So many layers, so many perspectives, so many takes, both hot and not. I've been reading and digesting it all today, and I'm more muddled now than I was when I first learned what "Will and Chris" referred to.
So let's start with the importance of this. I've seen more than a few people saying this is not worthy of discussion at all because [insert crisis here]. I'm very much aware of ... probably more crises than most of the people with this view, and I strongly disagree about the importance of a supposedly tasteless joke and the reaction to it that we all saw and heard.
To be clear: I don't feel Hollywood is important. It thinks it is, but all you need do is look at declining box office revenues and Oscar viewerships to put the lie to that. Hollywood makes three kinds of movies these days, for the most part: sequels, remakes, and arthouse flicks with MESSAGES that slap you in the face so much harder than Will Smith slapped Chris Rock.
There are original flicks getting made. By all accounts, CODA is a masterpiece that fully deserved its Best Picture nod. Both Encanto and Turning Red are excellent entries (and both of them have messages, too.) Still, it's hard to dismiss the thought that the Academy, recently so blind to any social justice cause, is now wallowing in ALL of them. Not to promote visibility, which would be a laudable goal, but to be smugly self-satisfied with itself. That's Hollywood's default attitude and it rankles.
But what Will Smith did last night to Chris Rock is important. It's important regardless of any other crises now or to come, because in the face of whatever comes, we need to stand up for each other/be civil and not resort to violence. It's important because it touches so many hot-button issues: ableism, women's autonomy, toxic masculinity, the nature and purpose of jokes, and that's just off the top of my head.
Let me tell you two things this isn't about (no matter how many people try to drag them in).
One is racism. A ridiculous number of people decry this as "Black on Black violence". Which, technically, it is: both men are Black, after all. But Chris Rock's Blackness has nothing to do with why he was struck, and Will Smith's Blackness has nothing to do with why he struck Rock.
Please get this through your heads, people: there is a lot more to people than race. A LOT more. And viewing people entirely through a racial prism is -- I'm sorry to say -- the literal definition of racism.
The second thing this isn't about, and I'm going to try to keep this short, is polyamory.
Yeah, you heard me. Will and Jada have an open relationship. They've been quite candid about it. So of course some people are saying Will Smith is a simp, a cuck, pussywhipped. The argument they give for the last epithet: Will laughed at Rock's joke, then looked at his wife, who was not laughing, and then he strode across the stage and roundhouse slapped Rock. If he was a real man, the argument goes, he wouldn't have to check in with his wife to see if she was insulted before he responded to an obvious insult. But then, a real man wouldn't "let his wife sleep around" and "humiliate" him.
Let's dismiss the polyamory quickly before we dismiss the rest of this. It's not cheating, it's not sleeping around, and if you want to speculate about their unconventional marriage, I do suggest you ask them about it. Will is clearly not humiliated by his wife's extramarital escapades, so maybe it's not a good idea to project how you think you'd feel in a situation none of us outside that relationship fully understands.
Now, as to the more important "real man" argument.
A real man does check with his wife to see how she took that joke. Maybe she laughs: he'd look pretty stupid (or even stupider, depending on your allegiances here) if he slapped Rock for something his wife found hilarious, now, wouldn't he?
A real man doesn't resort to violence.
Or does he? This is absurd, but hear me out. What if Chris Rock had tried to physically attack Jada Pinkett-Smith? Would you be more likely to excuse her husband slapping the man?
You're probably thinking yeah, of course, but that'd never happen.
It nearly did in 1973. Ever heard of a guy named John Wayne?
But that's different.
Is it. Is it really.
Jada's sensitive about her condition, and Rock knew this and still made the "joke". I put joke in quotes because, look, I'm sorry, but there's a whole genre of so-called "comedy" that's all about hurting people. Chris Rock is the exemplar of that kind of comedy: he's built an entire career on it, and he's gleefully unrepentant about his bullying. Thinks he provides a needed service, "toughening people up".
I was bullied from grades four to eight. I didn't need to be "toughened up", thank you. I needed the support of my peers.
Now let me flip the script yet again and remind you that "joke" about Jada's alopecia (a) wasn't Chris Rock's joke and (b) was almost certainly not intended to elicit the reaction it got out of her.
It wasn't Chris Rock's joke! It was written by some nameless Academy hack. And...have you SEEN G.I. Jane? I actually have: Eva's a sucker for cheesy movies and that one vies with Tank Girl among her favourites. Demi Moore's character in that was badass. Like seriously badass. You could easily argue Rock was paying Pinkett-Smith a compliment. And she took it wrong, and Will, who, remember, laughed at the joke, suddenly realized he was in the doghouse with his partner for laughing. Well do I know that fabled doghouse. It has a big sign on it that says "Hell", and the good intention paving stones are everywhere, and so he compounded his fuckup by overcompensating. Knee jerk reaction. I get it. Maybe because I have made that fuckup myself many times, and knee-jerked in a different way, I can't help feeling some sympathy for the guy. Like my friend Remi says, you see pain in a loved one's eyes, the next thing you see is red.
And he slapped him. He didn't pull out a knife or a gun. Rock has declined to get the police involved, let alone press charges. None of this excuses assault, of course. But it does, perhaps, mitigate it just a tad. If the victim isn't feeling particularly victimized, who are we to say otherwise?
I do wish Smith had taken a higher road. The best thing to do would have been to assume best intent and actually acknowledge Jada is a G.I. Jane level badass. That would have saved him grief with Rock and Jada both. But he didn't, and now he's going to face consequences from the Academy, including the possible stripping of the Oscar he won ten minutes after slapping Rock. And I will not complain about those consequences, because violence should never be the answer. But I will also suggest that mean, hurtful "roasting" is not comedy; that at least some of the meanness is heartfelt; that making fun of a woman's medical condition in front of the entire world is not kosher.
Both men need to do better. Smith closed his apology with that. I'd like to see Rock make one. Whether you feel he needs to or not, it would be the classy thing to do.