Social media won’t let The Slap, Will Smith’s scowl-inducing violent outburst over comedian Chris Rock’s joke about Smith’s wife’s shaved head, slough off into the memory hole.
And for good reason. The Slap wasn’t just a notable pop culture moment, one which got America talking about the Oscars after years and years of declining interest and audiences. It was a cultural moment as well, one which said volumes about the current state of marriage and masculinity in America.
There is a great deal of speculation out there indicating that the flagging viability of the Oscars and other celebrity awards shows in the public eye was a key motivator for The Slap being a staged event. Here’s how that theory plays out…
My own reaction is that it was staged.
You would say that there is no upside for Chris Rock and Will Smith to have staged The Slap, but you would be wrong.
First of all, Chris Rock is about to go on a comedy tour with Kevin Hart, another diminutive comedian with a history of rough times attempting to act as a presenter at the Oscars. Sales of tickets for the tour have gone through the roof in the past couple of days, as Chris Rock is now a red-hot name in entertainment.
As for Smith, he was able to then give an acceptance speech for Best Actor, during which he spoke about how Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, fought for his family. The speech was largely a bomb, and afterward there were statements made by the academy of motion pictures condemning The Slap, but that’s the extent of the institutional Hollywood consequences. Since The Slap, Will Smith is now perhaps the most famous man in the world, having certainly been very famous beforehand.
Does it matter whether that fame comes for the right reasons? Fame is monetizable when you’re an actor. Fame gets you roles, and it gets you paid extravagantly for them.
At the end of the day, though, the takeaways from The Slap are very similar regardless whether it was staged, and we’re reacting to an artificial spectacle contrived to divert us, or the real thing.
And there are three of them.
First, Will Smith – whether he’s Will Smith the actual man or Will Smith, the artificial character being offered for consumption in the media space – is a badly damaged individual. Everything about this incident indicates a deficit of moral character and true masculinity.
There is the history here, of course. His marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith has been a sham for some time. As Jason Whitlock said, “Will Smith is cracking up trying to stuff the values of a square into the round holes of Hollywood. He made a buffoon of himself defending the honor of a woman who refuses to honor him with fidelity and privacy.”
That’s a reference to the fact that Jada Pinkett Smith cuckolded her husband with a young man, Gus Alsina, who is a friend of the couple’s son. Not just that, but she openly talked about her infidelity and even forced him to accept it publicly on a podcast which might have been one of the most awful moments in the history of American culture.
Their son Jaden has embraced an exotic sexual identity and openly flaunts himself as a crossdresser. This apparently was encouraged by his mother and Will Smith was forced to accept that as well.
No man can emerge from such humiliation without being damaged. Most men subjected to it are (1) private citizens suffering in relative silence outside of what their friends and family know about their situations, and (2) soon divorced.
Smith might well be the latter, though he has endured his wife’s terrible acts for several years now. He is most certainly not the former. The toxicity of his household has been common knowledge, and even in the cultural and moral sewer that is Hollywood it’s notably abnormal. To be at such great heights professionally but to have such a septic personal life seems the very picture of hell.
And second, as Rich Cooper said, The Slap was not aimed at Chris Rock.
What you saw Sunday, whether it was a staged spectacle or the real thing, was not just a damaged man but a man out of control and apart from his masculinity. Will Smith went from laughing at Rock’s GI Jane joke to charging the stage and assaulting a man he’s been friendly with for years following his wife rolling her eyes in disapproval.
The argument goes like this: Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss and makes women bald, and that’s why she’s going around with her head shaved, and so it’s in poor taste for Chris Rock to make fun of her hairstyle, and so Will Smith was in the right to defend her honor.
Jada Pinkett Smith is a Hollywood celebrity with a net worth estimated at $50 million (her husband’s $350 million fortune notwithstanding). The idea that she is some damsel in distress who can’t handle a joke made about her is imbecilic. Oscar host Regina Hill earlier had joked about the Smiths’ “open” marriage, and there was no discernible outrage on her part – but hairstyle jokes are out of bounds?
And even if the joke was in bad taste, that violence would be the answer and this is acceptable is a very sad commentary on American culture.
To the extent that the Smiths couldn’t easily roll with Rock’s GI Jane joke, here is a suggestion for how it could have been handled: Smith comes to the stage, brings Rock in for a quick brotherly hug, and then says to the audience, “Chris Rock is a friend of mine and he’s one of the funniest people on earth, and I don’t want to disturb him while he’s up here making us all laugh, but I would like to point something out. Jada, my wife, who’s a very talented and beautiful woman as I’m sure all of you agree, (pause for applause), has a condition called alopecia that some of you know about. Its effects are that you lose your hair, which on a woman can be a difficult thing.
“So Jada’s here with a Mrs. Clean look, because she could either do that, and look sexy and beautiful as she does, or she’d be wearing a wig and you know she’d be beautiful in that as well. Chris, you agree that Jada looks terrific tonight, right?”
And when Rock agrees enthusiastically, Smith shakes his hand, waves to the crowd and goes to sit down.
When he does that the narrative is that he’s a gentleman and an outstanding communicator, and when he later wins Best Actor it’s a great moments for the Oscars. And the only debate left is why Jada Pinkett Smith still has Will Smith after the way she’s treated him.
A man in control of himself either creates that moment by being friendly and persuasive, and making Chris Rock very small, or by doing nothing to call attention to himself when it isn’t his turn. Let’s remember that Rock was on stage to present the award for Best Documentary. The Slap stole all of the attention away from that award, given to “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” a documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival.
That’s undignified and classless, and it’s alarming – because there are lots of people out there who think you defend your wife’s honor (regardless of whether she has any, as Whitlock noted) with violence when there are other options. Chris Rock wasn’t trying to rape Will Smith’s wife; he was telling jokes about Hollywood celebrities.
And finally, the real villain in this is Hollywood. Staged or not, this episode revealed all the behavioral deficits the film industry has manifested as it has rotted our culture for half a century.
Hollywood makes zero movies about resolving conflicts without violence. It even now infects the fairer sex with a thirst for blood – most action movies involve women beating up men twice their size, something which has coincided with an alarming rise in violent crime – and domestic abuse – among females. It’s poison, and with the overall coarsening of our culture non-violent conflict resolution is more desperately needed than ever.
But we don’t get that. We don’t get composure. We get uber-rich celebrities in violent rows like drunks in seedy bars. We get utterly trashy behavior treated as normal and even laudatory. Will Smith was cheered upon winning Best Actor; he should have lost the award after his behavior and certainly not given the honor of an acceptance speech. There will be no prosecution of a clear crime committed on international television; ordinary people acting out in public as Smith did would almost certainly be brought before a judge for a vigorous scolding and likely community service or counseling; Smith was given a spiritual pep talk by Denzel Washington during an Oscars commercial break.
It remains to be seen whether any damage was done to Smith’s career. The smart money says “of course not.” He’s likely more bankable now than he was before.
Because standards are nonexistent in Hollywood. In Hollywood, pedophiles make movies for children, the casting couch applies to both sexes, Chinese Communist Party and Mexican drug cartel money bankrolls woke, anti-American films and the freedom of expression is met with cancellation and, now, violence.
The Slap was shocking. It wasn’t surprising. Staged or not, it’s the logical terminal after a long flight from the cultural greatness Hollywood used to represent to the moral fiasco it surely is now.