What Will Smith Did Is A Big Deal - Here's Why...
A take on the incident that you have not seen already
We’re Rachel Hurley and Frank Keith IV, co-owners of the Sweetheart Pub. We’re music industry veterans with over 30 years of combined experience in the music business, having worked in licensing, talent buying/booking, label management, tour management, and more. Once a week, we’ll publish a new edition of this newsletter, where we’ll share some philosophy and actionable advice on all facets of the music industry.
We’ve been putting together a weekly playlist of seven songs (just enough to keep your attention) every week — check out The Sweet Spot to hear what we’ve been listening to.
What we’re thinking about this week…
There have been a lot of takes about Will Smith’s actions at The Oscars, but here’s what really matters
What Will Smith did at the Academy Awards was wrong. Full stop. The end.
It’s not even debatable. He assaulted someone over a joke, on live television, and then was allowed to just go back to his seat and sit down, and later collect his award for the highest honor of the night. There is now reporting that says he was asked to leave but refused. That makes it even worse.
I’ve seen a lot of opinions about this: that it wasn’t a big deal, that Chris Rock deserved to be smacked for making fun of Jada’s medical condition, that there are more important things going on to worry about, that it was Jada’s fault, that it was something admirable, and a lot of people saying that they’re tired of it being discussed.
All of these takes are wrong.
First of all, the perceived offensive joke that Smith got so upset about was a lame softball.
Rock said: “Jada, can’t wait for G.I. Jane 2.”
It was a joke about someone without hair playing someone in a movie without hair. That was literally it. It wasn’t funny because it was lazy. It wasn’t outrageous or absurd or pointed out some underlying truth, and it was barely making fun of Jada. Seriously, barely. Everyone seems to think Jada was offended, but her eye roll could have just been because it wasn’t a good joke.
To be offended by that joke would mean that it’s bad to not have hair. I can’t imagine that Jada is as sensitive to not having hair as some people want us to believe she is. She has been very upfront about it. If she was sensitive about not having hair, why not wear a wig? Do you think that she shaved her head and told everyone why because she was ashamed, or did she do it to say that there’s nothing to be ashamed of?
Whether you shave your head because of a medical condition or you shave your head because you just want to shave your head, there is nothing wrong with not having hair. Anyone getting THAT offended by it, is clearly saying that we should not talk about it because it’s something to be embarrassed about. It’s not. And it's a pretty insignificant thing to make a joke about. The joke did not demean Jada or insult her. It was just an observation based on her not having hair.
I’ve seen people with Alopecia speak out about how hard it is, but that’s only because social norms have trained us that women must look attractive to men in order to be considered worthy of existing. There’s a name for this: It’s called the male gaze, and it’s what holds women back. As long as women adhere to this gender standard, we’ll never break free of being judged by how we look versus what we contribute.
Many women do not have hair for an assortment of reasons. To make it off-limits to acknowledge that they don’t have hair pushes the notion that they should be embarrassed by it. Think about how this incident played out in the minds of other women who are proudly clean-shaven. Mentioning their bald heads is so egregious that it deserves a slap to the face? Ridiculous.
There is nothing wrong with not having hair. Hair does not define a person. The joke was obviously not trying to say that she isn’t attractive, Jada’s hair has been one to two inches long for years, and she has always been a gorgeous woman. The fictional character she was compared to is also a gorgeous, strong woman.
No one should feel bad for being flat-chested, or a redhead, or having crooked teeth, or a southern accent. Someone’s race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, body type, et cetera are not something anyone should feel ashamed of, and as long as we give weight to those things, we will never overcome them.
Secondly, what Smith did had very little to do with Jada. She didn’t ask him to defend her nor did she need him to. He went and made the situation about him and how he felt. No one knows how Jada actually felt because Smith decided how she felt and how he would try to fix it. Instead of treating her like a grown-ass adult, he treated her like a possession.
I’ve seen so many social media posts saying Smith was defending her honor. I’m not sure how her honor was insulted. Rock didn’t make a joke about her being a bad mother, a thief, or a liar. THAT would have been an attack on her honor, meaning an attack on who she is as a person. Pointing out she is bald, when she IS bald, is not an attack on her honor, and not something that she needs to be defended against. HOWEVER, even if her honor HAD been insulted, it’s still not an excuse for someone to assault someone else.
Why? Because every single person who resorts to violence over a perceived slight thinks they are justified. That’s the nature of rage. And it’s very hard to thread the needle through what is worthy of assault and what is not. Would it be okay for a man to slap his wife for insulting him? Would this have been okay if the person who made the joke was a young person? What if Smith’s son Jaden had been on stage and made a joke about Rock’s significant other, would Smith have thought it was appropriate for him to walk on stage and slap him? What would have been the reaction if the perceived insult came from a woman or someone in their seventies? There’s not a universal test for whether someone deserves to be assaulted.
But…here is why this incident REALLY matters and should not be taken lightly.
Violence in the U.S. has been surging over the last few years, even before the pandemic came into play. According to the FBI, since 2014 the murder rate has been steadily increasing, with one drop in 2018. 2019 to 2020 saw a huge jump: 25%! According to the Washington Post, that’s the largest single-year increase in the homicide rate since reliable tracking began in 1960. But even ignoring the murder rate, we’ve all seen violence become more prevalent and more accepted in our society. How many videos have you seen of fights breaking out on airplanes over masks, of “Karens” losing their shit and attacking the people filming them, police officers holding down and beating their detainees, or maybe you heard about or saw the little fight that broke out at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021.
People are being conditioned to think that responding to things that they don’t like with violence is an appropriate reaction. How could anyone blame them when we live in a time without consequences, where everyone gets away with everything, and no one seems to be able to hold anyone accountable.
What Will Smith did was send a clear message last Sunday. When you feel offended, it's okay to assault someone. Proving that expecting someone to control their emotions, after a benign comment is made, is too much for anyone to ask. All you have to do to get a standing ovation is to apologize through tears and blame it on love (by the way, his comment that love can make you do crazy things is straight out of the abuser’s handbook).
I haven’t seen anyone really stand up for Chris Rock. At best, people are claiming that both parties were in the wrong. I can’t see how Rock is taking so much heat for such a benign comment. But any attempt to justify Smith’s actions is helping to set a bad precedent.
I can not, as a woman, want to be treated equally, without believing that a man has the right to the same protections. By treating this as no big deal, we’re basically giving people permission to act out in this way. Just look at Trump’s inability to call out white nationalists, because some of them are “very good people.” That lack of seriousness emboldened the entire movement. There are people who are going to act out now based on how this act was justified.
If Wanda Sykes had made that joke, I feel like somehow, Smith would have been able to control his urge to slap her. And the only reason to differentiate between Smith slapping a man and a woman is that you think women are lesser and need men to protect them. We do not need men to protect us, we need men to not assault us. We need men to not assault anyone.
Look: we live in a society where we adhere to laws. Those laws should apply to everyone, in the exact same way. That’s the equality that so many people are striving for. You shouldn’t have a different set of rules because you’re rich, or famous, or a woman, or a man, or white, or black, or whatever. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. If Chris Rock had opted to press charges, Smith would be in jail right now discussing his plea deal. Juries do not get to determine if someone was justified in breaking the law, only if they broke it or not.
This year’s Oscars should have been an amazing night of representation for black artists. There were two black women among the trio of co-hosts, a black producer, numerous black presenters, an amazing opening performance from Beyoncé, and the best actor Oscar for a black man. But all anyone is talking about is the violent outburst due to the fragile ego of a man who felt he was justified in walking on stage and slapping someone over a joke.
Not taking this seriously, making sure there are consequences, and discussing this incident's larger implications will have their own repercussions. This event did not happen in a vacuum. Smith showed a complete lack of care about anyone outside of himself, and that attitude leads to violence, which is starting to grow exponentially. Blowing this situation off as not important, or not being worthy of a deeper exploration, and making sure that we collectively condemn it, will have its own set of consequences.
TikTok of the Week
Just for Fun
Music Rookie Podcast
Have a follow-up question for one of our guests? Got a tip? Did we (*gasp*) get something wrong? Our line is always open -- hit us up and if we use your question or response in a future newsletter, we’ll give you credit and link your socials.
As we often receive requests to work with artists who don’t have the budget to afford a full campaign, we’re launching an “Office Hours”-style consulting service where you can book us for 30 or 60-minute blocks of one-on-one time.
Thanks for sticking around! If you dig what we are doing, here are some easy ways to support us: