Did anyone else hear Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the recent Oscar awards ceremony?
The sound erupted audiences and ironically overshadowed the achievements of CODA, being awarded the Best Picture whilst promoting deaf culture, leaving many of us speechless.
If you missed it, Chris Rock fired a joke at Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head. Clearly offended, which we later find out she has a rare autoimmune condition causing this appearance, she sat back and loudly, rolled her eyes.
Will Smith, on the other hand, stormed on stage in a calm fury, slapped Chris Rock across the face, returned to his seat, and yelled at him to take his wife’s name out of his mouth.
For two actors and comedians, it seemed staged. But it was far from scripted.
Hiding behind his comedian status, Chris Rock reminds Smith that his comment is a joke and carries on with the presentation.
Meanwhile, in his acceptance speech for best actor, Will Smith quickly apologizes on stage for his outburst, citing the need to protect his family, and that love makes one do crazy things as his excuse. He wanted to take his actions back.
And yet he reminded us that the character he was heralded for playing, King Richard, was protective of his family.
So what was his excuse? His history and capacity to explore violence in his characters? The violence he faced growing up in his household? Or his protective instincts towards his wife?
Actually, the whole scenario oddly reminds me a of sentiment from Shakespeare:
“All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players;
/ They have their exits and their entrances; / And one man in his time
plays many parts”
(- As You Like It)
Here we have two infamous comedians, who push boundaries in their craft, riding the fine line between light humor and being unnecessarily offensive.
A prestigious event for celebrating violence is turned into a forum for debasing one another.
What is the fine line between offensive jokes and raging reality?
Rock and Smith both arguably engage in what many would call verbal and physical violence.
But what is considered off-side? Even in the name of a joke?
Let’s explore this more.
The purpose of this piece is not to defend either actor by pointing out what they do well or do not do, as a right or a wrong.
I am inviting you to raise questions about our underlying beliefs about what is considered violent, protective, or heroic when facing a string of words. Or was this simply a mere joke to roll one’s eyes at or laugh away?
Can a comedian handle being roasted?
And when has it ever been ok to slap someone in public and carry on as if nothing happened?
Even in a bar, the offender would be asked to leave.
In this myriad of characters, what role do you commonly play in the dreaded triangle of drama?
Chris Rock, offering words that can be received as harmless or offensive?
Jada Pinkett Smith, listening on as a quiet victim or perhaps indifferent observer?
Will Smith, personalized a situation and acted out of instinctual rage or protective anger?
The role of the joker
Have you considered the role of the joker? Let’s look at this in more depth.
Comedy in times of tension and violence tends to be the quickest and easiest way to diffuse misunderstanding and rage.
And yet, here we have an instance where a joke provokes.
Shakespeare calls this to light quite nicely when he reminds us that:
“The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly.”
( – As You Like It)
Even in ancient Greek theater, it was the role of the fool or joker to name the things that people in the court dare not say to the king, the elite, or those holding power in the upper class, like celebrities.
While staying loyal and honest to the King, the joker will daringly point out his faults and shortcomings, which no one else would be brave enough to say.
Using the guise of humor, and wit, the joker closely observes human nature and makes comments on typically unsayable things.
Similarly, the joker in the Jungian archetype model, reminds us that there is another side to our nature. The one to take tragedy with a grain of salt.
This joker represents the ‘absurd’ and encourages us to poke fun at what people do, to flip reality on its head and not take it so seriously.
Jokes are meant to widen our perspective and see if we can laugh at what we consider the gravest of experiences.
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So what is a joke? And what is violence?
Is a woman’s autoimmune disease something to make public and laugh about? Is that reference considered irrelevant, cruel, and hurtful?
Was Chris Rock innocently referencing the style of Jada’s hair as it relates to an infamous hairstyle in another movie, GI Jane?
(A role for which Demi Moore shaved her head on camera, yet her performance received grave criticism and won her the Razzie Award for Worst Actress.)
We can’t say.
What we can observe is the role of the joker on stage, balancing the fine line between humor, honesty, and cruelty.
On the other side, we witness Will Smith physically standing up for his wife from a far-off audience seat, and acting in a clear state of rage.
Is his slap a clear, protective expression of a line being crossed?
Or brute and inexcusable force, and arguably an unnecessary act of violence, on stage for the world to see?
How you label this situation begs the question:
How do you handle your own feelings of anger and outrage?
Will Smith reminds us, that we all can respond with brute force and anger to things that we find offensive.
This is all well within the realm of our human experience. And it happens all the time.
So, are there circumstances when acting out of our anger or rage is deemed acceptable?
Does anger have a purpose?
If you were a mother, protecting a child from a threat, would you excuse being violent to back an intruder or threat off?
Can you think of a time when acting out of anger has been necessary in your life?
Let’s go a bit deeper.
Have you looked more deeply into what triggers your anger?
Do you ever feel guilty for feeling angry or enraged?
Do you hold back your feelings? Or try to repress your anger so it goes away?
I know I do. I typically shy away from conflict. In fact, I hold a lot of my anger in. I don’t always speak my mind. I can leave situations with a clean-cut and exit stage left. Or I stay in painful situations far too long, because I am too afraid to cause pain. And that doesn’t feel healthy either.
So how can we be authentic, even when we feel anger? How can we use this emotional cue to our advantage?
I’d like to recommend exploring this more deeply with a free masterclass created by the world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê, “Embrace Your Inner Beast: Turning Your Anger into Your Ally.”
In this course, Rudá cuts right into the heart of these tough questions. Questions that many of us don’t like to face.
In a way, he takes on the role of the fool, or joker, and challenges us to question the reality of our royal and untouchable inner worlds that we don’t normally like to admit or look at.
He offers a way to get to know and explore your inner rage in more depth.
He reminds us that anger is much more than violence and that violence is just the lowest part of anger. So if we don’t understand the power of anger to fuel our personal power, we can easily debase its value and recklessly slap someone across the face.
I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to point our fingers and condemn the behavior and actions of others. Rarely do we take the time to look within.
Rudá reminds us that anger can charge us up to fuel our own personal power, and he takes us through practical ways to explore this.
I see this recent outburst and controversial Oscar interaction as a perfect opportunity to look at what we think of anger, rage, and violence, and how we deal with our own.
It’s a chance to consider how we address feelings of anger when they arise within.
I know I’ll be looking at this in more depth again, and I invite you to do the same.