The most well-known event in pop culture in 2022 was Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, the premier film award show. Smith became infuriated when Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith, Smith’s wife, specifically about her apparent baldness, due to a condition called alopecia. To quote Rock, he said, “Jada, I love ya, G.I. Jane 2, I can’t wait to see it!”. She immediately frowned, which most likely led Smith to believe that he needed to stand up for his wife, which ended with him slapping Rock straight across the face and then proceeding to chant at Rock with expletives to get him to move onto another section of the show. Rock handled the situation very maturely, instead of complaining to producers about what just occurred, he remained on stage, continuing the event. He chose not to speak to the press and let the incident settle by itself.
Days after the event concluded, the Academy issued a ten-year ban from the event to Smith. In hindsight, this is a very timely event that sparks an important discussion on comedy and where the line between what is funny and what is offensive truly lies. Some believe that a joke cannot truly be funny if it offends someone, while others may agree that a joke can never be truly funny if it is not a little cold-hearted. This has created a difficult atmosphere for comedians to work in in recent years, in order for them to make money, they must be funny, but at the risk of offending someone and having their shows boycotted or canceled.
In my personal opinion, I see nothing wrong with comedians trying to stretch the line, as long as it is somewhat reasonable based on current societal norms. While the push to encourage greater compassion and empathy for others has improved the world significantly, it has also significantly curbed the freedom that comedy used to have. By acting on these impulses, we risk the world of comedy becoming less funny, which would be terrible for the welfare of society as a whole.
In the case of Chris Rock and Will Smith, I think it was a gross overreaction on Will Smith’s part, the joke was not very intense, it simply compared her lack of hair to that of G.I. Jane, and instead of slapping a man across the face on international television, he could have perhaps issued a statement following the show or even personally talked to Rock. While the escalation itself may not deter comedians from making such jokes, the backlash from the media may make them reconsider their routine and exclude certain jokes. As a rule, creative constraints are never productive for creativity; as more broadcast TV and internet platforms censor “bad” words or ideas, these restrictions may hinder comedy in coming years.
In conclusion, Will Smith had every right to defend his wife, just as she has every right to defend herself. As she is a grown woman who is used to being under the public spotlight, she should be able to resolve the issue by herself. Unfortunately, her husband acted very rashly and chose to harm the environment for comedy, at the very least, over the next couple of years.