Are We Finished with The Slap Now?
It's time to stop amplifying that assault, grab the key takeaway, and move on.
Can it be that our long national Rorschach test is finally over? I’m talking about The Slap, of course. Not those dreadful Supreme Court hearings.
Although Charles Blow used the term Rorschach first, that is the appropriate metaphor for what we’ve been through since the Oscars. There are as many takes on events like this as there are people with cell phones and TV sets.
What one sees depends upon what one looks for. But also on what they’ve experienced in their own lives. When everybody’s sharing their two cents on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, what you get is a cacophony. A modern-day Tower of Babel.
Nobody understands anybody else because everybody’s too busy shouting their own view.
Nobody’s right. Nobody’s wrong. But nobody learns anything either. There’s just a lot of…well, noise.
Approximately sixteen million viewers saw The Slap when it happened. Hundreds of millions more have seen it replayed on national TV and social media. They’ve seen a thousand memes and heard a thousand takes. And everyone sees something different.
Why, just yesterday a woman who read one of my recent pieces took me to task for not blaming Chris Rock more and for not pointing out that “words hurt just as much as physical violence.”
I held back from reminding her that the people of Ukraine might disagree with her.
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Is it finally over?
But can it be that the Academy’s decision to ban Will Smith from the Oscars for the next 10 years will put an end to this obscenity once and for all?
Is everyone happy now that he can’t come to the party or walk down the red carpet — but could still get nominated for an Oscar during the ban?
Is it possible that TV networks will finally stop replaying the incident an average of three times per story not counting two to three closeups of Chris Rock’s face just after the larger man’s hand smacked down on it?
Will the conspiracy theorists claiming this was all a setup finally slither away and go back to watching Info Wars?
With The Slap behind us, will we return our gaze to the tender moment between Lady Gaga and a wheelchair-bound Liza Minelli?
The moment when someone younger and stronger lent a helping hand to someone who used to be just as young and strong and said, “I’ve got you.”
Will the networks now begin to show Lady Gaga and Liza Minelli an average of three times per story? Yeah, they will. They must. I’m sure of it.
What the future holds
Meanwhile, now that the 10-year-ban has been slapped upon the former rapper turned slapper, there are people at Apple+ TV who may find themselves breathing a bit easier now.
In the aftermath of The Slap, Apple+ TV is not as fortunate as Netflix, which put its Will Smith project Fast and Loose on the back burner before the Oscars. As for Smith’s other project, Sony’s Bad Boys 4—its future remains uncertain too. Smith reportedly hasn’t even seen the entire script yet.
Millions at stake
Before the Oscars, Apple+ TV had already sunk a reported $120 million into Emancipation, starring Will Smith as Peter.
It’s the story of a real-life runaway slave engaged in a perilous escape through the Louisiana swamp in his journey to join the Union army.
The real-life Peter of Emancipation is known for the picture of his heavily scarred, whip-welted back, which has become an iconic example of slavery’s inhumane cruelty.
Perhaps more than anyone else, the executives behind Emancipation had every reason to see The Slap put to rest as soon as possible.
With Emancipation already in post-production, they may even be considering a rewrite that takes The Slap into account. Somehow. Some way.
Remember ‘The Morning Show’?
Hollywood watchers may recall that The Morning Show with Jennifer Anniston, Steve Carell, and Reese Witherspoon had already been green-lighted when the #MeToo movement began and Today Show anchor Matt Lauer was fired for sexual harassment.
As a result, the producers were forced to rethink the entire series. When real life becomes more fantastic than fiction, it’s make-believe that has to bend with the times.
With Emancipation hovering in the wings and those financial interests breathing down the necks of The Academy’s Board of Governors, one has to wonder whether ethics and the much-talked-about code of conduct had as much to do with accelerating Smith’s punishment as that massive investment in Emancipation.
Not being a Hollywood insider, I do not know the answer. But I can think of 120 million reasons why one might have had more influence in the decision-making process than any other.
Was a 10-year-ban enough? Was it even fair?
They could have taken his Oscar. They could have banned him for life. They could have turned him into an object lesson.
But with that all that loot hanging in the balance, did The Academy’s Board of Governors really want to vilify Smith as much as all that?
After all, Smith’s image has to shoulder the burden of a starring role in a major film project that’s already underway.
Does the Board really want the audience to think too badly of him? Let’s just get this off the table and out of the public eye ASAP.
But is there a lesson for the rest of us in all this?
I think so. For those of us who do not have any actual skin in this game, maybe putting The Slap to rest signals that it’s time to stop amplifying that assault.
Maybe it’s time to turn our attention away from the Bad and the Ugly. And to gaze a little longer on the Good, the Kind, and the Compassionate.
What we witnessed at the Oscars reminded me of Greek tragedy.
In Smith’s case, it was Greek tragedy light. No one died. But there are similarities.
The fall of a popular movie hero was brought about by what Aristotle called an inherent tragic flaw.
Watching it aroused feelings of sadness in the audience, feelings not unlike the pity and fear evoked by Greek tragedy. Those feelings are meant to teach us things laughter cannot.
What is the takeaway?
The lesson of Greek tragedy has nothing to do with what The Slap says about African Americans, the suffering of Black women, the appropriateness of hurtful jokes, the heartbreak of alopecia, the message violent acts sends to children, the white gaze, or whether standing up for your woman is really a form of patriarchal overreach.
These are all valid and important perspectives on the incident.
But Greek tragedy offers another quite different lesson: This can happen to you. You too may have a tragic flaw. You too may invite your own demise. Be mindful of what you’ve seen here on this big stage — and take heed.
It does not take a knowledge of Aristotle to understand this. All we have to do is look in the mirror or sit down and reflect on our own lives. The things we did today and the days before that.
And ask whether we meant to do them. And how, upon honest reflection, we might do them better the next time around. And then resolve in our hearts to do whatever it takes to be that better, more loving version of ourselves in the days ahead.
The kind of person who says, “I’ve got you.”
©2022 Andrew Jazprose Hill
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