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