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It was the Slap that launched a thousand takes: at Sunday’s Oscars, Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head (she has alopecia), then her husband (and soon-to-be Best Actor winner) Will Smith ran onstage and slapped him. Once it became clear that the incident was not staged, seemingly everyone felt compelled to form an opinion on it and to share their views with friends, family members, co-workers, social-media followers, their hair stylist, their dog walker, strangers on line at the grocery store, etc.
Perhaps by now you’ve run through your initial viewpoints but still can’t find the motivation to talk to other people about anything else. Or maybe you just want to marvel at the wide range of human reactions to one famous person smacking another famous person. Either way, you’ve come to the right place: We at Intelligencer are compiling the definitive guide to Slap takes. When this piece first published on Monday we had identified 29 distinct varieties of Slap reaction; now we’re up to 67, and the opinions just keep coming.
All of the opinions expressed below are solely the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of Intelligencer or its staff.
In his USA Today column, former surgeon general Dr. Jerome Adams recommends leveraging the Slap for the greater good:
Life can be stressful – these past two years particularly so – and many people are at their breaking points. We see that stress playing out in harmful ways, with record rates of suicide attempts, opioid overdose deaths, and in verbal and physical attacks on others.
We must promote better awareness of and attention to personal mental health, and normalize that it’s OK not to be OK. … It seems Smith might have had some brewing frustrations and wasn’t in the best state of mind to respond to a trigger. He could have benefited from a moment of reflection or meditation and might have responded differently. Hopefully, this can be an example for young people moving forward on what not to do, and we can promote mental wellness, and discuss healthier ways to resolve conflict.
Director Judd Apatow made this point in a now-deleted tweet:
Apatow has deleted this tweet as well.
At the Cut, Alexis Oatman points out that Black women are too often left undefended:
We don’t have to imagine how [Jada Pinkett Smith] must have felt last night because we could see her face. Pinkett Smith was visibly uncomfortable as Rock made his crack at her expense. Black women have been one of the least protected classes in our society, navigating racism and sexism simultaneously. They are expected to remain composed in the face of opposition, as judge Ketanji Brown Jackson just experienced during her Supreme Court nomination hearings. So what is the right way to stand up for Black women? …
If you take a step back and look at the situation in good faith, you see that Rock degraded a Black woman in a room full of her peers on live TV, and the world expected her and her husband to take it. Words, like fists, have power, and they can be just as violent.
On his Substack, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wholeheartedly rejects the idea that Smith should be praised for defending his wife:
Smith’s slap was also a slap to women. If Rock had physically attacked Pinkett Smith, Smith’s intervention would have been welcome. Or if he’d remained in his seat and yelled his post-slap threat, that would have been unnecessary, but understandable. But by hitting Rock, he announced that his wife was incapable of defending herself—against words. From everything I’d seen of Pinkett Smith over the years, she’s a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show.
This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor least they swoon from the vapors. If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This “women need men to defend them” is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.
Worse than the slap was Smith’s tearful, self-serving acceptance speech in which he rambled on about all the women in the movie King Richard that he’s protected. Those who protect don’t brag about it in front of 15 million people. They just do it and shut up. You don’t do it as a movie promotion claiming how you’re like the character you just won an award portraying. By using these women to virtue signal, he was in fact exploiting them to benefit himself.
In a popular but now-hidden tweet, one person offered that:
I think as a society we’ve outgrown the need for comedians. Everyone and their grandmother is funny. I’ve gotten more laughs off of Twitter than watching a set by a comedian.
Washington Post critic Robin Givhan is appalled at Smith’s behavior:
Smith was really nothing more than the gussied-up equivalent of a street corner punk who throws punches because someone disrespected his girlfriend or sullied his sneakers or just looked at him the wrong way. That guy’s emotions are complicated, too. The violence is about more than that pivotal moment. To paraphrase fellow nominee Denzel Washington, who tried to calm an overwrought Smith, the devil doesn’t just come for a person during their highest moment, the devil is always lurking.
The culture has little patience for the damaged thug in a T-shirt and jeans who’s lucky if his power extends the length of a neighborhood block, but it has the stamina to dissect the psychic pain of a mogul in a made-to-measure Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo. It has the wherewithal to pause and consider the complexity of a powerful Black man who says that he was protecting his powerful Black wife, when society too often doesn’t have the patience to deal with anonymous Black folks just trying to get by.
After highlighting how “Black people and white people aren’t necessarily talking about the incident in the same way,” the Atlantic’s Jemele Hill addresses a general anxiety she’s noticed in the aftermath:
A number of the people who texted me also worried that the incident—an embarrassing moment involving two prominent Black celebrities—would sully Black people more generally. Last night’s Oscars were the first with an all-Black production team. Black people are conditioned to believe that we deserve respect, admiration, and recognition of our humanity based only on good behavior. But Smith’s overreaction does not reflect on anyone but him, and the suggestion that our community should feel any measure of collective shame is completely misguided. Nor should we feed into the dehumanizing stereotype that Smith’s conduct is typical for Black people.
In an op-ed at NBC News, Tiffanie Drayton writes that Will Smith demonstrated that he was nothing like the man he won an Oscar for portraying:
Smith spoke of the importance of defending one’s family, but added insult to injury by twisting the concept of protection to justify his aggression, and making this moment all about himself.
It should have been about Williams. Through grit, hard work, commitment and love, he helped his two little Black girls defeat the odds over and over again as they rose through the very white ranks of elite tennis. … [In Williams,] we had a Black father who fought — metaphorically — for his family, who stood strong and proud and unashamed. It was a portrait of a Black family who loved fiercely. It was a portrait of a Black family who thrived. And it is a portrait now overshadowed by the toxicity of patriarchy and machismo.
Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse believes Will Smith stole the attention Jada Pinkett Smith deserved:
[O]ne thing you might have noticed is that although Jada Pinkett Smith was the wronged party, she did not leap up from her seat to slap Chris Rock. She remained in her seat while her husband acted out his version of chivalry in a move so outlandish the audience at first seemed to react as if it might be a rehearsed bit.
Will Smith might have believed he was protecting his wife. But violence performed in the name of protecting wronged women only steals away the attention from where it belongs: on the wronged woman. …
The fallout might have been whatever Jada Pinkett Smith wanted it to be: a chance to raise awareness about alopecia, or to publicly forgive Rock, or not publicly forgive him. She might have talked about how difficult it was to remain in her seat while jokes were made at her expense. And yet remain there she did, for she might have worried that reacting could result in viewers thinking of her as a killjoy who couldn’t take a joke — or, even more unfairly, as an angry Black woman.
Ryan Broderick tries to take a step back:
To understand why everyone was bemoaning the imminent Oscars takes last night, first, we have to define what Twitter is in 2022. It’s a fandom app for current events. The users on there don’t have anything in common other than an increasingly pathological need to consume either news as content or content as news. Which can get kind of dark, like when a pandemic starts or an actual war breaks out. But an awards show is the perfect kind thing to bring every pocket of Twitter user out of the woodwork. It’s essentially the school assembly that all the app’s different insane cliques have to attend. And then they use it to project whatever weird fixation they have on the rest of the platform’s users. So, when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock for insulting Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, it acted as a sort of take big bang. …
But I don’t actually find all the absolutely garbage takes that interesting — even as something to hate read. Instead, what I find more interesting is the viral pre-exhaustion that users described feeling immediately after the slap. The dread and anticipatory boredom at the idea that this will dominate the national conversation for at least the next three days, the next week if Smith or Rock comment on it further, or the next month if some kind of governing body — either America’s or Hollywood’s — gets involved.
(Broderick also blamed the Trump era, noting, “what was the Trump administration if not a constant series of unscripted awards show moments?”)
At the Guardian, Tayo Bero writes that “this kind of performative pearl-clutching is only ever reserved for Black men who mess up”:
It would seem that there’s a layer of hyper-violence that’s being projected on to Smith simply because he is a Black man who was defending his Black wife. While it’s justifiable — important, even — to interrogate his motives for delivering the slap (was this really all about defending his wife or more about his own ego?), it’s clear that the backlash against Smith is rooted in not just anti-Blackness, but respectability politics as well.
It’s also not just about what Smith did; it’s where he did it and who was watching. Anyone who has been following these shows can see that Smith is being held up to much stricter standards than white men who have behaved just as badly or even worse in those settings. In 1973, John Wayne had to be restrained by six security guards when he tried to rush the stage and attack the Native American actor and activist Sacheen Littlefeather. Littlefeather was on stage to accept the best actor award on behalf of Marlon Brando, who was boycotting the awards in protest at Hollywood’s depictions of Native Americans. Wayne got to keep his awards after the incident, but pending a review, Smith could very well have his historic best actor win revoked.
At the Washington Post, Travis M. Andrews notes that Sunday night’s drama followed years of Smith being much more open about his life and struggles, to the point that it became integral to his public persona and work:
Smith, 53, seems to have embraced this chance to err toward sharing in recent years, publicly touting his every thought and feeling with an audience that once loved him precisely because he did the opposite. He now embodies a singular type of public figure: an old-school movie star who embraces radical honesty and seems to be on a quest to exorcise his demons in public.
Opines Lewis Wallace at the Cult of Mac:
Will Smith slapping Chris Rock during Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony shows why Apple should go back to doing live events. No, not because we need to see deranged audience members assaulting Apple execs onstage. However, the mere possibility that something can go seriously sideways gives live events an undeniable advantage over the type of canned productions Apple began cranking out during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sure this goes against Cupertino’s deeply ingrained cultural bias toward controlling absolutely everything within its power. But if Apple doesn’t get back to putting on live events, its product launches will drift deeper into the uncanny territory of the overproduced infomercial. That’s boring — and it’s bad for both Apple and Apple fans.
(Hat-tip: Rusty Foster)
At Vulture, Tirhakah Love argues that the spectacle was a win:
The moment, the 48-hour immediate afterlife of the moment, and the eventual exposé of said moment are all worth it. The Smiths and Rock know this as well and will likely capitalize on the Slap once tempers ease. Will already got the ball rolling on that front. During his Best Actor acceptance speech, Smith made the discursive connection between his King Richard character and his actions: “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world.” Imagine the Red Table Talks, stand-up material, and literature that’ll transpire from this.
At the Atlantic, Sophie Gilbert writes about how difficult the moment and aftermath were to comprehend:
If, as the media theorist Neil Postman observed, jokes and entertainment might one day undo our ability to perceive things properly, then Smith’s televised assault on Rock illustrated that thesis eerily well—offering a colossal WTF moment to digest and meme and tweet-then-delete dubious takes on into infinity. But for me at least, the moment also felt like a rupture, a glitch in the Matrix. It almost felt staged. It was too wild, too uncalibrated, and then too immediately and obviously smoothed out in figurative postproduction.
At Slate, Joel Anderson calls for everyone to cool it with the takeaways:
As I was reminded of [Michigan head coach Juwan Howard’s] slap from a month ago, my main thought was just: We don’t have to take this too seriously. We don’t have to live like this, mapping complex social phenomena on something fundamentally as straightforward and unexceptional as dudes using a personal slight—or a perceived one—as a pretext for getting physical.
Unsurprisingly, the social media response has followed its own inevitable arc, from shocked to bemused to serious to exhausting. As a sports fan who has seen scenes like this play out umpteen times, I’ve felt the familiar dread of watching relatively minor transgressions by Black men turn into a vehicle for everyone’s agendas. We can’t even gawk at a little scuffle without worrying that it’ll become a referendum on Black male anger. There was no real harm, and we don’t have to call a foul. Smith and Rock have reportedly reconciled, according to Diddy. Hockey players regularly pound at each other in front of enormous audiences, and fans almost never have to deal with the anthropological weight of this kind of discourse. Is it unprecedented at the dolled-up Academy Awards? Sure. But let’s have some perspective.
Vulture’s Alison Willmore highlights how riveting and refreshing the drama was, arguing that the Slap “was the best thing that could have happened to the Oscars” and is “destined to keep the ceremony in conversation for weeks”:
The incident that spawned a million takes was shocking both because it was so unexpected and because it made the awards feel abruptly intimate — not some distant glitzy gathering but a work event for a constricted group of people with its own internal hierarchies and long-standing grudges. Will Smith getting up out of his front-row seat and walking the relatively short distance onto the stage to smack Chris Rock was a breaking of protocol, and it was also a breaking of the Oscars pretense that this is the night Hollywood gets together to enjoy its own company. It’s an industry function, and plenty of industries have their own star system and awards, and they’re probably all as messy — they’re just not televised. …
The A-list façade cracked to reveal something vulnerable and unplanned, which is, in its conflicting, electric uncertainty, why a lot of us still watch the Oscars — not for montages of James Bond or the empty banalities but for unscripted moments from some of the most carefully manicured and impeccably public-personae people in the world. Movie lovers, unite?
“Why did nobody think of this before?” wonders New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane:
It’s such a brisk, economical method for waking the TV audience from our slumber and preventing us from fetching another tub of Phish Food and switching over to an old episode of “Columbo.” When Steve Martin made a gag about the swan dress worn by Björk at the Oscars of 2001, she could have flown to the podium and pecked him to the ground with her angry beak. And why stop at the presenters? Nominees for the acting prizes are traditionally required to smile at one another through sharpened teeth, but it would be so much more enjoyable—and more morally honest—if their carnivorous competition could be laid bare for all to see. Take 1951, and the best Best Actress contest in the history of the awards: Bette Davis versus Eleanor Parker, Anne Baxter, Judy Holliday (the eventual winner), and, in the veterans’ corner, Gloria Swanson. I can almost hear the words of that evening’s host, Fred Astaire, graciously inviting the contenders onstage for the announcement: “Now, you know the rules: no blades, no biting, and stay away from the eyes. Otherwise, ladies, the floor is yours, so let’s get ready to rumble! It’s swing time!”
At Tortoise Media, Matthew d’Ancona goes there:
“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,” said the star of King Richard – who had reacted violently to a joke Rock had made about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. “Love will make you do crazy things.” This is the closest Hollywood gets to what Putin would call a “special military operation”: I know you all think I acted terribly by invading Ukraine, but, really, I had the best of intentions, and was only defending the vulnerable. …
As things stand, the primary lesson of the 2022 Oscars was that you can engage in an act of violence live on global television and still walk away with one of the night’s big awards: in disgrace, but still a winner. In years to come, military strategists may well call this the Will Smith Doctrine.
This post has been updated with additional takes.