the everyday drudgery of a “small” and “normal” existence, and they reach out from the heights of Mt. Olympus to offer the world’s mortals a tiny peek into the lives of gods.
Of course, none of that is true. Celebrities aren’t larger than life, and they’re certainly not gods. Many of them struggle with addiction, their kids are disasters, and their marriages—like Will Smith’s supposedly “open” marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith—are complete shams. It’s a safe bet to say that many celebrities are miserable, yet because everyone else is miserable, too—just minus the massive bank account—celebrities are viciously derided if they dare to complain.
Now, that’s not a defense of whiny movie stars, of which there are many, but it is an acknowledgement of reality. Our society is schizophrenic. It is simultaneously obsessed with the lavish and carefully curated lives of the rich and famous, while it is also furious with them for supposedly having everything that the rest of us do not. So, when Will Smith breaks the mold, and publicly assaults another entertainer on live TV, it stirs a whirlwind of conflicting emotions.
On the one hand, Will Smith is everything most of us want to be. He’s handsome, charismatic, wildly successful, talented, and has more money than he could ever spend. But at the same time, his wife has alopecia, which over the past few years has caused her hair to fall out—something uniquely terrifying to women. Her disease is a far cry from cancer, of course (as well as a wide range of other God-forsaken illnesses), but it’s still terrible. So, from Will Smith’s perspective, a comedian had publicly humiliated his wife, and thus the only manly thing to do was defend her honor. Yet the notion of defending Pinkett Smith’s honor becomes a bit muddled when one takes into account her desire for an “open” marriage, wherein she sleeps with numerous other men right under Will Smith’s nose, which then renders him the world’s most famous cuckold. So, is it any wonder that the guy got violent on stage? The poor bastard probably doesn’t know which way is up or down anymore.
On the other hand, Will Smith did in fact commit the crime of assault on live television. Now, personally, I think the occasional slap, shove, or even punch should be more acceptable in our society—especially when the guy totally has it coming. Yet despite my preferences, the law currently is what it is, and therefore it must be applied evenly. For example, if an unruly janitor had gone on stage and slapped Chris Rock, then that man would have been arrested and sent to jail. Will Smith, meanwhile, won an Oscar, got a standing ovation, and then got jiggy with it at a ritzy afterparty. Does that seem fair? Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a janitor. Could you imagine if Mel Gibson had slapped somebody? They probably would’ve shot him.
Double standards—especially in the law—infuriate people, and rightfully so. You can’t have an honest society when it’s “rules for thee, but not for me.” That’s a recipe for revolution.
So, Will Smith’s slap—while seemingly unimportant—does in fact raise some important questions. Will the Oscar-winning movie star get punished? Are there two systems of justice in this country; one for the rich, and one for the poor?
Yet one question that I am confident will not be addressed is the role of Jada Pinkett Smith. Will the press give her a hard time for the “open marriage” and how that has affected her husband’s sanity? Will she face any blame?
In my estimation, absolutely not.
She will be a victim. A brave victim. And when the time is right, she will tell her truth, and everyone will applaud, including Will Smith, even if he’s in jail.
I mentioned earlier that laws need to be applied evenly. The same applies to accountability. Jada Pinkett Smith’s sex does not disqualify her from wrongdoing. And while it’s true that she didn’t personally lay a finger on anyone, she has clearly had a profound—and likely causative—effect on the man who did.
She may have alopecia, which is tragic, and Chris Rock shouldn’t have made fun of her for it. But I suspect the real troubles in the Smith family began long ago, on the day Jada announced her intention to sleep with other men, and that Will, as a good husband, needed to accept that.
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