Everyone’s Chiming In On the Oscar Slap

But there’s so much more people aren’t talking about.

Pixabay: Annabel P

It’s been more than a week since the historical slap was captured on camera and broadcasted internationally. People are still talking about it. And the memes just keep coming.

Many have an opinion on the incident. Polarizing opinions. You’re either on the side of Chris Rock or Will Smith.

If you’re for Will Smith, you condone his violence. Or you applaud him for standing up for his wife.

If you’re for Chris Rock, you reject violence and uplift self-control. You commend him for keeping his composure and carrying on with the show. You think such an act of love is dangerous.

At least that’s how the world seems to be viewing this incident.

It may seem as simple as violence is wrong and that’s the end of it. I personally think there are many underlying issues that people are not questioning or thinking about.

We tend to judge people’s actions superficially. Once the hype dies down, we move on. But not many of us would take the time to delve deeper into the situation, to think and understand the intentions behind the actions.

The Joke

I didn’t get the reference until the memes and comment videos started coming out. After understanding it, it wasn’t as bad or insulting as I imagined it to be. At least not to the point where one should get smacked. It wasn’t Ricky Gervais brutal.

Nevertheless, I felt it was insensitive especially when it concerns a personal medical condition. For the target, this issue hits home.

My questions

  • Did Chris Rock write this joke? If he did, was he aware of Jada’s condition? If he was, then going on with the joke isn’t very smart on his part.
  • Was the joke scripted by someone else? If it was by someone else, Chris Rock is a saint for taking the smack for the writer.
  • Was the Academy aware of this joke? If they were and approved it with the knowledge of Jada’s condition, I think they’re equally responsible for what happened.
  • Was the joke spontaneous? If it was, why did Chris Rock think it was okay to make that joke? Was he on good terms with the Smiths that such a joke was okay between them? Or was it one of those where he randomly picked someone because Jada caught his eye? Or was Jada a target all along?

“It’s a G.I. Jane Joke”

But the joke was not about G.I. Jane. It was about Jada Pinkett Smith and G.I. Jane was used as a reference to joke about her condition or rather, her baldness.

I thought the joke was tasteless and it lacked sensitivity.

Hair is very important in our society, especially for performers, and more specifically, female performers. Their appearances are mostly everything to them. Moreover, we live in a critical world where first impressions matter more. It must be a struggle for Jada when she was diagnosed with alopecia. And when one person struggles, the whole family struggles together.

G.I. Jane chose to shave her head. Jada didn’t.

If Chris Rock were to joke about somebody’s weight, do you not think the body positivity community would go after him? They just don’t have the privilege to be in the same space as him. Otherwise, the stage might get mobbed.

“It’s his job to roast people”

As said by Joe Rogan in his podcast with Josh Barnett. Take the comedy out of this line. Think about this for a moment. His job is to roast people. That’s a comedian’s job.

Wait! Hold on… Isn’t a comedian’s job making people laugh?

Yes.

So it’s okay to make people laugh by making fun of other people? It’s different if you’re making fun of yourself and your own situation. It’s simply one of those where we can joke about our own races but we shouldn’t do that with others. The logic is similar.

If Jada chose to shave her head because she wanted to and not because of a medical condition, the G.I. Jane context would’ve been appropriate. Chris Rock might’ve gotten a chuckle out of her instead of a huge eye roll.

My Problem with Comedy and Jokes

Comedians have been quick to jump to Chris Rock’s defense and with good reason. It’s their job too. They also understand the fine line between a joke and offending somebody and in worse cases, a whole community.

Many supported Chris Rock. Some were a little shaken by the consequence of his joke.

I love comedy. But I’ve always had a hard time appreciating stand-up comedy. Perhaps it’s the American references that I don’t get. Perhaps I’m not laughing because I don’t find them very funny. Perhaps I get rubbed in the wrong way even if the joke isn’t about me or the communities I relate to.

It’s one thing to be making fun of your own experiences. It’s another to pick someone out from the audience and make fun of them, especially if it’s about a condition they have, whether or not you’re ignorant about it. In my opinion, it’s never okay to joke at someone else’s expense. But what do I know about stand-up, right?

Disney and its writers did a great job about this issue in That’s So Raven Season 4 Episode 1 — Raven, Sydney, And The Man. Young Sydney wants to be a comedian, and Raven is the butt of her jokes. It didn’t sit right with Raven and she called her out for it. Perhaps comedians should take a page out of this episode.

We can say whatever we want about Will and Jada Smith. But if the joke is about us, can we confidently say we will laugh heartily at the joke?

I guess for me, if you have to make a joke at someone else’s expense, then perhaps you’re not as funny as you think. There are plenty of ways to make people laugh without making others feel bad. Sure, it may be one of the methods for comedy but it is not the method.

All I know is that such methods of joking aren’t for me, American or not.

It has always been like this (at the Oscars)

You know where I’ve heard this line countless times? In Japan. Every time someone wants change or suggests improvements, they’ll be met with “It can’t be helped” or “I’ve been in the industry for 15 years. It has always been like this”, quickly shutting down the potential for progress. Hence, change is incredibly slow in Japan. In some ways, traditionally beautiful, yet in many ways, terribly backward as well.

Hosts have been roasting actors at the Oscars for many years. That’s what they do. So why should this be any different?

Just because it’s always been like this doesn’t mean it’s okay. It doesn’t make it right. It also shows how many years these actors have been enduring these hosts’ roasting because it’s been made socially accepted by the award shows and their audience. It’s always fun to laugh at other people, isn’t it? It takes away attention from ourselves.

If Jada made fun of herself and her condition before, it would’ve been a different scenario and it’s quite obvious that she hasn’t reached that point yet. (Then again, I don’t follow her so what do I know.)

Perhaps this incident had to happen to finally shed some light on what is considered appropriate to joke about and what’s not. Perhaps this is a wake-up call for comedians. Sure, this incident may not be caused by a horribly offensive joke. We’ve heard worse. As a comedian, you can’t please everyone. But all it takes is a bad day or a snap in the brain. Perhaps the Academy and other award shows should set boundaries on what should be joked about. Perhaps hosts’ jokes need to be screened and approved. It is after all not an independent stand-up show but an international televised program.

Should comedy have boundaries?

Comedy is a form of art. And art is subjective. Subjective for many reasons. The biggest being one’s personal experience. And our experiences determine if we find the joke funny or not.

So then, what are the boundaries? Comedians can’t possibly please everyone. That’s up to comedians to decide and it’ll also give us a little peek at their characters.

Does Chris Rock deserve to be smacked?

No. He doesn’t. He was unlucky that he had to be the one to make that joke on stage on a big night. Was he right in making that joke? Not to me. Not in light of Jada’s situation. Does Chris Rock deserve a standing ovation at his tour? Yes, for his restraint, self-control, and professionalism. If people are applauding him for the joke, I personally think it’s dangerous.

Comedians should still be held accountable for the jokes they make. “It’s just a joke” is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The Slap

Most people didn’t care about the joke. All anyone talks about this incident is the violence invoked by Will Smith.

I’ve been slapped. Twice in my lifetime. For being rude. Slapped so hard that my glasses flew across the other side of the room. That kind of slap leaves a mark on your face for a little while. And it gets sore.

Talk smack and you’ll get smacked. Right? I guess that was what happened on stage that night.

I personally think such a gesture is uncalled for. Sure, he didn’t punch him. The slap didn’t seem very hard either. But to do that on national TV is humiliating. Not just for Chris Rock but for Will Smith as well. Everyone’s questioning his character now. Even his friends.

But I’m more interested in what went on in Will Smith’s head leading to the long walk up on stage, making the effort to raise his hand, and lashing it across someone else’s mouth.

My questions:

  • Why did he feel the need to make so much effort just to smack someone on stage? I understand the rage. But the effort of going through all of that seems unnecessary.
  • Did Will think this through? Most people would say no. Perhaps Will did think it through himself. Perhaps he didn’t think far enough. Perhaps he thought his actions would be supported instead of condemned.
  • Did he consider other options of calling Chris Rock out for his joke? Did he not think the other options are good enough that he had to make this ‘grand’ gesture?
  • Did he think others would think lesser of him if he had kept quiet?
  • Was he even thinking? Or was he purely reacting?
  • Did he do it for the theatrics of it?
  • Did Will Smith think about the consequences that go along with the pre-thought action?
  • Did self-control and restraint cross his mind?
  • Did something happen in the family that this joke hit a nerve for him? He might’ve laughed but we’ve also been programmed to know our cues to laugh.
  • Did this medical condition cause much strife within the family that the public isn’t aware of? Was this joke the last straw?

The Behavioral Arts discussed the body languages of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock. This video helped me understand some things but unless I’m Will myself, I’ll never know the full story nor the emotions he was going through.

Some of us might have the same thoughts. But they answered their own questions like Will Smith is their best friend and they know him inside and out, better than his own wife. No one was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he was the one who inflicted physical violence.

These thoughts may cross our minds but I think it’s important to leave these questions open-ended, and unanswered by us.

We are all violent

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” — John 8:7

To stand there and point your finger is hypocritical. We condemn his actions like we’ve never laid a hand on someone before. We judge him as if we’ve never gotten into physical fights.

Here’s a thought. Take away the status and cameras, what would the situation be? Two men fighting over what someone said. And how often does this happen? More often than we pay or give attention to.

But how often do you see someone getting smacked on live television that’s not part of a skit? This would have to be the first for me.

We normal people are just lucky since our lives are not broadcasted or put under a microscope. It doesn’t mean celebrities are not human. They are human first. Celebrity last. And we tend to forget that. The minute the person we put on a pedestal does something to disappoint us, we cast them out despite everything they’ve done before. That’s what we do.

We love being on our high horses. We don’t enjoy judging ourselves so we project our own imperfections on these celebrities, expecting them to be perfect all the time.

He should’ve known better

With social media and toxic cancel culture, his career might be in jeopardy. His current status already is.

I don’t disagree with it. But perhaps, he didn’t know better. Perhaps he thought he was being the hero. And his anger and ego clouded his rationality.

I could think of a million potential outcomes if Will Smith didn’t go up on stage and do what he did. And honestly, they’re not all in favor of him either. We could say he should’ve done this or that, but I know our world well enough that someone will always have something bad to say and there may still be polarizing views on the matter.

But guess what? We aren’t Will Smith. We aren’t in his shoes. We aren’t in his head. We aren’t experiencing his emotions or his thoughts.

Knowing his status, the location, the situation, you’d think he’d handle the situation better. Maybe even make Chris Rock look bad for making that joke by sitting stoically at his seat and making a witty comeback at him.

His anger is understandable. Still, it wasn’t the place nor time to raise a hand at someone. His decision would make him seem like he’s flexing, establishing his dominance and ego. It’s nice to have someone protect you. But not like that.

We’re mad at Will Smith

For different reasons. Some are reasonable while others just want a reason to hate. Most of us are angry at him for not behaving maturely because we know he has the potential to.

In my opinion, Smith’s actions took the attention away from the main issue: problematic jokes. Everyone is talking about the slap but few are addressing the issue of the joke. And personally, I think this message has been lost in all the drama.

Violence is never the answer

This line has been on repeat since March 27. And I can’t agree more. At the same time, I’m conflicted. We should never be violent and we should never make excuses for violence, whether it was planned or triggered in the moment. Especially with all that’s going on today.

What if it’s righteous anger? What if the other party has really pushed it? What if non-violent ways are ineffective? Do we let the perpetrator get away with it then? How can we make them accountable? No, not by canceling them. Not by verbally attacking them back either. It almost feels like there’s no right answer.

The answer seems to be this: suck it up, take it in, then let it go. It’s an extremely hard thing to do. And sometimes, it can also affect one’s mental health.

If Will Smith hadn’t yelled at Chris Rock after the smack, perhaps we wouldn’t be this shocked. We would all have continued laughing thinking it’s part of the act and maybe only realizing it later if Chris Rock tweeted that it wasn’t staged.

I’d like to know if Will Smith could do this all over again with the knowledge of this current reality, how would he approach the situation? Would he have done the same thing? If not, what would he have done differently? Would he still react but in a more socially acceptable way? Or would he have not reacted at all?

We’re quick to judge violence as an act. But we always forget the cause of the violence. Have you ever watched a TV show or movie where a kid gets punished for being violent in school but the person who provoked him gets away with it? And you’re there watching this drama unfold and fuming at the injustice?

That’s because we saw the backstory of the whole situation. We don’t get that advantage with real life. We’re always stuck wondering why people do what they do.

He’s an actor. It’s part of the job.

You’re a teacher. It’s part of your job to be verbally abused by parents and students.
You’re a maid. It’s part of your job to clean even if I deliberately pour sand all over you, and in front of you.
You’re an assistant director. It’s part of your job to take everyone’s crap and verbal abuse and not be appreciated.

Do people not see how problematic this line is?

In some aspects, it’s dehumanizing in the most insidious way.

It’s a statement people use to give themselves a sense of liberty to do what they want to do, especially in morally wrong ways. Just because it’s part of the job doesn’t mean it’s okay to deliberately make other people’s lives even more difficult for them.

Sure, every job has negative sides to it. When we take on a certain career, we have to be aware of both the positive and negative sides.

It’s only part of the job because that’s the society we’re living in. It was never part of the job. The job is accepting the ugly side of humanity. It’s also making excuses for bad behavior.

The Oscar Apology

Many people were expecting an apology to Chris Rock during Will Smith’s acceptance speech. He didn’t. And the public was outraged.

When you’re extremely angry at someone, would you apologize immediately? Even if you had two hours to calm down but your heart is not yet settled, would you be able to look in the person’s eyes and apologize sincerely? If you were forced to apologize in the moment, was it to fulfill a task? Or was it from the heart?

Personally, I would rather receive a genuine apology than an insincere one that’s for show to please the crowd. Even if it means that person needs time. While I was also expecting an apology to Chris Rock during his speech, I was kind of glad he didn’t. It tells me he’s not trying to please the public. That he was still reeling from what happened. He was trying to justify his actions. And when you’re in the middle of a justification, any apology towards the other party would seem like a sorry-not-sorry apology.

Not apologizing immediately when you’re still simmering is a human thing to do. We need time to reflect and self-assess. We need all the noise around us and in our heads to calm down before we can do that.

Eventually, Will Smith apologized. It took time but he did.

The drama might’ve ended for us. But there’s still a snowball of consequences Smith has to face.

Conclusion

I don’t know Chris Rock and Will Smith personally. Most of us don’t. But I’d like to think they’re both nice people in their own ways, with their own cliques. You can not get along with someone else and still be a good person to others. And I think it’s also a shame to lose friends over this.

I thought this incident has been blown out of proportion. It has been overdramatized. Both the slap and the joke were uncalled for. People are unnecessarily giving it a lot of weight and attention.

And in my opinion, it was a great distraction from the ominous situation the world is in the middle of. The perfect drama to give us a short break and divert our attention away from the Ukraine-Russia war.

While this memory will fade from the world’s mind in two to three weeks, the consequences for Will Smith won’t.

I’ve read a number of comments from the Black community worrying how this incident would set their people back 100 years. While I understand the fear, especially with the stigma they’ve been stuck with for decades and even centuries, I don’t believe this to be true. If it is, then it applies to all humanity.

Two developed countries are currently in the middle of a war. Violence has been everywhere since the beginning of time. We see violence on the street, at home, and today, on our phones. I don’t see this Oscar situation as Black-on-Black violence. I just see it as a conflict that exploded between two men where one resorted to violence.

Admitting that violence is a part of our human nature does not mean I support violence. I just think there’s always a reason behind any action. And not resorting to violence requires restraint and self-control. And these two values are not always present for some of us.

I think we’re always quick to make someone the villain and the other a hero. It doesn’t matter whose side we’re on. Because we’re humans. And we’re fickle. We’re also very judgmental. But we’re also intelligent. We’re taught to think critically and to empathize. Yet, when situations like this happen, we’re quick to jump to conclusions and make surface judgments.

I think we should ask questions. Even if someone’s actions are wrong, we should still question the intention behind the action. Hardly anything is that simple. Because life is abstract. I don’t think there are any sides to take. Not this one.

We should ask ourselves what we would have done if we were in another person’s situation. Then again, we’d probably paint ourselves as the hero and say we would never react the way Will Smith did. But no one knows themselves well enough to guarantee that until they’re in the situation themselves. But I can guarantee you that half the time, half of these people will react the opposite of what they hypothetically thought they would do.

It is part of our nature.

But we all can be better. So can Will Smith. So can Chris Rock.

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