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Commentary: Chris rocked by Will Smith

Opinion+writer+Zach+Freeman+speaks+out+in+favor+of+violence+against+celebrities.
Graphic by Hayley Keith

Opinion writer Zach Freeman speaks out in favor of violence against celebrities.

“Me ‘n @jadapinkettsmith got all dressed up to choose chaos,” Will Smith captioned an Instagram post the night of the 2022 Oscars. 

And choose chaos they did. 

Before the night was through, #WillSmithAssault would be trending on Twitter and the whole websphere would be up in arms either against or in defense of Will Smith for the slap heard around the world. Some time has passed since the Oscars on March 27, so you’ve probably already decided if you’re #TeamChrisRock or #TeamWillSmith.

Is this cancel culture run amok or a display of toxic masculinity? Is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responsible for a condonation of violence? A Hollywood PSYOP? Democracy manifest? The truth is, it’s not actually that big of a deal. At least not as big of a deal as Twitter would have you believe. Many like Daniel Radcliffe are “dramatically bored of hearing people’s opinions about it.” To which I must say, if Radcliffe is reading, consider yourself dramatically bored. 

Before hearing the actual joke, I assumed Chris Rock had taken a jab at the Smiths’ marriage based on #cuck and #cuckwill being plastered on the Twitter sidebar. Only to find out later, all the memes weren’t related to anything Rock or Smith had said. I’m not surprised that this was the response, but I was surprised at how fast the conversation came up and how it was so prominent as to muddle the actual subject matter. It goes without saying, what agreements people come to in their relationships are no business of ours.

The internet has no lack of wacky and unhinged theories over the most mundane topics, the “greatest night in television history” was no different. Though, you might want to make sure your beanie isn’t on too tight if you believe that the slap was staged to boost views to the “gone woke, gone broke” Oscars.  Photoshopped images of Rock with a cheek pad have also been shared tens of thousands of times over sites like Facebook.

But to the internet’s credit, I do think there is something to be said about the level of reality at the Oscars and the characters we sometimes play for our benefit.

Smith started out laughing at Rock’s “G.I. Jane” joke. I don’t know how exactly that escalated into him going up and slapping Rock seconds later, but I’m assuming the look on his wife’s face had something to do with it. 

According to a source from TMZ, Rock had no idea that Jada Pinkett Smith had alopecia. Until that night, I didn’t know either, so I’m inclined to believe him. Rock just did what comedians have done since the beginning of comedy, and Smith just did what he felt a good husband should do. Neither deserve to get dragged away by mysterious “Men in Black.”

Smith likely felt obligated to protect his wife’s honor when he realized she was upset. Smith got to stay out of the doghouse for the night, if his wife’s laughter is any indication. 

One line I saw repeated over and over on Twitter is that violence is never acceptable. 

To me, this echoes the sentiment of schools’ zero tolerance policies. Violence, like most things, is a spectrum. We should look at the direct harm caused by Smith’s slap; if nothing of consequence is found, then that’s that. Believing that this will cascade and cause residual damage is no different from the old diatribe blaming video games and movies for causing violence. Considering the history of violence between entertainers, things went pretty smoothly. How much more real are the Oscars and the on-camera lives of entertainers than what they’re portraying on the big screen?

Rock has the freedom to press charges and chose not to. How far do we, the audience, go in our condemnation of a victimless crime? In the end, the slap will be far more impactful in generating punchlines and keeping his name trending than the negligible harm done.

Days after the event, Rock spoke to a sold-out show in Boston saying, “At some point, I’ll talk about that s***. And it’ll be serious and it’ll be funny, but right now I’m going to tell some jokes.” 

Smith has since resigned from the Academy, publicly apologized and has been very adult about the aftermath of the whole situation. We’re quick to forget, if Louis C.K. is any indication. I’m sure the Fresh Prince will still be giving out John Hancocks to adoring fans for years to come. Similarly, Rock took the hit with style and ease, making an instant recovery. The only ones I can’t praise are the users online who made the worst out of the situation.

We might live in a better world if people gave out slaps a little more freely. Everyone has made mistakes, said stupid things, crossed lines they shouldn’t have, and sometimes a literal slap in the face is the best wake-up call you can get. 

A true friend lets you know when you’ve crossed that line, and while a slap may not be the most subtle means, it gets the message across and builds character. If we limit our focus to the power of love, then we risk forgetting the power of incredible violence

But, I have foolishly failed to consider one thing. What if Chris Rock was the deceased centenarian Betty White instead? All I can say is, I’m thankful that no 99-year-olds were harmed in the making of these Oscars.

Zachary Freeman is an anthropology senior and opinion columnist for The Battalion.

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