You never know.
I assumed yesterday that I wouldn’t be writing anything about the Oscars, which have politicized and wokified the ceremony into irrelevance, and here we are with the third Oscars-related post, following my my earlier ones here and here. This, a Comment of the Day by one of Ethics Alarms’ most veteran (and most restrained) commenters, Tim LeVier, is also by far the best, delving fearlessly and perceptively into the ethical issues raised by Will Smith’s astounding physical attack on Chris Rock in front of the Hollywood glitterati and an American TV audience of diminished but still significant numbers.
Before turning things over to Tim, I will mention here, because I may forget later, that my print version of the New York Times today included a story covering last night’s awards and broadcast that did not mention the Smith-Rock episode at all. How do you explain that? The story included Oscar fashions and the “historic” awards (apparently whoever plays Anita in “West Side Story” must get a statuette); it mentioned the three smug hosts’ infantile “Gay, gay, gay!” chant. But a major star attacking a major comic on stage in an iconic awards ceremony wasn’t deemed by the New York Times as “news.”
What a great newspaper. If anything called for the “Naked Gun” clip, this does...
Now, here is Tim’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Additional Morning Thoughts: ‘Smith Vs. Rock At The Oscars'”….
Honestly, I’m more interested in the public reaction than the event itself. People seem to have this immediate need for clear thinking and the next chapter of the story. It’s a problem in our society more commonly referred to as instant gratification. Most of the posts and hot takes are in this vein but with varying objectives.
The pearl clutchers are the worst. “Why didn’t a police officer go an arrest him?” “Why didn’t the show director eject him?” “Why didn’t security intervene?”
Police need a complaint. The director needs time. Security aren’t in on the performance and have a tough time knowing reality from fiction particularly when the assaulted party engages with the assaulter and the assaulter casually moves into position.
It will be interesting to hear from Glenn Wiess the director and any producer about the mental gymnastics they were doing to figure out how to proceed. In the moment, during that commercial break, I’m sure it was “Is everyone cooled down now?” “Can we get through the remainder of the program?” “Am I required to take action?” “What does Chris Rock have to say?”
It was an unprecedented moment for sure and I guarantee there are some figures having discussions this morning on how to treat this going forward. There will be bright line rules put in place for the future. Everyone has now considered this predicament. Should it happen again, that person will be ejected….and then we’ll get to hear about “double standards” and “hypocrisy”.
Chris Rock is owed an apology. Thank god Will Smith did not attempt to deliver it last night during his acceptance speech. That’s a personal matter that needs to be done face to face and if in the end all we hear from some PR flack is “Will apologized to Chris privately.” then great, that’s all we can reasonably expect.
I see reports from LAPD this morning that Chris Rock has declined to press charges and that they are prepared to accept a complaint should he change his mind. Good. At least some people understand process.
Will Smith has some demons that burden him. Responsibility so great that he feels ready to snap, and we all have gone through the past two years in unique ways. He started the journey to confronting those demons last night, very publicly. It was a human moment. A natural moment. Everyone’s so enthralled with making cheap political points (why is this political?) that they can’t recognize the moment for what it is: a human reckoning with himself and his actions that caused tremendous shame. It would have been easier for Will if he had been ejected. Had I been in his shoes, I might have been grateful to get ejected and go scurry into a corner of the world to hide for many months. What happened to him was a spotlight on a very dark moment.
Some comments of his speech characterize it as making excuses or justifying actions. That’s not up to him. A person can only relate to others his reasons. Reasons are sometimes valid and rise to the level of an excuse, but it is the aggrieved parties that grant the excuse. If the action is not excused, then we ask if it was justified. ‘Authority’ looks at the scenario and the reasons and decide if the action was justified. Justification is much more difficult because it accepts that some level of harm is ok. In this scenario, the action was neither excusable or justified, so we are left with the stated reason. It seemed to me that Will Smith, during his speech, accepted that his actions were not excusable or justified. He still stated what he could of his reasons to help us to gain a portion of understanding. We are capable of understanding bad actions without lending acceptance of the action. We do it all the time with serial killers. Let’s acknowledge that we can also do it with scenarios like this.
Will Smith has a steep road ahead if he chooses to continue in this life. Of course, he’s rich enough to call it a day and never have another worry should he choose that path; but if he persists on the hard road, he’ll have to continue his journey of self discovery. He’ll have to make amends with the man he publicly battered. He’ll have to repair his image and suffer memes and mockery for years. At least now when someone makes an off-color joke, the comedian when facing cancel culture can look to the mob and say “Hey, don’t Will Smith me, man!”.
P.S. It’s been said many times last night on social media, in mostly juvenile ways, that the Oscars isn’t so white now and #OscarsSoBlack was trending. I saw it shared by white people and black people alike. It’s a bit amusing and maybe a little cathartic given this 5 or 6 year journey the Academy has been on since #OscarsSoWhite began trending. Will’s outburst was wildly inappropriate, but it does feel to me that it was maybe the single greatest thing to have happened, precisely when it needed to happen – that we might be at a turning point to move in a positive direction forward.
Or maybe not – let’s see how badly I get flamed.