Ethics Hero: Chris Rock (Plus A Word About Bald Jokes And Snopes Joining The Ethics Train Wreck) [UPDATED!]

UPDATE: 11:45, 3/30/45: Rock briefly addressed the Smith attack during his concert in Boston tonight, but said nothing substantive about it. “Soooo, how was your weekend?”, he began. After the crowd responded with a standing ovation, Rock continued: “Let me be all misty and shit.I don’t have a bunch of shit to say about that, so if you came here for that…I had written a whole show before this weekend. I’m still processing what happened, so at some point I’ll talk about that shit. It’ll be serious. It’ll be funny, but right now I’m going to tell some jokes.”

And he did.


Incredibly, Chris Rock has managed to stay off the Ethics Train Wreck that he unfairly was the catalyst for. Bravo, Chris. This alone makes him a worthy Ethics Hero. Consider:

  • He wisely and coolly resisted the impulse to defend himself physically when Will Smith ambushed him. It doesn’t matter that he’s a much smaller man and Smith had played Muhammad Ali. A couple months ago, Rock mused ruefully about his being bullied as a child, and regretted still letting people “walk all over him.” In the heat of the moment, he could have struck back at Smith, and might have even gained some support by doing so—and it would have wrecked the Oscars more than Smith, the fumbling, cowardly producers and the disgraceful audience in the auditorium wrecked it as it was.
  • He refused to file charges. He was well within his rights to do so, but withholding that indignity was a kindness to Smith and the Academy, neither of whom deserved it.
  • He has said nothing about the incident at all in public. Good. Literally nothing he said could do anything but make matters worse. Criticizing Smith would allow the media to promote a “feud,” obliterating the real issues. Accepting Smith’s bogus apology would be another example of letting bullies walk all over him: I’d criticize Rock for that, because it would validate Smith’s hypocrisy and attempt at an easy escape from accountability. Rocks brother says Smith has yet to contact Chris personally.
  • Chris Rock also wins the first Ethics Alarms “If” award, named for my father’s favorite poem.   So far, he has embodied the first verse to the finest detail:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

Tonight Rock is set to perform two concerts in Boston, and tickets demand has gone through the roof. I think he will continue to handle this mess as well as it can be handled. Personally, I hope he makes a lot of bald jokes.


And now about baldness. The news media and a lot of other people who don’t know what they are talking about pronounced Rock’s mild joke as a cruel reference to Jada Smith’s “medical condition.” They have cited “alopecia” as the dire condition like it is some obscure illness like Lewy Body Dementia, the malady that prompted Robin Willliams to kill himself. Alopecia just means
baldness, ” which is indeed a medical condition. If you make a joke about baldness (which Rock did not), you are also making a joke about the technical word for it. The Mayo Clinic defines alopecia  as “hair loss (that) can affect just your scalp or your entire body.” This includes, among others, androgenic alopecia (male-pattern baldness and female-pattern baldness), frontal fibrosing alopecia (a receding hairline), alopecia areata, which is immune system-related and causes patchy hair loss, and alopecia totalis, when all of your hair everywhere falls out, as in the case of the late Mike Nichols.

I have alopecia. So did my father. So did Rush Limbaugh, Yul Brenner, Dwight Eisenhower, Telly Savalas, John Wayne, Sean Connery, George Patton, Bruce Willis, John Adams, Winston Churchill. So does Joe Biden, but he got hair plugs. All of these people were teased and mocked about going bald or being bald, and managed not to punch out the jokers. In fact, they made fun of themselves. Yes, losing one’s hair is harder on women, but its still the same malady as what men have to live with. Suck it up, ladies: do you want equal treatment, or not? The claim that I have read and heard repeatedly that a joke about a shaved head to find a fashionably effective way to deal with baldness is different from a cruel reference to the dreaded “alopecia” is simply ignorant. The fact that Jada Smith has used the technical term in public to make her problem seem exotic is not Chris Rock’s concern—and his joke referred to her hair cut, not her hair loss. Demi Moore wasn’t going bald in “G.I. Jane.”


…which brings us to the fake fact checking site, Snopes. Someone tracked down a video from 1991 when Will Smith mocked a bald man on the Arsenio Hall Show and said “Awe, these are jokes man, c’mon.” The relevance is obvious, but Snopes decided to use Clintonian parsing to declare that the implication of hypocrisy was unfair. Get this…it’s pure Snopes:

Will Smith really did tell a bald joke during an appearance on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1991. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that this joke was directed at someone with alopecia.

23 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Chris Rock (Plus A Word About Bald Jokes And Snopes Joining The Ethics Train Wreck) [UPDATED!]

  1. Snopes went ultra hard on trying to find a way out for Smith. I still have English professors where I work who say Snopes is a reliable source. I find it amusing (in a sad sort of way) that Snopes found a way to insert themselves into this ethics train wreck.

    We need a word for a fact check that contradicts itself.

  2. I was looking up Charles Island in Milford, CT, famous for lost pirate treasure among other things. At low tide, the island is connected to the mainland by a sandbar, and people are often stranded on the island when the tide comes in and floods the sandbar.

    However, I was surprised when the article noted the sandbar was technically known as a “trombolo”.

    So I looked up the word trombolo: “A sandbar that connects an island to the mainland”….

  3. Would Rock have been an Ethics Hero if he had directed a considerable amount of time poking fun at Smith for the rest of the show?

    For example, he could have repeatedly reminded the nominees that, if they win, they are NOT permitted to slap the presenter.

    Fresh Prince? More like Sour Prince!

    Rock could have had a field day for the rest of the show, and it would have been completely within his role as the comedian.

    Would that have been out of bounds?


    • And he was just the man do do it, too. He could have driven Smith out of the theater. No it wouldn’t have been out of bounds—which is why I admire him for not doing it.

      (Great point, incidentally.)

  4. “However, there’s no evidence to suggest that this joke was directed at someone with alopecia.”

    There is also no evidence that Rock was aware of Jada’s alopecia.

    I wish that Rock had sensed Smith’s anger, started to back pedal, and employed evasive maneuvers on stage so that Smith had to chase him. Hilarious instant karmic humiliation that.

    What’s that saying, oh yeah; the cover-up is always worse than the crime.

    • That would have been hilarious!!!

      Omg….. haha just imagining it is enough!

      Rock could have also gone on with his “nigga jokes” and really had some fun. Not sure if you’ve ever seen that video but the fact he didn’t start with those….

      Omg… maybe that’s why he said “oh I could… but no…”

  5. I want to use this as an opportunity to bring up the whole subject of “fact checking.”

    It’s mere title/definition is a lie in itself.

    Facts do not need checking. Only lies do.

    A fact stands on its own as true and would never need to be checked.

    But had those who originated this trend, who have proven to be liars, calked it “lie checker” they would have been showing they were honest from the start.

    The name also subtly tells us we can not trust facts, which we can. It subtly causes us to question everything but what some new authority tells us is “true.”

    I thought about this last year a lot as one day it hit me….

    “Facts are true! Lies are not! This whole thing smells bigger than proving Trump lied.”

    Now, they are commenting on something everyone saw with their own eyes, things easily verifiable without their help… and they lie as they tell us they are “fact checking.”

    Has anyone else noticed this?

  6. Let’s redo a Carnacc the Magnificent sketch from the Johnny Carson glory years (dammit! I miss talk show hosts like him)

    “I’ll never part with it!”

    Fast forward to 2022: Carson is convicted of a hate crime.

  7. In the unedited footage of the entire event, Rock has ample time to say something, out of any number of things, that would absolutely destroy Will Smith. Remember, the wife Smith was “defending” was regularly cheating on Smith with a man her son’s age. Which she refused to apologize for, calling it a “healing” experience. They have a supposed “open relationship.” They are horrible parents who have absolutely scrambled both their kids’ brains with their “alternative” new age parenting and “education.” The entire family is a humiliating train-wreck, no doubt the source of Smith’s frustration.

    You can see the wheels turning as he comes THIS close to saying something, and then decides to just make an innocent remark not aimed at Smith and move on. You’ll never see someone’s thought processes so clearly on their face.

  8. Hey! I’m not bald from male pattern baldness (beginning when I was about twenty), I have alopecia. Kind of like finding out I’ve been speaking prose all my life or finding out I’m a bass baritone. Neat! Thanks for the informative essay on alopecia!

  9. Frankly, I think Chris Rock would have been well within his rights to give Will Smith the Southeast Asian geography lesson.

  10. Here’s what a class act Chris Rock is: Wanda Sykes said she ran into him at a party after the show, and Rock apologized to her for causing a distraction from her big night hosting the show. He’s putting on a clinic on how to handle yourself with grace when you’re in the spotlight in an uncomfortable situation.

  11. After I read this, my sister mentioned that, on Ellen, Wanda Sykes said that Will Smith has not apologized to her or the other hosts, but Chris Rock apologized to her as soon as he saw her after the show for messing up her big night. (I assume as performers she and Chris Rock feel it was unfortunate the hosts were overshadowed.) I don’t know if it adds to his ethics heroism — he obviously had nothing to apologize for and I’m not sure the hosts being overshadowed was much of a loss in this case — but I think it speaks to him being an extremely empathic and considerate person.

    • those hosts being over-shadowed was perhaps the one beneficial result of Smith’s rampage, but you’re right: that response is signature significance for Rock’s basic decency.

  12. Thought Exercise. What if Will Smith had been the host, insulted Chris Rock, and Chris Rock went up on stage and hit Will Smith? Chris Rock would likely not have been allowed to return to his seat. He would have been removed or arrested. Will Smith is more important that Chris Rock in Hollywood. Less important people are required to allow more important people to smack them around and they better not say anything. What would have happened if Chris Rock had insisted that Will Smith be arrested that night? When Will Smith won the ‘Best Actor’ award, what would have happened to Rock? Rock is not allowed to fight back, he is required to take it and he knows it. Is that why Rock thinks HE needs to be apologizing for this? How many people immediately blamed Chris Rock for this and are continuing to cover for Will Smith?

    I know it has been said that police officers don’t arrest someone until a complaint is filed. Well, maybe this works if you are a really important person. I know this is not how the law works for little people like me. I know that if I walk into a convenience store and slap someone in front of a cop, I am going to end up in handcuffs in the back of a police car. Now, I may not be arrested for assault and battery (even though I would have done both), but I will at least be arrested for Disturbing the Peace or some such crime. I probably will also be banned from the premises and told I will be arrested for trespassing if I show up again. The officer is DEFINITELY not going to let me go back to shopping in the store.

  13. Jack,

    You may have heard by the time you read this, but Smith just resigned from the Academy. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this development. Great reading, as always!

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