Comment Of The Day: “Additional Morning Thoughts: ‘Smith Vs. Rock At The Oscars'”

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.

11 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Additional Morning Thoughts: ‘Smith Vs. Rock At The Oscars'”

  1. I have something of an answer to my own question: Mediaite reports that the Academy wouldn’t allow reporters to ask about the incident. Perfect. Media censorship on reporting the most newsworthy Academy Awards action in a century, because it reflects badly on the organization. Hollywood is the perfect progressive culture.

    • Going back to my thought on “Instant Gratification”, my reply to this is “Good.”

      The Academy wasn’t dealing with journalists who are going to gain new perspective and put together a thoughtful treatise worthy of an ethics blog. They’re dealing with salesmen of print advertising seeking eyeballs attempting to justify their salary and score points over their competing salesman. These people aren’t interested in intellectual honesty or advancement of dialogue. Their motivations are bare for the world to see. The most they would have done last night was regurgitate what we all witnessed live. There wasn’t “more to the story”. We saw it. Live. Encapsulated in two distinct moments. A story in two parts.

      Of course the Academy had nothing to say other than what they did: “We don’t condone violence.” That tells you everything you need to know: they are upset with Will Smith. Anything beyond that requires an inquiry of facts, discussions, consideration, and a course of action. The Academy is perfectly capable of releasing a statement and publicizing it without a journalist pulling it out of them to satisfy this need of instant gratification.

      This really does push a hot button issue for me on journalism. It’s perfectly witnessed in geek culture on a “news site” called who will have a writer listen or watch some piece of pop-culture and then write 8 posts on it. Let’s say Kevin Feige does a podcast interview with Michael Rosenbaum. This author will take a statement and turn it into an article headline with no additional value-add. Take another statement and turn it into another article w/ headline and maybe link back to the first. Rather than promote the podcast and give a recap in a single review, they’re taking the work product of others and converting them into their own “original reporting”. It’s insane.

      Then you realize it’s not just crappy geek culture sites, but rather, every outlet out there which regurgitates what they watched on CNN. These aren’t “journalists” in many cases, they’re news aggregators and regurgitators. Amplifiers of preferred information and suppressors of narratives that they don’t care to promote. What does that sound like? Sounds like Social Media. Our “news media” has become “social media” and real journalists doing original reporting have nearly become extinct.

      So yes. Good. I’m glad the Academy had the wherewithal to not further fan the flames of this runaway train. Real journalists will still continue to seek the story that needs to be told and get appropriate interviews and add appropriate value to their writing.

      • Interesting. I’ll have to ponder this.

        But—isn’t this true of most reporting, as in the Jackson hearings? And wasn’t the reaction of the attendees on the spot a newsworthy topic anyway?

        • Yes, it’s true. Jackson hearings is a great example, particularly because access is similarly tightly controlled. I would wager we could find a couple good examples of journalism where the writer went out of their way to provide a full summary of the day’s events or even multiple summaries by segmented topic. We could then find many good examples of some media types mocking her for saying she wasn’t a biologist while others mocked them for their mockery.

          Secondly, yes, while it might be a “newsworthy topic”, the Academy is not in the business of promoting journalism excellence. The Academy is hosting it’s annual event to promote their industry and their members and they do so in part by requiring certain members to grant interviews. Allowing the people you are requiring to grant interviews to take questions on a developing event, for which they are likely not prepared or qualified to speak about is just bad form. I would imagine every interview asking different people the same question about the same incident they experienced with the rest of us with the only likely outcome that someone puts their foot in their mouth and destroys their carefully curated career. Meanwhile, allowing such questions during these required press conferences does not advance the work that these individuals accomplished or promote the industry in a positive light. If I’m the Academy, it’s my party and it’s my rules. If you want to leave my party and pursue this story, please, feel free to do so; but while my party is still ongoing, I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do – keep the focus on the artists, the accomplishments, and the industry all while protecting them from making half-cocked snap judgements and then blaming me for forcing them to take that question.

  2. Here’s a quick response that likely echoed around the country: “Yo! You see that? Sheee-it! The muhfucker bitchslapped the nigga!”

    • Frankly, I think this is a black guy problem. What white people think is of no import whatsoever. I also wonder what Jackie Robinson or Hank Aaron would say to Will Smith.

        • I suspect Jackie Robinson and Henry Aaron are considered Uncle Tom’s by today’s young wokesters. Look what happened to this guy Craig Melvin on the Today Show for saying this:

          “It was really disappointing. If you’re rearing a boy, especially in this country, you spend so much time talking to our kids about keeping your hands to yourself, controlling your emotions and then there’s also this long-held perception in this country that men of color, especially, can’t control their rage and their anger, and to see someone who’s been that beloved for decades — it was troubling on so many levels,”.

          And kudos to these two tweeters: Mike Villa tweeted: “Have to say that was a very eloquent observation by @craigmelvin on the @TheTodayShow about the Oscars ‘Slapgate,’” and tweeter LaShawn added: “Craig Melvin was 100% correct! Young black boys deserve better that what Will Smith gave them@last night. These kids out here aren’t famous & if they slap someone at school over a f—ing joke they’re libel to end up dead! Y’all making excuses for this crap is so toxic!”

  3. Well, a few of observations here. Fine comment, by the way.

    1. I don’t think you need a complaint in this case. Smith assaulted a man in public, on camera. The law doesn’t exist to provide revenge for the victim, but to address the violence done to society by such an act. The LA police may decide not to act without a complaint, but quite frankly, they should. If a homeless man is assaulted on camera and decides not to complain, is it okay to forget about it? I hardly think so. Likewise an award show comic doing his job.

    2. I totally agree about the apology.

    3. I am not sure I agree about the Academy not taking questions on the subject. There are two main questions that the academy needs to answer. “We don’t condone violence” is fine as far as it goes, but that’s so anodyne as to be an utterly meaningless platitude. Almost nobody in the world would condone violence in such a setting.

    But they do need to answer: 1. What do they intend to do about the instant case, if anything, and 2. What will they do next time something substantially similar occurs? I understand your point here, though — reporters aren’t likely to confine their questions to those two substantive ones, but rather, ask a bunch of loaded and inane questions designed to produce all-caps headlines for click-bait. It’s fair if the Academy needs to think about both answers for a bit, but they do need to answer both of them. If they just issue a statement addressing both and refuse all other questions, I’d be fine with that.

    4. If Will Smith has demons, it is his responsibility to lay them down, or remove himself from situations where they may impact others. I have no sympathy for a full grown man coming out of the audience to commit a violent act during an awards show. He is an adult male responsible for his actions, and his demons cannot be allowed to become a problem for the innocent or even the annoying.

    5. Finally, I think you are right about his road ahead, and I don’t think I can add anything of value to your observations on that point. He is now a meme, and not in a good way, for the foreseeable future.

  4. The real Criminal activity was that the show was produced at all. That it included $200,000 gift bags doled out to people who suffer extreme narcissism whose delusions minimize the real issues that the lower people are suffering.

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