I am bemused how the Will-Smith-Slapped-Chris Rock incident has become an issue of who’s right, who’s wrong, and why physical violence should never be condoned. As it turns out, Will Smith had to resign from the Academy and still waiting for possibly more punishment. On the other hand, Chris Rock was reportedly still “reflecting”, while his comedy shows already sold out after his joke about JPS’s bald head at the Oscars. Does anybody really care about how JPS think and feel, since she was the target of the joke that night?
I can’t help but wonder: Is this yet another case of covert gender-based violence?
Sure, we know that JPS wasn’t the only one who got teased that night. So, what’s the big deal, right? Shouldn’t she and her husband just suck it up and act like nothing happened, just like everyone else who were present that night, who seemed like they were having a good time laughing at Chris Rock’s jokes.
From the way that JPS rolled her eyes in displeasure, one could guess that it’s probably not the first time Chris Rock had poked fun at her sore points. Does JPS really need her husband to stand up for her? My guess is, probably not. When she shaved her head and told the world that she has alopecia, she is probably quite a self-empowered woman. So, what Will Smith did that night, probably came from his own stuff. He was laughing at Chris Rock’s joke, and at the same time noticed his wife’s displeasure, and that probably created a huge inner conflict in him as a “good husband” or the “protector” character that he played in King Richard, which got him his first Oscars! He had to do something to ease his intense cognitive dissonance, and he chose to walk up the stage and slap Chris Rock.
Imagine, if JPS were the one who went up the stage and slapped Chris Rock. That wouldn’t be very lady-like of her, would it? How would men think of her, and by association, the man who is married to her? More importantly, how would other women think of her aggressive action? Would they feel for her, stand by her, or judge her as “nice women like us don’t do that…”?
Suppose if JPS went up the stage, but instead of giving Chris Rock a slap, gave him a hug and then grabbed his microphone to say: “My child, that’s not very nice of you making fun of other peoples’ disabilities or illness!” And then, walk down the stage like the mother queen that she is!
Would that change the entire narrative that night? Nobody knows, because given the circumstance, how many of us can be so quick as to reflect on our authentic feelings and values, and then respond to the challenge with integrity? On hindsight, everyone seems to know the “right” thing to do. But when put on the spot, to remain calm and fight back in elegance, one must either be a sage of thousand years wisdom, or an experienced standup comedian like Chris Rock, who had probably rehearsed his lines (including the emergency ones) a thousand times over in his head.
Ironically, the Academy awarded the best picture of the year to CODA, a movie that celebrates human diversities in the form of physical abilities and disabilities. It was a huge step forward in the film-making industry. But on the same night of the Oscars, a woman’s dignity was trampled because she has lost her hair. Often, where the light is shining the brightest, the shadow is also very close.
Whilst the committee was busy condemning Will Smith’s physical violence, few people seemed to mind if Chris Rock had crossed the line with his “jokes”. There is a huge gender difference when it comes to body image. Generally, men are more accepting of their own bodies than women – just look at how women tend to judge their own bodies and other women’s, unfortunately! Hence, joking about men’s bald head and fat tummy is quite different than joking about women’s bald head and fat tummy. We are still living in a world that holds a harsher standard on a woman’s physicality, than on any men! And so, any remarks or jokes about women’s body can cause more harm than what Chris Rock might have anticipated. If you have seen how your loved one – your child, your mother, your sister, or your partner – cried their hearts out or became ashamed of themselves because they have lost their beautiful hair, I bet you wouldn’t, ever, laugh at anyone who is bald again. Chris Rock’s joke that night showed a lack of empathy, so was the laughing audience.
Verbal aggression is equally harmful as physical aggression, especially when it is guised as humor or jokes. Bullying seldom starts in physical acts, but almost always in verbal teasing and emotional intimidation. Having an audience only adds on to the by-stander effect, which unwittingly makes the bully more invincible (because everybody was having fun watching), and the victim more helpless (because nobody dares to challenge the status quo). When one of the female hosts called on two male celebrities and patted them down in the name of “covid testing”, with the audience laughing along, was that not also a form of public sexual harassment? If the same act would be considered inappropriate for a man to do it on 2 women, why would it be alright or even amusing for a woman to do it on 2 men?!
What happened that night was more than just who’s right and who’s wrong. Yes, there was explicit, physical violence; but implicit violence in the forms of verbal and sexual harassment was silently condoned and tolerated throughout the ceremony. This is a cruel entertainment business, which thrives on gossips, drama, and tragedies. In fact, there is something entertaining, and even cathartic when we watch an aggressive scene. So, if we could at least be honest with ourselves, we can acknowledge the aggressive person inside each of us, who is always seeking to punish, or be punished. We need to free ourselves from such dualistic mindset, so that we can stop perpetuating further violence to ourselves and to others.
Long time ago, some religious people caught a woman in adultery (where’s the man???). They brought her to the wisest man in town, asking him what kind of punishment she deserved. The wise man didn’t answer the question immediately. Instead, he stooped down and started writing on the ground. Nobody knew what he was writing about. They kept pestering him for an answer. After some time, the wise man said to the crowd: “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Hearing that, the people started leaving, one after the other, and in the end, only the woman was still standing there. The wise man stood up and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Maybe we could borrow the wise man’s line here to say: Let the one who didn’t laugh that night cast the first stone. Or, let the one who had never contemplated any aggressive thoughts or caused harm to anyone cast the first stone.
Article by Dr. Ng Wai Sheng
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay