Today at the Academy Awards ceremony we had the unscripted entertainment featuring soon to be Oscar winner Will Smith slapping presenter Chris Rock.
Apparently, the cause of offence was a feeble joke about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, starring in a remake of GI Jane. Presumably her baldness, rather than her poor choice in movie scripts, was what caused the soon to be Oscar winner to take offence.
In the olden days, a sound thrashing, often delivered in the Wild West, or the Australian Goldfields, with a horsewhip, was a suitable way to remedy a public insult, particularly against one’s lady.
More recently, a PVC pipe rather than a horse whip was rumoured to be used when a certain technocratic political leader supposedly ‘fell down the stairs’ after causing offence to the family of some young lady.
We do live in boorish times, when the internet has multiplied the rudeness of contemporary television programming, such that the actions of frontier newspaper editors who earned horse whippings in the olden days seem perfectly polite in comparison.
But in this case, was the violence of Will Smith justified? The joke was a weak one, but that does not deserve sanction in itself. There are many worse and tasteless things that one could joke about, in relation to the Smith marriage. There has been significant coverage in the past year or so about mutual infidelities and the apparent openness of that marriage.
Yet Chris Rock did not attempt to make fun of those issues, the type of thing which the fictional Ari Gold of Entourage would have gloated about most crassly.
In this case, Chris Rock made what was a rather weak but good natured joke, which did not deserve to be taken as an ad hominem attack on the Smith family. Nor did he deserve to be assaulted in that way.
Of course, weak jokes and pathetic attempts at humour are par for the course at the Oscars – that the humour is so feeble and pathetic is what can be considered part of a far more sophisticated and witty mega-skit.
How does this all play out? Denzel Washington, in intervening, has shown himself to be all class and a gentleman. Chris Rock is just a barely funny has-been comedian. As for Will Smith, I think that he has just jumped the shark in terms of his career.