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Enter the Diss-course
A case for and against "The Slap"
It is on the tip of every tongue right now, as the reverberations continue on from the “slap heard round the world” continue to be felt across the nation. Children were scarred, mothers were scandalized, fathers were angered, gay uncles found it entertaining, and African grandmothers prayed at their churches that the demonic spirits of Hollywood not come for them. At any rate, in extremely predictable fashion, after a minute of shock and another five minutes of hilarious comedy, the opinions got certifiably melodramatic and especially unhinged. From white people yes, of course, but from everyone else too. Dunking on white people is lowest common denominator shit and I won’t subject you to that, my main focus is always black people. While I can never fault a man for wanting to defend his wife and family, I feel like Will choosing that moment on live TV to slap Chris Rock was just a bad look. This isn’t about respectability politics—again who cares about what the whites think—it’s about the contextual. I am a believer that there’s a time and a place for things. I didn’t think the GI Jane 2 joke was that serious (or good), but again I can identify with a man that wants to smack a nigga talking slick about his wife. But getting on that stage during a live television broadcast (pls don’t bring up tape delay) is making a spectacle of yourself and reeks of narcissism not protectiveness. I’m not even against them fighting at the Oscars, but do it backstage or during a commercial break. It’s good TV for us but it’s not Will’s job to entertain us with dramatics, unless of course it’s about wanting attention. And by the way that is kind of a theme with Will.
As far as the Chris part of this, I’m not really ever shocked, but I was surprised at how much people have no sympathy towards Chris Rock and seem to kind of hate him (and hate stand up comedy in general). I don’t want to get into a whole “is there a war against stand up” New York Times opinion column horseshit. But like the way CR has been positioned as a mean spirited bully at best and a hater of black women at worst just feels kinda weird. I get we’re all on edge after… everything of the last two years and everyone is sick of being the butt of jokes but a bunch of people on Twitter—who collectively are way meaner than the meanest of comics—suddenly getting pious about the meanness of jokes made me feel insane.
People pretending that two men over 50 fighting on live tv is perfectly sensible and arguing against that is respectability is also a bit much. The same people who want a return to shame should be able to comprehend that there is still value to comporting yourself a certain way depending on the circumstances. The whole thing was hilarious but it was a petty grief from one rich man against another rich man. CR is no nefarious coon like WS is not some champion for the dignity of disabled black womanhood. I might not care about the Oscars but Will Smith definitely does, he’s been putting on a performance for the Academy since at least Ali (2001)—yesterday was his coronation and instead it became about this smack event.
But I don’t think The Slap (season 2 this fall on NBC) was about this joke—or even the 2016 jokes that were mentioned as part of the building animus between The Smiths and Rock. This, to me, is about Will deciding he was done taking mess. Will has had a rough year, he’s been ridiculed online and by the trades after the release of his autobiography and details of the fissures in his marriage and his wife’s dalliance with the younger R&B artist August Alsina. He’s taken a lot of jokes and tweets and mockery in the time being and he’s tried to take it in stride, he’s tried to be more open and vulnerable and honest as part of his brand pivot, but it’s clear Will has had enough and Chris Rock had to take the brunt of that frustration. I get it. It’s annoying to be reminded that you’re not 2Pac all the time, by your wife and others. But as mentioned before, Will has a history of making things about himself under the guise of love for others, and Jada has spoken quite a bit about it, and that spectacle feels like it was more about his ego than any defense of her. This was only reinforced by his acceptance speech a few moments later, in which he talks about how playing Richard Williams taught him to be protective of the black women in his family (which lol) and how love makes you do crazy things (like slap a nigga on live television), which kinda just felt gross more than anything. I’m not a pacifist but talking about “love” and “protection” within the context of slapping a mug just rings false, it was an ego play, a point of pride, through and through.
H A L F T I M E:
Sometimes Violence Is Necessary Though
To be fair to Will Smith though, as I highlighted earlier, he has been picked on and made to feel embarrassed about the unconventional aspects of his marriage for a long time. As we can gather from excerpts off his book, he can feel a little insecure about his toughness and the fact that his wife had a close relationship wit Tupac Shakur who is his opposite in a lot of ways. Tupac conformed to much more traditional aspects of black masculinity, and no matter how much progress has been made, no matter how many people say otherwise, no matter how it might’ve contributed to his death, there is always a pull within black men (all men really) to aspire to that type of masculine demeanor. Chris Rock told a bad joke, but I’d be pretty shocked if it was actually even about that, it was about all of Chris Rock’s jokes, and everyone else’s jokes, and Twitter’s jokes, and on that night Chris Rock was going to receive a warning shot to all of Will’s “haters.” I guarantee you the next award show host will skip right over the Smith table.
It’s important to remind people what you can do to them. A big reason for the problems we have in society is people think they’re above being checked for what they say. Running around yelling about first amendment right and acting like an asshole with no self-awareness is untenable, I hate it had to be Chris but too much talking shit is just not gonna work with people after a point.
Do I believe the Smith family has tried to turn their personal lives into public fodder for the purposes of using their celebrity to build a larger lifestyle brand? Obviously
Is it a little hypocritical to then say that people can’t use the things you made public for branding into material for comedy? Kinda, yea. But ultimately, the very barbaric knowledge that Will Smith is a big man that can pop the shit out you trumps any other argument to make.
In Defense of Being Mean
One of the worst things about this whole situation has been the discourse. One piece that particularly bothers me is this idea that Rock deserved it for his years of “mean comedy” and bullying.
Comedy has obviously changed a lot and there just seems to be no room anymore for a certain brand of ridiculing or ranking on people. I’m not interested in a debate on the state of comedy, I truly can’t think of anything more boring. I also have always been of the opinion that regardless of how much people hate it, changes of any kind are usually more good for us than they’ve ever been bad.
With those caveats in place, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a little mean in moderation. Whether something goes “too far” is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, but lines are meant to be crossed a little bit. As a critic, I try to write very measured, well-reasoned, analytical critiques with explanations about the things I don’t like about 95% of the time, but for that last 5%, I just really want to be mean about shit.
Because being mean is fun. You know who agrees with me? The same Twitter that is now vying for “mean” comedians to get slapped. There is no comic or even monster as mean Twitter is when they set their sights on you. And yet, much of them hide behind the excuse that they have no platform so it’s perfectly fine! I can’t call it. What I do believe is that there is an art to being effectively mean. It doesn’t mean those people shouldn’t get popped at any moment, but the world would be way worse without them stirring the shit. I can’t speak for any of you but I can’t think of anything worse than living in a world of pure positivity. It’s completely phony, nobody is that kind all the time about everything. For all the hand-wringing and the picking sides, the one thing lost in all of this was that it was fucking wild to watch and I don’t want to live in the kind of world where the steps that could’ve been taken to prevent it from happening had actually taken place.
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