🟥 Fame is a form of mental illness
The "slap in the face" Oscars was the perfect collision of narcissism, ego, victimhood, and fame.
Once upon a time, one of the country’s top black comedians went up in front of a televised theater full of famous people and told an “oh daaaaaamn!” joke about a celeb-in-the-crowd’s girl. And you know what happened? Everybody laughed.
Obviously, I’m not talking about Chris Rock and Will Smith. I’m talking about the time Martin Lawrence hosted Def Jam and went after rapper/executive producer/TV host Todd-1, who was in the crowd. Also in the room that night: Lawrence Taylor, Ice T, and Derrick Coleman. The relevant bit starts at 1:20 here:
Backstory: Todd-1, a host on MTV and BET, was dating MC Lyte at the time – and even had her name tattooed on his chest. Martin was no stranger to MC Lyte and wanted the crowd to know: “He got a tattoo on his chest, got MC Lyte on his sh*t. And I used to f*ck her.” The crowd went wild. And then Martin added his tag: “Hey, believe me. THERE'S A LOTTA LIGHT AT THE END OF THAT TUNNEL, BOY!!!!” People in the room lost their minds.
How did Todd-1 handle all this? After all, sure seems worse than some alopecia crack. He got up, walked toward the back as the crowd erupted in laughs, returned to his seat, high-fived his buddies, shrugged, and went on with his life – presumably because it was a comedy show and he knew Martin was gonna Martin. Also, cameras.
After that, Martin called Ice-T an albino and mocked a girl in the crowd’s weave by explaining, “There's a bald horse in Central Park.” And then he acted out what it's like to be a shivering horse. Look, Martin hosting Def Jam was a real vibe shift.
Fame is a form of mental illness
Which brings us to Sunday night and the slap heard round the world. Personally, I’m still 50/50 on that slap being real. It sure looked theatrical – and that there’s no other camera angle feels odd. I’ve been Zaprudering it and still haven’t seen clear evidence of contact. Rock seemed almost-prepped for it and Will’s swaggering walk away seemed pretty hammy. Could this all have been a made-for-TV moment? Will they soon announce they’re co-starring in Bad Boys 5 or whatever? Then again, everything after the slap sure felt authentic. The sound dropping out and Will’s “keep my wife’s name…” seemed trés legit, even considering he’s one of the best actors in the world.
Fine, let’s just play it as it lies and say the whole thing was real. So all this is because of some lame GI Jane joke? One that wasn’t very funny and relied on a dated reference that anyone under 40 probably didn’t understand? Or maybe it’s because of the history of Rock going after Jada before (see the ’16 ceremony)? Regardless, whatever. When you’re the biggest movie star in the world and you publicize your whole family’s life, you’re gonna wind up getting ribbed at the Oscars. Jack’s been dealing with it for decades. Just arch your eyebrows, make a face, and keep it moving. No one remembers this stuff anyway. Ricky Gervais has been saying way worse for years.
But Will Smith’s been feeling himself. He’s been living that combo movie star/doculife where the center of attention is always him. It’s a nonstop ego play. Consider his p.o.v.: If you're a deranged narcissist who lives in a bubble surrounded by yes-men, someone making fun of a few bald spots is akin to a physical assault and must be defended as such. So he went off.
After all these years, The Oscars ceremony where he won Best Actor is the first time we've ever seen the real Will Smith. The mask finally dropped and it wasn’t aliens or robots that made it happen; it was a joke about his wife’s shaved head.
Ellen. Tom Cruise. Mel Gibson. Add Smith to the list. Is it still surprising that any of these people have monstrous tendencies? Fame is a form of mental illness enabled by a sea of hangers on who crave proximity to wealth, status, and power. That’s why that whole theater clapped it up for Smith even after watching his temper tantrum. Hollywood and DC (aka “Hollywood for ugly people”) are more similar than either would like to admit. The people at The Oscars are just prettier versions of Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham: They make a deal with the devil so their calls get returned and they can obtain hard-to-get dinner reservations.
That’s why that theater filled with supposed do-gooders didn’t kick Smith out. No one even boo’d him. In fact, they gave him a standing ovation. It was a real window into mass psychosis and how the Trumps/Weinsteins of the world get away with so much. You start to think the rules don’t apply to you when no one ever tells you no.
Smith even had the chutzpah to give a speech positioning himself as a victim. That’s how compelling victimhood, especially the performative kind, is in our current culture; even the most powerful and wealthy in Hollywood want to lather themselves up in it. Trauma is the new Teflon.
Of course, Smith wasn’t really a victim. His ego just makes him feel that way. After all, narcissism and victimhood are wrapped up in each other. It’s all easily hurt feelings/centering yourself/no one else really matters.
In his speech, Smith explained he’s a fierce defender of his family, a protector of coworkers, and “called on” to love/protect/be a river to his people. Apparently that river is powered by crocodile tears because those were also delivered. “I look like the crazy father.” Uh, well, yeah. Because you are. “Love will make you do crazy things.” Ah yes, the abuser’s refrain. Reminder from bell hooks: Love and abuse cannot coexist. And he went over his allotted time because of course he did. No symphony was gonna play him off. The rules don’t apply to Will Smith.
At least he offered this slight glimpse of reality in his speech: “In this business, you’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you. And you’ve got to smile and pretend like that’s OK.” So he does kinda get it. That’s exactly what you have to do when you’re the President, Jeff Bezos, the most powerful person in Hollywood, etc.. When you’re the boss, people complain. When you spend decades striving to be THE BIGGEST MOVIE STAR IN THE WORLD, you sign up for a few jokes at your expense.
Being offended is a form of narcissism
The joke wasn’t even that she looked ugly/bad, it was that she looked like someone with a shaved head – WHICH SHE CLEARLY DOES. Alopecia isn’t a form of cancer or whatever, it’s hair loss brought on by anxiety. Rock didn’t really say anything mean, he merely pointed out what everyone in the room could already see. But just like the emperor with no clothes, Smith couldn’t stand to have his wife’s naked head discussed.
Some defended Smith afterwards. Tiffany Haddish (who starred in a movie with Jada): “That’s what every woman wants, right? She was hurt. And he protected his wife. And that’s what a man is supposed to do.” Ayanna Pressley (who has alopecia too): “Shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living with alopecia.”
Got it. Toxic masculinity is terrible – unless it’s being used to stand up for you. Then it’s just doing “what a man is supposed to do.” Great lesson to teach the kids.
“Our bodies are not public domain. They are not a line in a joke,” wrote Pressley. But she doesn’t get to decide what is or isn’t a joke. That’s now how comedy works. The audience laughs or it doesn’t, that’s what tells you if it’s a joke. It’s not all about you. Everyone in a room is offended by something; if we cross off everyone’s pet issue, then comedy ceases to exist.
"I was offended by that joke." Well, did the rest of the room laugh? Because there are other people in the world and their feelings matter too. Offended people have decided the way they feel is more important than everyone else’s feelings. But that doesn't mean it’s true or worthy of respect. Just because your feelings are hurt, it doesn’t mean you’re right.
How I like to respond to the offended: I make fun of the holocaust, why do you think [their pet issue here] should be out of bounds? The real subtext of “I’m offended” is “My feelings are more important than everyone else’s.”
Oddly, slapgate provided the only moments of reality in the whole broadcast. The rest was a bunch of fame whores massaging each other’s egos while wearing $300K necklaces and pretending the whole circlejerk was actually a way to honor the deaf theater community, queer people who live in Ford Focuses, and/or that little girl who one day dreams of blah blah blah and this acceptance speech will change her life because me me me now cue the in memoriam with the choir singing “Spirit in the Sky” because Can We Jazz Up The Dead People Section A Bit? #ratings
Comedians are now worried about audience members charging the stage. Eh, we’ll see. I’m not sure Will Smith is that influential. And remember, comedians are professional complainers.
Awards shows and comedy don’t mix
We’ve gotten so used to muting and blocking, we think we can do it everywhere (and to anyone) now. We’re all sealed in our bubble of people who agree with us – and no one more so than celebs.
The real problem was Chris Rock was telling jokes in front of people who don’t want comedy. The celebs in that room just wanted to be feted with an uninterrupted massage. Don’t bring the jester to the court if the king can’t handle it.
The Oscars, like the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, is probably headed to a non-comedy future. Because comedy, by design, ruins phony facades. That’s why there’s an inherent conflict between jokes and awards. Jerry Seinfeld addressed this chasm in his acceptance speech when he won an award back in 2007:
Your whole career as a comedian is about making fun of pretentious, high minded, self-congratulatory B.S. events like this one. The whole feeling in this room of reverence and honoring is the exact opposite of everything I have wanted my life to be about. I really don’t want to be up here. I want to be in the back over there – somewhere over there saying something funny to somebody about what a crock this whole thing is…
Awards are stupid. Every real estate office has some framed, five-diamond president’s award thing by the desk, every hotel check-in has some gold circle service thing; every car salesman is a platinum jubilee winner. It’s all a big jerk off. It is. The hotel sucks, the real estate person is stupid, and the only thing the car salesman is good at is ripping you off.
And why? Because awards don’t mean a goddamn thing. It’s stupid, they’re all stupid. All of the award shows on TV. Honestly, it’s beyond me that we feel the need to set aside a night to give out these jaggoff bowling trophies six times a year, so all these people can pat each other on the back about how much money they’re making; boring the piss out of half the world. And if I hadn’t already won all these awards, I would not be talking like this.
Jerry called it long ago. We all know the truth: Will Smith is a pretentious, high-minded bullsh*tter. The Oscars is all about undeserved reverence and over-the-top honors for people who are professional liars. The people who attend should be mocked because it’s all a big jerk off. Remember: Scorcese didn’t win until The Departed. What?
“At your highest moment, be careful, that's when the devil comes for you.” That’s what Smith said Denzel told him. Of course, Smith made it seem as if he was the victim of some nefarious dark force. But I hear that phrase as a lesson about narcissism and how we all must monitor ourselves, especially as we reach the summit. When you’re the most full of yourself is when your ego is most likely to spin out of control and take you over the edge. Every movie needs a good twist: Will, the devil was inside you all along.
Anyway, next year, let’s have Martin host The Oscars. I can’t wait to see what he has to say about Meryl Streep’s hair.
The Rubesletter • by Matt Ruby (Vooza) is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
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