The Slap

Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott

Yeah, we used to laugh a lot.  Things aren't funny anymore.
Merle Haggard

Maybe you live under a rock, off the grid, or someplace where the telegraph is your primary source of communication but there was a slap seen and heard around the world. The incident happened at the Oscars ceremony back in March between the host Chris Rock and actor Will Smith. I have not watched the Oscars in several years. Hollywood itself hasn't been relevant to me in that same amount of time. The last film I saw at a theater was Ant Man part of the Marvel franchise. I only saw that at my son's urging. My three-year-old daughter at the time had other plans so we left early.  In fact, I'm so out of the loop, I thought this year's Oscar nominated film King Richard was about King Richard I of England. It was about Richard Williams, father of tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams. I do not miss the theater experience – overpriced refreshments, incessant chatter, babies crying, cell phone activity, etc. And the films themselves emanating from the studios consist of the same tired plots, the emphasis of special effects over acting, and the overreliance of sequels, prequels, and spin offs. Not that there isn't the occasional great movie that fights its way through the system deserving of critical acclaim as well as commercial success. Our excellent film reviewer Miles David Moore informs us of those. Thank you, Miles.

But Hollywood itself has seen its power and influence diminish due to several circumstances. The two years of Covid restrictions didn't help matters. Streaming services flourished during the pandemic with movie theaters shuttered. Now to stay afloat, the studio business model is heavily influenced by the Chinese market. Just ignore the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government and you'll be fine. That, and be ok with censorship.

But back to Will and Chris. I learned of the interaction between the two men by watching a Dr. Phil (he of self-help therapy fame) analysis of the event frame by frame. It was sort of like watching the Zapruder film. Rock told a not so funny joke about Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith. It seems that Jada has alopecia, a condition that results in hair loss. The joke, ill-advised, was in reference to a long-forgotten Demi Moore film in which her character shaves her head.  As the camera pans to the couple who were sitting at a table close to the stage, Smith at first chuckles at the joke until he sees his wife's expression. She wasn't happy. Will Smith snapped and in Dr. Phil's words, he came at Rock with "arms akimbo."  And then…the slap. Smith sat down with a smirk on his face threatening Rock with an obscenity not to mention his wife again.  That Rock was able to keep his cool and continue says a lot about him. That Smith was able to sit down and enjoy the remaining ceremony and allowed to accept his award for Best Actor says a lot about those in charge of an institution sinking like the Titanic.

It's not that the Oscar ceremony hasn't had its controversial moments, but they have been mild in comparison to the assault that occurred on March 27th. During the 1974 ceremonies, while David Niven was in the process of introducing Elizabeth Taylor, a streaker decided to stroll across the stage. Niven responded by saying, "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings". The previous year in 1973, saw Marlon Brando decline the Best Actor award for his role in the Godfather, choosing instead to make a political statement on behalf of Native Americans issued by his surrogate Sacheen Littlefeather.

Now while the current controversy was going on, there was and still is horrific atrocities committed against the Ukrainian people by Vladimir Putin and his war machine. One does have to put things in perspective., but what happened at the Oscars is more than just a slap. It's about the decline of Hollywood, it's about political correctness, its about cancel culture, free speech, and the divide between those who set the cultural agenda and Middle America.

It would be hard to imagine insult comics like Don Rickles surviving in the current environment. It is a different time; just watch those old Dean Martin comedy roasts and you'll understand. If Rickles had been telling the jokes directed at Jada Pinkett Smith, Rickles wouldn't have been slapped, he would have been body slammed. In the old days, they would have just thrown a pie or a tomato at the offending source. Now its scary season indeed for comics. Edginess has always been the trademark of some of the greatest comics. Now we'll just have to see how that plays out. Perhaps Will Smith should have taken the advice of the recently departed Gilbert Gottfried who himself courted controversy during his career, "If a comedian tells a joke that you find funny, you laugh. If he tells a joke, you do not find funny, don't laugh. Or you could possibly go as far as groaning or rolling your eyes. Then you wait for his next joke, if that's funny, then you laugh. If it's not, you don't laugh – or at very worst, you can leave quietly."


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Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott is a songwriter, musician, performer and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.  For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2022 Les Marcott
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