Monday March 28, 2022
The Slap Seen 'Round the World
Will either man ever not be known for this?
What should've been the pinnacle of Will Smith's professional life turned into its nadir. It was both in one night. That's why it felt so hard to function. It felt like we all got slapped.
It was jaw-dropping and shocking and vaguely nauseating—and at the same time, not any of those things given the state of the world—but oh god does it play into the racial and racist stereotypes. I could write the bits myself. “You know, when Oscars was so white, no one ever assaulted anyone onstage.” Seriously, I hate the way this is going to be dragged through the mud by the usual suspects, but it will, for a long, long time. Did Will Smith just rewrite his obit? ACTOR WILL SMITH DIES, SLAPPED CHRIS ROCK AT OSCARS. Did he rewrite Chris Rock's?
It also obliterated, and I mean obliterated, all the other bad shit that happened last night, and there was a lot of it, which I'll get to in another post. First, this. Let's try to stick to the facts of it.
Chris Rock was onstage to present best documentary feature, which, by the way, went to “Summer of Soul.” He told some jokes about Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz: how both are nominated and “If she loses, he can't win. He is praying that Will Smith wins, like, please, lord.” (Rock's jokes, by the way, were not good. That's an opinion, not a fact, but it's worth stating.) At which point, Rock turned to that other front-row couple, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, saying “Jada, I love you. 'G.I. Jane 2,' can't wait to see it, all right?” The joke, such as it was, played off her shaved head and the 1997 Demi Moore movie, in which Moore's head is shaved. Except Pinkett Smith has alopecia, which causes hair loss in different parts of the body. I have family members who have alopecia. It's a frustrating condition. And the joke did not go over. Jada rolled her eyes and glared. And Will Smith saw her roll her eyes and glare. And he stood up, walked slowly and purposefully up the runway to the stage, and slapped Chris Rock in the face in front of millions and millions of worldwide viewers.
Initially people thought it might be staged? Because we'd never seen anything like it before. Even as Will Smith was approaching, Rock made a joke, something like “Uh oh, Richard,” referring to Smith's Oscar-nominated performance as Richard Williams, the father/coach/martinet of Venus and Serena. After the slap, he fumblingly tried to continue by stating what had happened: “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me.” But his eyes had already crumbled. He said “Wow, dude, it was a G.I. Jane joke.” Smith, furious, from his seat, yelled, “Keep my wife's name out your fucking mouth!” And that's when everyone knew it was not staged.
By the time Smith won the Oscar an hour later, he knew he'd lost. He apologized to the Academy, and to his fellow nominees, and hoped to be asked back. He invoked higher powers: love and the devil. He joked it was art imitating life, the Richard Williams in him getting out to protect his family. He kept tearing up. He was allowed to talk on and on.
I should have more empathy because I've been there. I've done the zero-to-60 thing, too, where my anger overwhelmed me, getting me to act foolishly, and 10 minutes later, after the adrenaline has worn off and abandoned me and left me exposed, I'm left with just the horror of it. I'm left with, “Well, I'll never live that down. I'll never repair that relationship. That's over forever.” After the worst incident a few years ago, involving verbal abuse not physical violence, I saw an anger management therapist for a time. So I should have more empathy for Will Smith here. Not sure why I don't. Maybe because I never have much sympathy for myself after my own incidents? And I was lucky, too, oddly, in not being rich and famous, and not going zero-to-60 in front of millions and millions of worldwide viewers. My soul searching—“Is this me? Is this who I really am?”—didn't involve my professional career. There was no video of it. It didn't wind up on YouTube and newscasts and radio broadcasts. It didn't become a cultural touchstone for others to rub against. It didn't become a meme.
That Oscar is always going to hurt him. If he's anything like me, he'll look at it and chastise himself. Goddamnit. It'll cause him pain. Every damn day for the rest of his life.
I guess I just talked myself into some empathy for him.
There's going to be so much noise over this. That's why I like what Anthony Hopkins said before presenting the award for best actress to Jessica Chastain. He walked on stage, 84 now, still a great actor, alluded to the evening's event, and said, “Let's have peace and love and quiet.” Amen. Let's make that the meme.