Will Smith and the Privileges of Celebrity

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It’s likely no one outside the most ardent fans of Hollywood would have paid much attention to the Oscars this year but for what is being called “the slap heard round the world.” The Oscars ceremony has experienced a precipitous decline in viewers over the last twenty or more years, from tens of millions in 1998, the year Titanic won the Oscar for Best Picture, to barely ten million last year. Does anyone remember which movie won Best Picture last year? Best Actor? Best Actress? This decline is probably related to several factors: the unbearable gloom and depressing themes of many Oscar-nominated films of recent years, the rise of live-streaming, and the insufferable politicking and supercilious moralizing of those in the entertainment industry, combined with their unembarrassed hypocrisy. Whatever the reason, few seem to care anymore about the Oscars. I admit that I’ve not seen one of the ten films nominated for Best Picture.

This year was looking like another dud, though the show apparently enjoyed a mild uptick in viewers. Controversy began even before the curtain went up, however, when it was announced that eight categories would be cut from the broadcast – those Oscars being awarded prior to the beginning of the telecast – in order to streamline the program. Three female hosts, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and a third young woman I had never heard of and whose name I can’t recall, were called on to bring in new, vibrant young viewers. Didn’t happen.

What did happen was the commission of a crime. Will Smith went up on the stage and slapped Chris Rock across the face after Rock told a joke at the expense of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. I won’t go into the details. Doubtless if you’re reading this post you’re aware of the details.

What’s interesting is the reaction to Smith’s action. Will Smith clearly assaulted Chris Rock. I’m pretty sure that’s still a crime in California though, admittedly, what constitutes a crime in California, at least a crime for which one will be held accountable, is getting murky. Smith assaulted Rock live on national television. He then berated Rock with expletive-laced demands that Rock not joke about Pinkett Smith. Again, on live national television.

People were shocked. People were aghast. The entire Dolby Theater audience sat in stunned silence.

Then, the show went on.

Rock handled the matter as professionally as possible. Shortly after he assaulted Rock, Smith was announced as the winner of the Best Actor Oscar and received a standing ovation from his peers in attendance. A man who had just assaulted another man for all the world to see received a standing ovation because he won an award. Smith offered a tearful yet deranged acceptance speech and apology. Okay. All’s better.

Suffice it to say that, if you or I had entered the confines of the Dolby Theater that evening, had presumed to go up on the stage and slap across the face Chris Rock or any other presenter or award winner, we would have immediately been escorted out by security and be right now sitting behind bars in some dingy, dank cell courtesy of the LAPD. Nothing demonstrates the multi-tiered character of our justice system, the patent falsehood of the words above our Supreme Court building (Equal Justice Under Law), then the fact that Will Smith, a wealthy celebrity who has lived in fame and luxury for more than three decades, can assault a man before hundreds, indeed millions, of witnesses and go back to his seat with confidence that he will suffer no consequences. After the ceremony, Smith enjoyed some partying and took several family portraits holding his Oscar.

The Academy of Motion Pictures put out a statement saying it does not condone violence. Well, it sure didn’t not condone Smith’s violent assault on Rock at the time. Those in charge of the program literally did nothing. They didn’t remove Smith from the theater. They didn’t deny him his moment of glory for winning the Oscar. The Academy says it is investigating the matter. Investigating? What, exactly, is there to investigate? Smith’s assault on Rock was filmed and witnessed by millions. Do they have doubt about what exactly happened? Does anyone have any confidence that the Academy will punish Smith in any way, shape, or form? Anyone? Rock has decided not to press charges. The Academy will probably decide that, since Rock isn’t going to press charges and Smith offered an apology to Rock (on social media, not in person, naturally), it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to punish Smith.

So, there it is, ladies and gentlemen. Will Smith, actor, celebrity, and now Oscar-winner will walk away from an assault with no consequences. At least that’s my prediction. His family, friends, and fans will make excuses for him (they already have). Perhaps he and Rock will make a “reconciliation tour” of all the talk shows and morning programs. Or perhaps not. Maybe Smith will go it alone, invited and given the chance to explain himself. The audience will listen sympathetically and applaud as the host announces that they have to take a break, but will be right back. Pathetic.

So, now we have a lesson taught to all those watching, including all the children and young people who admire Will Smith and enjoy his movies, that celebrity and wealth has its privileges. If someone insults your wife, you hit them – so long as you can get away with it. Because, one more thing is certain. If, instead of Chris Rock, it had been Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who had made the joke about Pinkett Smith, odds are Will would have kept is mouth shut and his seat in his seat.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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