Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Of course you’ve heard about Chris Rock’s making a joke at the Oscar’s about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head and how Will Smith got up, slapped Chris in the face, went back to his seat, and yelled at Chris, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!”
Well, I’d like to talk about that.
Now I’m NOT going to judge Will Smith. I can’t say that if I’d lived Will’s life, been in his marriage, gone through his day I wouldn’t have done exactly what he did. So you’ll get no “I’m better than Will Smith” from me.
But DAMN that incident gave me a lot to think about.
My first thought was, wow, that’s patriarchy on wheels. If that’d been me, and my husband had done that, I’d be feeling my husband was treating me like a piece of property. My husband’s upset because someone touched something that belonged to him, like I was his newly waxed sports car. He wasn’t protecting me. Protection??? If I'm Jada, I’m in the seat Meryl Streep is usually in at the Oscars, where she has lots of insult-ish jokes thrown at her. Other actresses eat their hearts out with envy that they can’t be in that seat.
What’s wrong with Will that he can’t read the room?
Or am I the one who can’t read the room?
Let’s ask ourselves: what just happened last week? There were Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now clearly the Republicans on the committee weren’t going to vote for her from the beginning on ideological grounds. Fine. We all get that.
But what they did do that was completely unnecessary and utterly cruel was to attack her for things they knew to be false, like the notion that she was soft on child pornography or on crime in general. It was an attack of lies, designed to make her look unworthy. Designed to demoralize her.
No wonder she teared up when a black man, Sen. Corey Booker, finally rose up to defend and support her. Telling her how worthy she indeed was, how great this moment was, and how “I [Booker] refuse to have my joy taken away.”
That was the historical moment in which Will rose up to slap Chris.
Now the press today is talking about a history of shit going down between Chris and Jade. God help me if I ever get to the point where I’m hyper-familiar with endless silly Hollywood feuds. And I have no idea if in this week leading up to the Oscar ceremony Will had any awareness of the Jackson hearings.
But it’s certainly possible that after a week of one black woman being attacked by men Will had had enough.
Lots of us have had enough.
But then there’s this. Will didn’t jump up to slap Chris right after Chris’s remark. There was a gap. Will had to think about it for a bit. So let’s look at the idea of performative outrage. Which is not the same as sham outrage. Sham outrage is phony outrage. Pretending to be outraged when you’re not.
Performative outrage is outrage as performance. I am indeed ticked off at you. But prudence might dictate that I count to ten and let it pass. But circumstances might suggest otherwise. They might whisper in my ear that a show of outrage might be just the thing.
Why? Oh, who know? It’s like the scene in the movies where the woman in the night club throws her drink in the face of the guy she’s mad at. Yeah, he’s done something caddish. But what a lovely scene it makes, that drink throwing thing.
Why do people make a scene? To be seen. Most of all, to be seen in a certain way. And to go back to my beginning here, how can we judge that, since most of us, most of the time, are trying to be seen in a certain way, even if that “certain way” is only the performance of authenticity.
But I don’t think you can ever discount the drive of actors to be seen in certain ways.
Neither can you discount the depths to which being an actor is just a job, beneath which is a person who struggles with the same shit you and I struggle with, but, if that actor is a celebrity, with other shit you might find it hard to imagine.
Finally, a note to all the people who are supporting Will for what he did in a spirit of “You go, guy!” Standing up and attacking when you’re outraged is a dangerous thing to cheer on. I’m sure you know that all the Senators who were slapping Judge Jackson around in the Senate hearings were receiving tons of Tweets and emails yee-hah-ing them for standing up and letting her have it for being the "America-destroying libtard" that they think she is. Applauding attacks from your side is encouraging a culture of attacks from all sides.
I’m kinda thinking—you know, Ukraine and everything—we need fewer people running around attacking other people. The fewer, the better.
Go in peace, Will. Go in peace, Jada. Go in peace, Chris.