Alan Weiss’s Monday Morning Memo® – 04/04/2022
In case you’ve been vacationing inside an office of the Division of Motor Vehicles in your state, let me apprise you that actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock, having charged the stage at the Oscar Awards a week ago. The latter made a comment in jest about the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, being bald and that she was appropriate for the fictitious movie GI Jane II (the actual GI Jane had actress Demi Moore shave her head for the role).
Are you still with me?
Ms. Smith has been very candid about having alopecia, severe hair loss, and the problems that are attendant to it. In my view, the attempt at humor was in poor taste, though hardly the worst or most vicious of comedic barbs there over the years. (Just listen to the hilarious but toxic-spewing Ricky Gervais on past tapes.)
Mr. Smith slapped Mr. Rock, then retreated and screamed from his seat, “Don’t f’ing put my wife’s name in your mouth!” or something approximately that articulate. (Mr. Smith was asked by Oscar officials to leave the theater, which he refused to do. They decided not to have security physically remove him.)
Mr. Smith went on to win Best Actor Award for “King Richard,” a biography of the tennis stars Williams Sisters’ father. In what was to be a triumphant night for the Williams Sisters, he actually ruined their night as he became the program’s barbarian.
And, there is a larger issue.
Assault is never an answer to an insult. Even if racist or religiously biased, comments don’t merit physical attack. When they do engender it, it’s because of very low self-esteem of the attacker. Radical Islamists will try to kill people who they believe had criticized or ridiculed Muhammed. And they did that not long ago in Paris, murdering magazine editors and writers. I find that to be a manifestation of a very low sense of confidence in one’s beliefs.
Mr. Smith wasn’t “protecting” his wife, who was in no danger of being harmed. He was grandstanding. And given his nearly incoherent acceptance speech of his Oscar a few minutes later, he seemed in the midst of significant emotional problems, perhaps exacerbated by drugs and/or personal issues.
Apologies (which both men made later) are nice gestures, but not if not connected to consequences. The Catholic ritual of Reconciliation (Confession) absolves one of sin only if repentance and atonement follow. I happen to know this.
If we don’t acknowledge the horror of the act, then every comic would be dead or incapacitated, every critic threatened with death. Almost all humor is based in pain, either the comic’s or someone else’s. That’s how we often deal with pain, we laugh at it.
But if we’re just going to hit people who say objectionable things in our perception, then where’s the line in the sand? Is it okay to order a mob hit or burn someone’s house down? Not even Mike Tyson in his scariest days could go around outside the ring hitting everyone who said something he didn’t like.
And believe me, no matter what he said about me, I wouldn’t be trying to hit him. It’s no accident that the attackers usually try to hit people they don’t believe will hit back.
You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership. — Dwight D. Eisenhower
Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke. — Benjamin Disraeli