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.