Will Smith is a hero in his own mind; the protector of women, and an instrument of God and love. He said so after collecting his Oscar, immediately after attacking Chris Rock, the host of the awards ceremony.
Rock cracked a distasteful joke about the hair loss of Smith's wife, prompting Smith to storm the stage and physically attack Rock.
After returning to his seat, Smith, still in a rage, twice shouted at Rock, "Keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth!"
Why wasn't Smith thrown out at this point? I'd be escorted from the building if I walked on stage to hit someone at the local golf club award ceremony. If I started yelling obscenities at the host, I'd be removed. But attack someone at the Oscars, and they still award you the main prize. Lower standards in Hollywood I guess? Celebrity privilege?
With his shiny new Oscar in hand, Smith said in his acceptance speech, "Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I ever met. I got to protect Saniyya and Demi, the two actresses that played Venus and Serena. I'm being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people."
What a man! Surrounded by helpless damsels in distress, Will Smith has heroically taken it upon himself to defend their honour. Perhaps the women in his life would be lost without him? They would cower like helpless bunny rabbits without his manly protection? Note Smith wasn't simply saying his protector status was confined to his Oscar winning movie role, for, "Life imitates art," he explained.
"In this time in my life, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world," Smith added.
Seriously? Are we supposed to excuse Smith on account of his supposed divine duty? I guess he is only human, and all this protection of women that God has commanded him to do would likely overwhelm any man, right?
Still, what an ego! By invoking God, Smith is slyly declaring his self-importance and hinting at his almighty mission.
Smith is claiming God himself has singled him out and bestowed a holy task upon his mighty shoulders. We ought to sympathize with Smith as he struggles with this great burden. He is a martyr, overwhelmed by what God is calling on him to do, but he's still pushing on bravely. What a man! Religious people often say they are called on to do God's work - normally not right after attacking someone though.
Being driven to help others is great, invoking that sentiment immediately after an act of violence isn't so good - in fact it's twisted.
As for "a river to my people," did Smith not realize he was no longer nobly navigating a crystalline river but instead wallowing about in a shit-creek of his own making?
He had just physically assaulted another man over a joke, live on television, with his fans watching, in front of scores of young black dudes ("my people") who idolize and look up to him. But hey, that's okay because he's a self-declared super-hero "protector," assigned to the task by God!
A river for my people? Whatever. Obviously, Smith was too busy invoking higher powers to realize the optics of a black man, unable to control his emotions, and thus physically attacking another man, is hot fuel for racists. Unfortunate that.
Smith went on to ramble incoherently about love in his speech. "It's like I want to be a vessel for love...I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern…Being able to love and care for my mother, my family, my wife…But love will make you do crazy things."
What was he saying here? Love is a valid reason for attacking someone?
Love isn't a catch-phrase to excuse or justify poor behaviour, and invoking love in this manner is shallow reasoning for the emotionally stunted.
Smith is a devote of Scientology. Nutty belief systems aside, Smith also consumes troves of self-help and self-development fodder. It's all very good to seek self-improvement, but without the ego in check, the pursuit of self-elevation seems to lead to self-glorification, among the Hollywood elite.
Following the assault, Smith's son tweeted. "AND THAT'S how we do it."
Oh, dear. Assaulting people over a joke in poor taste is now cool? Something of which to be proud? Physically attacking people is how we do it? Really?
This romanticizing and glorifying of violence in the name of protecting women, in the name of love, and as a calling of God, is an ugly example of how poor behavior can be twisted to fit a grand narrative.
Will Smith has since apologized for his attack, issuing a statement likely drafted with the assistance of Public Relations personnel, if not lawyers.
Does saying sorry make it all okay? No.
Everyone makes mistakes, nobody is perfect, and we should all have the opportunity to be forgiven. However, forgiveness should not be the automatic default position following an outburst. Forgiveness needs to be earnt.
I think Smith ought to demonstrate he is sorry by doing something of real consequence. Otherwise, his apology comes across as no more than damage control. It comes across as just more acting from Smith, acting the part of being sorry. He should offer to return his Oscar.
Would it not be polite to return a prize you won from an organization immediately after hitting someone at that organization's big event? Offering the Oscar back would seem the right thing to do. The organization could, of course, say returning the accolade isn't necessary. But if Smith doesn't even make that gesture, it signifies he is only acting the part of being sorry. Smith shows he is entitled on account of not offering the Oscar back. Smith thinks he is above any reproach of real consequence.
Chris Rock should perhaps also apologize. His jab at the hair loss of Smith's wife was a little cruel.
I don't think any topic has to be avoided when making jokes; not race, religion, gender or illness. There is a fine line between being hurtful and humorous when telling such jokes. We all have different opinions on what is offensive and what is fair game and the social norms keep shifting. It can be difficult to keep up. Still, we ought to have the capacity to be offered if we so choose (yes, being offended is a choice) without flying off in a fit of rage. Assuming Chris Rock acted as a bully though making fun of Will Smith's wife, was Will justified in attacking Rock?
Hitting a persistent bully is arguably a reasonable means of endeavouring to end their taunts. However, I don't think physical aggression should be the first course of action, and it should only be used in defence if someone is in danger.
What danger was Will was under that warranted physical aggression? Hurt feelings?
Do you think Will Smith has sent out a good message; that physically attacking someone is the right thing to do as a first response if they say something you don't like?
Do you think the wife of Smith should have slapped Rock instead? Or is it the man's role to do the violence on behalf of women?
If Chris Rock's joke wounded Smith, that's understandable. But then it's a shame Smith didn't take to the stage, grab the microphone off Rock and say, "That's not cool, Chris. That joke was not okay. It's hurtful to poke fun at people's medical condition, you crossed the line, and you should know better."
That would have won Smith widespread applause. But more to the point, such a speech would have actually meant something in terms of supporting his wife.
Instead, physically attacking Rock, then rambling on about his role as a protector and being called on by God only made Smith look like a self-righteous egotist. Celebrity no doubt messes with people's heads.
When Smith screamed at Rock: "Keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth!" it reminded me of rhetoric now prevalent on social media that assumes it's okay to voice threats and abuse at others if you position yourself as a moral crusader.
You can act like a bully so long as you claim to be combatting bullies. You can behave like a thug so long as you are on a crusade against racists, sexists, capitalists, or whoever you decide is the enemy.