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  • Reverend James Squire

The Slap Saw and Heard Around the World




Every news source known to mankind has covered Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock after Rock insulted his wife. First, the story shouldn’t replace what is happening in the War in Ukraine, the despair that is being experienced by the underserved population or the pandemic which is still with us. I can only justify reflecting on it as there is a great deal that we could learn from it. I do this knowing that the episode shouldn’t take up any more air time compared to real issues that we are dealing with nationally and on the world stage.


In the event that someone missed the coverage of the Academy Awards such as me, I learned that Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith that she should be starring in G. I. Jane 2 since she has a bald head like Demi Moore who shaved her head for the first rendition of the movie. Moore’s bald head was a choice. Jada Pinkett Smith’s baldness is a response to having alopecia, a disease that causes hair loss. Her husband, Will Smith, who would later in the program win the best actor award, responded to Rock’s attempt at humor, went to the stage and slapped him hard across the face. Smith laughed at first, but when he saw that his wife had rolled her eyes, he walked directly to the stage and hit Rock. He then proceeded to go back to his seat where he uttered threats and obscenities to Rock. In one moment, he went from being famous to being infamous.


When Smith went to the stage for his award as Best Actor, he offered his apology for his actions to everybody except Rock. This is the second time that Rock has used Smith’s wife in his jokes.


What are the lessons here? Maybe comedians ought to change their formula for humor by not making jokes at other peoples’ expense. They dominate humor whether it is Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel, or Trevor Noah and any other comedian who comes from the school of Don Rickles humor. That kind of humor now dominates the culture of comedy just as statements are made by the likes of Marjorie Taylor Green. Now the comedians are upset that someone can now come to the stage and attack them for their attacks on people. They fear that this is a precedent so they utter the phrase, “Can’t you take a joke?” The answer may be “no” when it is at someone else’s expense.


The event spoiled the night for many who wanted a tightly scripted affair since this was the first time back for the Oscars since the initial perils of the pandemic. Now let’s take a look at what happened from what I taught in my ethics class. “We tolerate what we understand. It doesn’t mean that we agree with it, but with understanding comes the ability to move forward.”


There was a barrage of responses to the event. Sara Snyder, anchor for CNN said, “Use words first, fists second.” Some people pointed to this bad moment to underscore the violence of our culture. We also had those that pointed out that it was about time that someone stood up for a black woman given the recent confirmation questioning of Judge Jackson. I do think that we need to look at the anger, if not violence, that has taken the center stage of humor. Another group of people commented that Will Smith in his memoir thought that he could get away with murder if he killed his father. Someone responded that he is just like Trump. There were people who thought that the show should have been stopped and Smith removed instead of having the ”show must go on mentality.” The point is that from one incident came a myriad of responses.


It is ironic that my last post was about hot buttons. Clearly Rock’s humor, and Jada Pinkett Smith’s eye roll touched something in her husband which turned his mind off from thinking straight when he went right to the stage for this historic moment of slapping a host. Keep in mind that he received the award by playing Richard Williams in King Richard who according to Smith always protected his daughters including Serena and Venus who overcame all odds to be incredible tennis players. Family first. Stand up for your children and loved ones. Those were the themes of the movie. I believe that Will Smith channeled the role of the father, Richard, and reacted with great passion. However, it should be noted that Richard Williams condemned Smith’s actions. One of the four loves in the Greek language is eros which is more about passion that it is about sex. When passion enters the equation of experience, reason leaves. That is why great public figures have affairs. They lose all rational thought and it doesn’t make sense that they would give up everything because of a lack of discretion.


In addition, pay attention to what Denzel Washington said to Smith when he went over to counsel him: “At your highest moment is when the devil comes for you.” Washington is quite a lay philosopher. My favorite quote from him is: “Why do we close our eyes when we pray, cry, kiss, or dream? Because the most beautiful things in life are not seen but felt by the heart.”


In essence Washington was saying to Will Smith that when we are full of ourselves and think that we are at the top, it is then that we lose perspective and good decision making.


We should take this opportunity to see how this applies to ethics in the political world. There is nothing gained by ad hominem attacks particularly if that is the only way that you seem to do business.


When passion enters the picture, it can do a lot of good or a lot of evil. There are people who are passionate about climate change, and we are better for it. Likewise, we need to just reflect on the January 6th insurrection to see how passion can go horribly wrong.


When people get elected to public office, they can be so full of their power and their desire to stay there that they forget that they are public servants, literally servants to the public. It amazes me that for the relatively small salary for the important decisions they make compared to a high profile athlete, et al, that they leave office as millionaires.


Given the fact that Will Smith did spend some time in West Philly, he did commit one of the taboos in the working- class world. You never “sucker punch” or in this case a “sucker slap” someone when Chris Rock was off guard and didn’t see the hit coming. I can see that Will Smith has never been in a real fight because that never happens when you know that the people around you would stop it. Likewise, “Sucker slap?” I have never seen one of those from one man to another who wanted to deliver a serious blow. It’s like pushing one another on a playground as kids, and knowing that neither person wants to make it serious,


I wish that I was teaching Ethics right now to see what a group of eighteen-year- old people would think was the lesser of the two evils in the Smith/Rock altercation. I think I know the answer to that, but what do you think and why? Think of politicians or public servants in calculating your decision.

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