#BingeLens: Exploring Will Smith and Chris Rock Oscar debacle

Sakshi Sharma
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Will Smith and Chris Rock

While Oscars 2022 brought with it many historic wins there was a moment between Will Smith and Chris Rock that overshadowed it all.

The Academy Awards are the most prestigious awards of all in the world. It's a dream of every artist and technician in the filmmaking business to win the golden trophy. But the Oscars is also one of those few awards that have always been in news for either some or other controversy or rather 'viral moment'. In 2014 it was the Ellen Degeneres selfie that gave memers a field day or when in 2017 because of a mix-up La La Land won Best Picture only to later find out that it was actually Moonlight. This time it was Will Smith and Chris Rock's debacle where Smith ended up slap-punch Rock after he made an insensitive joke about the former's wife.

But this time's viral moment is not just a moment to end up in memes. It pushes you towards thinking on a much larger scale. Actor-producer Will Smith hitting actor-comedian Chris Rock begs us to look towards asking where to draw the line in comedy and is violence really the solution to it all?

So what happened that drove Smith toward hitting Rock? Rock was one of the presenters who came in to announce the winner for Best Original Documentary. And being his comedian self he started to make some jokes looking at the audience around. It was funny till he was talking about Javier and Penelope but when he made a jibe about actress and Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith, “Jada, can’t wait for G.I. Jane 2,” because of her shaved head. And Rock went on ahead with his routine that's when Smith rose and came up to the stage and went straight ahead to hit him. And Smith even went to warn Rock to keep his wife's name out of his mouth.

Now, why did Rock's comedy cross the line and went wrong? Because Jada's shaved head was not her choice because of any character in a film like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane rather it is because of her struggle with Alopecia- an auto-immune disease that causes permanent hair loss. It is a disease that she has been struggling with since 2018 and has been quite vocal about it. When we live in a world that still has standardized beauty norms especially when it comes down to being a woman, hair loss because of disease becomes quite the struggle. And now making a punch line out of somebody's struggle can be seen as a 'punch down', a mark of comedy routine that makes everyone laugh at the expense of others.

But it's not just about punching down or being politically correct, it's rather about Rock's remark raising up once again the age-old debate in comedy as to where to draw the line in this business of being funny. Stand-comedy and comedians all around the world work towards bringing many issues to light that otherwise are hushed under a rug but does that mean that there could be no limitations or boundaries set for the form? After all, a lot of comedians have faced the wrath of the cancel culture after they have stepped out of the line.

But considering that Rock's jibe at Jada was insensitive and inconsiderate, does that make Will Smith's hitting him justified? Is the solution to it all Violence? Will Smith's reaction to the insensitive remark calls out towards toxic hero culture that we are also not looking forward to. Even his Best Actor winning speech was towards apologizing to the Academy and his fellow nominees but went on to justify the reaction in the name of “…love will make you do crazy things.” The larger question it leaves is if "love" and "family" become the justification for hitting someone on some inappropriate saying then where are we going in terms of the behavior in our society. We understand Smith's urge to put Rock in place, but opting for violence should not be praised in terms of a heroic move.

On the current state of affairs over the incident the Academy has called out for a review of the entire incident. And Will Smith in a long post on Instagram has apologized to Chris Rock, the Academy, and has shown repentance for his actions that took the better of him.

But will this incident change anything for the future because as in Rock's own words, it is “the greatest night in the history of television" which is watched globally? Maybe it will or maybe it will not! But the incident definitely overshadowed the wins that were truly historic. And on a personal note, the innumerable memes all over the internet brought the incident into a much brighter light than probably it didn't deserve. These memes are doing the same thing that Rock did making a laughable moment out of someone's struggle. If Rock's jibe was inappropriate then how everyone chiming on the Smith slapping Rock through memes is not? Considering it's also a laughable moment created out of an assault on a comedian. Also, Smith's immediate resort to violence brings forth the toxic 'hero/savior' masculinity that we are trying to do away with.

Taking in all that happened, from the incident to the reaction to the memes, it all definitely compels us to reassess, think it over, and ask these questions to ourselves. What kind of humor is laughable and where we should draw the line? How should we hold comedians accountable? And considering that violence is obviously never the solution what is the constructive method then? If such incidents do happen then the only way to bring them into pop culture is through memes? And where should memes draw the line? And above all, it's not just the memes and the incident it's also us who are an equal part of this as we bank upon those memes for a moment of tickling. Which brings forth the point of whether we as an audience can take a moment to check ourselves and our biases as well?

Will Smith and Chris Rock had a moment at Oscars 2022 but it was not just them that were a part of it and it gave us a lot to think about!

Also Read: Oscars 2022 highlights: From historic wins to dramatic moments, here’s what happened in this season of Academy Awards!

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