A Deeper Dive In A Shallow Pool
Did you catch Will Smith slap Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars? I caught it the next day (I don't watch the Oscars. What a load of hooey). Like most people, I reacted in my own way, I made sense of it in alignment with my own values. Honestly, I thought Chris was a dick for his tasteless, cheap n' easy "joke" at Jada's expense but I also felt badly for him when he was hit and sworn at by Will. It was definitely hard to watch. The shocking part, though, was the fact that no one did anything about it. Talk about bystander effect.
Just as an aside: I rather envy men the tacit permission they have to punch or otherwise get into scraps with one another. I tried punching a girl once. I was in seventh grade and she was in eighth. She was a big deal. I was a nobody but for some reason she chose me to pick on. She was relentless with the insults, the mocking laughter, the pushing me on the shoulder, and thumping me on the back of my head, all in front of her minions which only made my humiliation worse. Finally, one day, I snapped. My crazed fury caused my fist to connect with her jaw. It hurt like fuck and I caused no physical injury to her face, but she did leave me alone after that. If only I'd known it could be so easy.
What if Will was standing up for all of us who are tired of being bullied? I don't know about you but I have zero appetite for meanness anymore. There's been WAY too much of it, from the pick-up driver who wants to push me off the road just because they can, to the unvaxxed refusing to wear a mask, to the politicians and CEOs with zero integrity and a multitude of douchebaggery. Obviously, I know nothing about either Chris or Will but, to my mind, what played out between them was a microcosm, a tableau, of where so many of us are in life these days. If you were being honest, haven't you fantasized of late about knocking someone in the kisser? And, if so, does that scare you?
Could/should Will have expressed himself differently? Probably. Do I condone violence? Of course not but trying to understand its root cause is not saying it's okay. Asking questions does not equal absolution.
Chris's joke at the expense of one woman's dignity is simply anachronistic. I didn't realize how much so until I heard him say it. Are we still picking on women for their looks, still accepting their humiliation as fair fodder for a few laughs? No, not any more. And Will emphasized that shift with an exclamation mark. I'm hoping that this will be a wake-up moment not just for comedians but for people in general. Can we please stop abusing one another? Can we please rise up out of the primordial ooze and put to use the considerable power of our intelligence and compassion?
If you missed Will's Oscar acceptance speech, you missed the point he rather clumsily made earlier in the evening - "I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world ... I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people."
You know how when a child is learning a new skill and their enthusiasm gets the better of them? They're clumsy, they make mistakes, there is little finesse. They have to practice and practice some more until they figure it out? "God" aside, I see that Will is in this process of learning how to be a role model for love, and for the protection of those more vulnerable (not to suggest Jada can't fight her own battles her way. I understand that she is the fiercest of women). Being "called" to a higher ideal is no laughing matter. And if you have even an ounce of integrity, you will rise to the challenge despite the missteps along the way.
Speaking of Jada, where is she in all of this? She was the main catalyst to what happened between the two men. Has anyone apologized to her? Has anyone asked if she's okay? Or if she even minded Chris's joke? Likely, because she's a woman, she is thinking it over, processing her feelings, and coming to a conclusion that best suits her - not the public, not the PR firms.
Pretty much nothing we do is black or white, right or wrong, dark or light. Pretty much everything we do has nuance. In any given moment, we can feel righteous while doing a really bad thing. Kind of a Robin Hood stealing from the rich to give to the poor sort of logic, a Machiavellian the end justifies the means argument.
This is the element that so intrigues me about the Will and Chris debacle. There is so much meaning in the entire event (don't even get me started on the hypocrisy of the Hollywood machine pretending it doesn't condone violence). That which is obvious and sits on the surface of human understanding is not of interest to me. It is the diversity of values, perspectives, and experiences leading to actions that engage my sensibilities.
I trust that Chris and Will will both go to their respective corners, tend to their wounds, take the counsel of those they respect, and work out how better to approach life the next time. I trust that both men, and all of us who witnessed this very human, this very personal, public altercation, will have learned an important lesson in humility and perhaps even forgiveness.**
And, lastly, watershed moments of truth are not borne of small, insular events. I think we are going to find that what happened at Oscars 2022 is going to have long-lasting effects.
**As of this morning, Will has made his apologizes, resigned from the Academy and is likely going to lose the Oscar he worked so hard to earn. Cancel culture will feel justified and the rest of us will be no further ahead to understanding what really transpired.