There are a number of takeaways from Will Smith’s Total Fail. Here they are, in no particular order:
(1) Men who are married to women with whom they have an “open marriage” do not need to defend anyone’s “honor”.
(2) Men who are more upset that their wives have been insulted than they have been, what the Italians call, “cornuti” (you know, horns) should discuss this with their therapist.
(3) Men who punch other men and then apologize to everyone but the guy who got punched should discuss it with their auxiliary therapist;
(4) Women who applaud men who use their fists to defend them against insults do not deserve to be defended.
(5) Hollywood actors who give a standing ovation to guys who hit other guys deserve to be hit.
(6) A black man hitting another black man is not a great way to commemorate the passing of the great Sidney Poitier.
(7) Will Smith has serious emotional issues that need to be resolved by more than a golden statue.
(8) Those of us with deep roots in West Philadelphia can be proud of another son of the country, Oscar winner Questlove.
The above list is not exhaustive, and I’m sure others have even more incisive observations than those I have put forward. But I’ve tried to cover the most compelling aspects of Will Smith’s pathetic and unfortunate Oscar meltdown.
After we all saw Overbrook native mugging comic Chris Rock for making tasteless but non-lethal jokes about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, there was no shortage of opinions. Many agreed with me that Smith was completely at fault. Others thought he was justified as a chivalrous knight protecting his wife’s tender sensibilities. Some insisted it was all just a fabricated grab for the ratings while others (myself included) still thought it was a genuine expression of rage (and criminally liable to prosecution).
I actually don’t think it matters if the act was staged or spontaneous, though. Will Smith’s street gutter demeanor isn’t the point, though Chris Rock’s cheek might disagree. What matters to me, and what should matter to you, is how society reacted to the incident. It was a Rohrshack test of how we look at violence, sexism, race, privilege, law enforcement, and loyalty. So much was intertwined in that regrettable moment in Los Angeles that the punch is almost irrelevant.
What I find most disturbing is that no one thought about kicking Will Smith out of the Oscars, let alone arresting him. It’s unlikely they dared to arrest a black man at the event once dubbed ‘Oscars So White’. The optics on this would have been somewhere between George Floyd and Jussie Smollett, but that would have been bad. The Oscar alumni didn’t want to be seen as mistreating a man who just mistreated another man. And racing was absolutely part of it.
The next thing that angered me, probably as much as the denial of the criminality of what Smith did, was the archaic idea that a man has the right to “defend his wife” with his fists. Despite all of our “I am a woman, hear me roar” performances these days, and despite all the pleas for equality and our reverence for feminist ideals, the fact that there are still people who smile when a man hits another man because the tender damsel’s feelings have been bruised is repulsive. It is also a complete and unequivocal negation of the principle of women’s empowerment.
In other words, if a woman is not respected, she can deal with it herself. She doesn’t need tuxedoed wannabe Mike Tyson to come to her rescue. We swapped our scented salts for pepper spray years ago.
And on a much more disturbing note, as my friend Joan pointed out, men who advocate for women have a tragic history, especially where race is at issue. Anyone old enough to remember Emmet Till understands that men have used the “I’m protecting my wife” excuse to commit heinous crimes, and those crimes usually have nothing to do with defending “honour. of the “ladies”.
Speaking of which, there’s the laughable thought that a woman who’s been very open about her alternate version of fidelity should have someone to defend her honor. As Shakespeare wrote, “The purest treasure mortal times offer is a spotless reputation, take that away Men are but gilded loan or painted clay… My honor is my life; the two grow into one, take the honor from me and my life is over. Judging by the way Jada and Will have lived their lives, it’s unlikely that a few mean comments from a comedian did more damage to his reputation.
A friend of mine said that the character of the defendant shouldn’t be relevant, but I disagree. To defend honor, it must exist. Or to continue with the Shakespearean theme, “seems to me they protest too much”.
And as if the violence and hypocrisy weren’t enough, the fact that so many people thought it was staged is perhaps the saddest thing about this mess. We have become accustomed to faking it all: fake breasts, fake lips, fake meat, fake news, fake weddings, that we are unable to recognize real rage when we see it. There are times when man allows himself to be possessed by emotion and abandons reason. Since I trotted the classic writers in this essay, allow me to swap another one, Blaise Pascal, who wrote “the heart has its reasons that reason ignores”. I could say that about Will versus Jada, but I also think it explains why some people do what they do: there’s no logical explanation. All those people on my timeline saying Will hit Chris for the ratings are victims of this sad cynicism.
The saddest part of the whole affair is the disintegration of Philly’s “Fresh Prince”: where there was once light and energy, enthusiasm and generosity, genius and creation, there is now a man who broke down in tears on national television after punching a man. to make a joke. Just when he should have been celebrating the culmination of a career, he was exposing his inner demons to a cowardly audience of indifferent sycophants.
Shame on him, and on them.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer. His column appears Thursday and Sunday. Email him at [email protected]