There 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 maintain an “open marriage” do not need to defend anyone’s “honor.”
(2) Men who are more upset that their wives have been insulted than that they have been, what the Italians call, “cornuti” (you know, the horns) need to discuss it with their therapist.
(3) Men who punch other men, and then apologize to everyone in the world except the guy who was punched, need to discuss it with their backup 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 punch other guys deserve to be punched.
(6) One Black man punching another Black man is not a great way to commemorate the passing of the great Sidney Poitier.
(7) Will Smith has some serious emotional issues that need to be addressed by more than a golden statue.
(8) Those of us who have deep roots in West Philadelphia can be proud of another native son, Oscar winner Questlove.
The above list is not exhaustive, and I’m certain that others have even more incisive observations than the ones I’ve advanced. But I’ve tried to cover the most compelling aspects of Will Smith’s pathetic, unfortunate meltdown at the Oscars.
After we all saw the Overbrook native assaulting comic Chris Rock for making the tasteless but non-lethal jokes about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith, there was no lack of opinions. Many agreed with me that Smith was completely at fault. Others thought he was justified as a chivalrous knight protecting the tender sensibilities of his spouse his. Some insisted that it was all a fabricated grab for ratings while others still (me included) believed that it was an authentic (and criminally actionable) expression of rage.
I actually don’t think it matters whether the act was staged or spontaneous, though. The street gutter behavior of Will Smith is not the point, even though Chris Rock’s cheek might disagree. What matters to me, and what should matter to you, is the way society reacted to the incident. It was a Rohrshack test of how we look at violence, at sexism, at race, at privilege, at law enforcement and at fidelity. So many things were intertwined in that regrettable moment in LA that the punch is almost irrelevant.
The thing I find most troubling is that no one thought to evict Will Smith from the Oscar ceremony, let alone arrest him. It’s unlikely that they would have dared arrest a Black man at the event once dubbed “Oscars So White.” The optics on that would have been somewhere between George Floyd and Jussie Smollett, but it would have been bad. The elders of the Academy Awards did not want to be seen as manhandling a man who just handled another man. And race was absolutely a part of it.
The next thing that angered me, probably as much as the refusal to recognize the criminality of what Smith did, was the archaic idea that a man has the right to “defend his woman” with his fists. For all of our “I am woman, hear me roar” theatrics these days, and for all of the pleas for equality and our veneration of feminist ideals, the fact that there are still people who smile when a man hits another man because the tender feelings of the damsel have been bruised is repellent. It is also a complete and unmistakable negation of the principle of female empowerment.
In other words, if a woman is disrespected, she can deal with it herself. She does not need tuxedoed Mike Tyson wannabee coming to her rescue her. We traded our smelling salts for pepper spray, years ago.
And on a much more sobering note, as my friend Joan observed, men defending women has a tragic history, particularly when race is involved. Anyone old enough to remember Emmet Till understands that men have used that “I’m protecting my woman” excuse to commit heinous crimes, and those crimes generally have nothing at all to do with defending the “honor” of the ”ladies.”
Speaking of which, there’s the laughable thought that a woman who has been very open about her alternative version of fidelity should have anyone defending her honor. As Shakespeare wrote, “The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation, take that away Men are but gilded loan or painted clay… Mine honor is my life; both grow in one, take honor from me and my life is done.” Judging from the way Jada and Will have lived their lives, it’s doubtful a few mean comments from a comedian did any more damage to her reputation.
A friend of mine said that the character of the person being defended should be irrelevant, but I disagree. In order to defend honor, it has to exist. Or to continue with the Shakespearean theme, “methinks they doth protest too much.”
And as if the violence and hypocrisy weren’t enough, the fact that so many people thought this was staged is possibly the saddest thing about the mess. We have become accustomed to fake everything: fake breasts, fake lips, fake meat, fake news, fake marriages, that we are unable to recognize true rage when we see it. There are moments when humans allow ourselves to be possessed by emotion and abandon reason. Since I’ve been trotting out the classic writers in this essay, let me trot out another, Blaise Pascal, who wrote “the heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.” I could say that about Will with respect to Jada, but I also think it explains why some people do the things they do: there is no logical explanation. All of those folks on my timeline saying that Will punched Chris for ratings are victims of that sad cynicism.
The saddest part of the whole affair is the disintegration of Philly’s “Fresh Prince.: Where once there was light and energy, enthusiasm and generosity, genius and creation, now there is a man who dissolved in tears on national TV after having punched a man for making a joke. In the moment he should have been celebrating the culmination of a career, he was exposing his inner demons to a cowardly audience of uncaring sycophants.
Shame on him, and on them.
Christine Flowers is an attorney. Her column her appears Thursday and Sunday. Email her her at firstname.lastname@example.org.