I was cycling up Coal Pit Road listening to a replay of Will Smith abuse and slap Chris Rock at the Oscar award ceremony. When cycling up Coal Pit Road you are looking for anything that will take your mind off the job as one goes up 572m in 4.8km – if you aren’t a cyclist you can read this as ‘steep’. Moreover, it is very dry and dusty at present, so lots of effort is required to prevent my bike stalling as my goal is to cycle up without ‘touching down’ till I get to the top.

My first thought when I heard about the Smith-Rock incident was, “Was this a set-up?” What particularly struck me in listening to the clip was surprisingly intense Will Smith’s voice was. He sounded like he was already wound up to a high degree at the point where he slapped Chris Rock. Was he already seriously upset before he went on stage? One would think that an actor would be good at controlling voice and emotion. One explanation would be that his emotion was an act – an altercation during the event would be a great way of getting and keeping continuing attention. The best way of ensuring an altercation would be to engineer one by getting participants to perform some scripted actions.

It is a sad state of affairs if one’s first reaction to media information is, “Is this a set-up?”. I feel pretty skeptical about the media at present. I definitely haven’t got over my impression that the Wellington anti-mandate protests were not given a fair showing by the media. However, as the Oscar event has continued to play out it seems less likely that it was a set-up. It is quite unlikely that Will Smith would resign from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to continue the impression of an incident that wasn’t real. Will Smith appears to have apologised pretty much unreservedly for his expression of violence in slapping Chris Rock, when Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife’s appearance. Smith has since apologised to both the Academy and to Chris Rock.

It is easy to conclude that violence is not acceptable so Will Smith should apologise for his actions. What appears to be less easy is any conclusion that Chris Rock should apologise for his actions. I went looking for articles on this topic. The main article I found was fact checking of a fake apology posted by Chris Rock’s fans, that was nothing to do with the man himself. There is no evidence of Chris Rock apologising to Jada Pinkett Smith for his public, and unnecessary, reference to her alopecia.

One explanation I have heard made for Rock’s behaviour is that he is a comedian so it is his job to push the boundaries, in the interests of attracting and entertaining viewers. Is it his job to push the boundaries at the expense of other people’s feelings? Whose appearance is fair game in such a setting? Is it OK to joke about someone’s unexpected and uncontrollable loss of hair? Is it OK to joke about someone appearing fat, thin, tall, short, transgender, inconclusive gender? Are fat/thin/tall/short/transgender/agender people weak if they can’t take a joke about their personas? How does one tell when boundaries have been pushed too far?

My simple conclusion on this is that, if a boundary push is upsetting either to the person directly involved or to people very close to them, that boundary has been pushed too far. If a statement is perceived as abusive, it is! Physical abuse wounds and verbal abuse does too, though less visibly. Social media is a forum where verbal abuse is rife – online trolling causes immense personal damage without a blow being struck (shout out here to Christchurch City Councillor Sarah Templeton who has chased down a coward trolling her and other female politicians from behind a fake social media account).

I don’t believe we should sacrifice people’s self-image on the altar of humour. The call for Chris Rock to apologise should be just as loud as the call was for Will Smith to do so.

Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: