April 1, 2022 | OPINION | By Lorea Zabaleta | Illustration by Xixi Qin
As a journalism minor, I think often and thoroughly about the current state of information dissemination in the world. I ask myself questions such as, how can we save local news and with it, our democracy? Is the human mind truly equipped to handle the amount of “news” that we have access to each day? That is why I am both humiliated and ecstatic to admit I found out Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars via a meme shared by the Twitter account, “Classical Studies Memes for Hellenistic Teens.”
If you haven’t heard of this incident, let me give you the gist. Our cast of characters: Chris Rock, comedian, presenter of the Oscars, and Slappee; Will Smith, actor, recent recipient of the Academy’s Best Actor Award, and Slapper. The Catalyst (ha, get it): Rock making a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, which used her hair loss, resulting from the condition alopecia, as the punchline. The reaction: well, as they say, talk shit, get hit.
But the incident itself isn’t the focus here. Yes, it was wild that someone got slapped at the Oscars, but the truly wildin this situation is the internet reaction to it. Within minutes people were posting absolutely unhinged takes, ranging from ice cold to burning hot. A not uncommon response was to conflate the event or the assault with other incidences of violence in the world both currently and historically.
Twitter user @BigDaddy4702, for instance, claimed that what Smith did to Rock in that instant was “the same” as what Putin did to Ukraine. Another user, @JuddApatow, said in a Tweet (which has since been deleted) that Smith could have killed Rock with “pure out of control rage and violence.” Both of these takes, and many others of similar flavor, were immediately mocked on the very website where they had been born because, well, both of those opinions are not only wrong but also super strange ones to have taken away from that moment.
Similarly, many people either via Twitter, other social media, and even think-pieces and op-eds, condemned the violence of the slap. However, a singular slap, clearly motivated by strong emotions on the part of the Slapper, is not representative of “violence” as a whole, and treating it as some epitome of undesirable behavior is a little strange. The Washington Post ran a piece with the headline “Will Smith, spit-polished thuggery and disrespect,” in which the writer, Robin Givhan, referred to Smith as a “violet clod” and said, “thanks to Smith, disrespect flourishes all the more.” This piece is not alone in being an article in a well-known publication giving this Oscar incident the attention often reserved for scandals of politicians or major events with impacts beyond themselves.
I do not want to say that there are no potential larger effects of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, but I hardly think it is going to cause an open season on comedians who say things people don’t like to hear. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that when someone says something offensive, even ableist, that they face real consequences. And in reality, being slapped one time on stage, at the Oscars, is likely not going to harm Rock in any way, it may even help his career. So while it may be worth using this moment to establish oneself as always against “violence,” it was hardly “an independent psychological case study on how Trump got normalized” (according to Twitter user @AshaRangappa_) or even “why Germans allowed Hitler to happen.” @AugustCohen4 took the time out of his busy schedule to type up a tweet claiming, using #grouppyschology, that the Oscar crowd’s handling of the Slap is somehow a case study into how humanity allows mass atrocity to occur.
At a certain point, I have to diagnose these people with chronically online syndrome. It’s not that people shouldn’t have opinions, or even share them, but maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to connect the interaction of two millionaires on the Oscar stage with, well, anything else besides that moment. We should, I would argue, enjoy the genuinely funny takes that have come out of it, like @Trubeque quipping that this was the “first oscar won via trial by combat.”
And to round out this whole article, let me circle back to another post I found on the Classical Memes for Hellenistic Teens twitter – a photo of the wise words of Marcus Aurelius, “you are not compelled to form any opinion about this matter before you, nor to disturb your peace of mind at all. Things in themselves have no power to extort a verdict from you,” overlaid with the text “Marcus Aurelius has already released you from the obligation to have a take.”
And that’s what it is really about – not every big moment we witness as individuals in an increasingly and incredibly interconnected world requires us to form an opinion to prove ourselves as intelligent, worthy, or even good people. Sometimes we can observe, and yeah, maybe find inappropriate things a little funny.