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Behavior Unbecoming

Okay. Since there’s nothing else to discuss, let’s talk about Chris Rock and Will Smith. I don’t watch the Academy Awards. The most boring four hours on television, it is a parade of self-indulgence and excess masquerading as honoring artistic achievement, making us feel inadequate if we didn’t appreciate Drive My Car (way too long) or marvel at The Power of the Dog (I gave it 20 minutes and moved on to something less painful – like root canal). I prefer the Student Talent Show and Art Exhibit at my university. More honest. More honorable.

Anyway, when I awoke the next morning, the first story on the news was not about Ukraine or COVID. It was about Chris Rock’s joke and Will Smith’s slap and subsequent profanity-laced outburst. Like Rock, and many millions of others, I did not know that Jada Pinkett Smith has alopecia. I thought her hair style was a fashion choice that I see replicated on many of my students each day. Moreover, alopecia notwithstanding, she’s stunning. Hence I didn’t understand the problem his G.I Jane 2 joke created. Apparently neither did Will Smith, laughing until he felt the penetrating side-eye of his wife. He rose, marched to the stage, slapped Rock, and returned to his seat, smug in the confidence that he had defended his wife’s honor, a performance witnessed by the world and confirmed by the look on his face and Pinkett Smith’s satisfied smile. Then, for emphasis, as if the slap were not enough, he shouted expletives – twice.

For anyone who doesn’t know by now, alopecia is an autoimmune disease that results in hair loss. Though it cannot be cured, it is not fatal. I expect that for the person suffering from alopecia, it can be embarrassing. But it is not fatal. People with alopecia are usually healthy and have no other symptoms. Not so for those of us with lupus. Or my son-in-law with Type 1 diabetes. Or my friend with multiple sclerosis.

Ironically, Jada Pinkett Smith’s diagnosis was lost in the cacophony that ensued, magnified by her own husband’s voice and the standing ovation he received upon winning the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor. Unfortunately, that standing ovation affirmed not only his performance on screen but the show he had just put on in the Dolby Theater as well.

What I find disturbing is the impunity with which Smith behaved, the hypocrisy of his acceptance speech, and the audience who had just witnessed his actions validating him with a standing ovation. They could have stayed in their seats and politely applauded. Whatever prayer Tyler Perry and Denzel Washington offered Smith to calm him down, the argument that “the devil made him do it” is specious and, quite frankly, offensive. If Will Smith is holding Chris Rock accountable for insulting his wife, he should have signaled his disapproval with a scowl not a laugh, and discussed it offstage, like a gentleman. Smith is responsible for his disproportionate response, not the devil.

But we don’t do that anymore, do we? We don’t hold people responsible for their egregious behavior. Apologies, when and if they come, ring hollow. Insincere pearl-clutching, remorse, introspection: “I don’t know what came over me.” “That wasn’t me.” Well, if it wasn’t you, who was it? “It will never happen again.” Until the next time.

Smith had refused to leave after disrupting the event and attended the after-parties as if nothing untoward had transpired. When he won his Oscar, he stood before the Academy and the world and recited some mea culpa that made little sense and conspicuously didn’t include Chris Rock.

I would have loved to be been a fly on the wall when conversations about a formal apology to Chris Rock began. Somehow, I don’t feel Smith acquiesced graciously. Nonetheless, he belatedly issued another statement that included, “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”

This reeks of a PR team on steroids. Again, it is a public statement, magnifying Smith’s ‘personal journey’ in light of behavior that could have had him escorted out of the theater in handcuffs and charged with assault. He should have apologized to Rock immediately – on air – and initiated a private conversation with him that no one else had to know about. That’s true humility and contrition.

Smith’s ultimate punishment for behavior unbecoming? He resigned from the Academy. Big deal. He doesn’t get to vote on future award recipients. Their careers will remain intact without him. He’s banned from the ceremony for ten years. That sounds like a reward for me.

 

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