Fame is odious. Celebrities would do well in honoring their heritage as entertainers by above all donning the performer’s mask. Let it slip, sure, didn’t we deserve a look at you the way you really are, but don’t forget why you’re here and your humanity is a commodity to us.
Ethically live so that others may ethically live but don’t get it twisted that you are some embodiment of ethicality itself. That you’re any authority at all besides a human one. You’re a blank screen, or better, unmolded clay that we want to see shaped and changed. Don’t ever think, though, that you speak for us or that your life matters any more than any other.
The difference between Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis raising 35 million for Ukraine and Will Smith apologizing for being Will Smith is a wedge between human decency and narcissism overblown. Country simple, Chris Rock was doing his job at the Oscars and Will Smith was there in the same capacity. It may be sound to admonish Rock for picking on Pinkett-Smith for her disease but it’s terribly simplistic to come away from some shit that happened on TV with just this maxim.
We should be making fun of her, and the lot of them, at any and every juncture. We should check our humanity, sure, and never punch down but would do well to consider the lives of who we’re talking about here. Discussions of our mores and compassion, and talking about the way we relate to one another could do a lot worse than end at the class line. Ricky Gervais would’ve done a lot worse to Will and Jada, and left them dumbstruck and scorched with the light of truth.
Nothing about any of these performers should be as serious as their performances are. Their work should embody and reflect us to us, though I can’t say The Slap hasn’t delivered there. The celebrities involved mirrored us as they should. They did what they’re paid to and we indeed are having a conversation about it. I just find our equivalence to these stars cheap and gross as long as they go along with it. That night, the joke and the slap were a continuation of roles that Rock and Smith have been perfecting and presenting to us at a price that we’ve already paid.
And now they’re living lives that they rightfully earned, but I don’t owe them any more humanity than I do Vince the veteran—pitched up between the Post Office and 7-11 every time I’m down there to mail out book orders and promotional letters. Personally, I respect Vince more than anyone seated in the Dolby that Sunday night and that’s because I know what Vince is up against. I see the price he paid and I know he’d rather I didn’t.
He’d probably rather be working some square or muggle and go unnoticed throughout his day of mundanely paying rent for walls and putting food on the table than to have it on display on the street—where he’s paying a different price due to the pressing priority of his mental health for living with what he’s seen and had to endure.
Chris Rock is funny first and foremost and sometimes even more so when his humor blisters pretense and reveals how shallow credited decency is. He’s not a commentator or critic but he can be. Will Smith is none of these things. He’s a non-event of celebrity bursting with ethics, vis-à-vis his wife, who is so often heard from and never seen she brings Steve Albini’s caustic description of Liz Phair to mind.
Ricky Gervais, on the other hand, is funny and truthful, if not always in that order, but regardless of his jokes or conduct, he has a proper and healthy disdain for the entertainment industry. Maybe not the industry, and its crew of working people, but of fame itself. A disdain that we as its benefactors and supporters should share.
It’s show business baby, and the higher the cultural pedestal we place these movie stars, the less we think of ourselves. I’m glad of the conversation we’re having, on: chivalry, masculinity, and punching down (or across the face). I’d just like to remind you that all of those tuxedoed and gowned actors are continuing to get paid for these ethical discussions. Right and wrong are usually beneficial to consider but ultimately what happened at the Oscars only extends the shelf-life and caché of the figures involved.
The last thing I think of when I reflect on my working-class hometown of Philly, where people like Vince are furtively toeing the line between getting by and destitute, is Will Smith. The real hometown hero is Questlove, ain’t he—wearing crocs to Hollywood’s biggest night, rightfully rewarded and recognized for his work, and then going back to New York without the need for comment or apology.
Like Warren Zevon said, life imitates Art far more than the other way around. Culture and celebrity are better when mutually exclusive and, though there’s nothing better than the real thing, Will Smith and the industry of fame ain’t it. He’s a movie star. Whoopty-fucking-do. He should save the tears for his schlocky roles before he takes credit for being Will Smith the human being, whoever that is.
Jim added this addendum following the breaking news that Will Smith has been banned from the Oscars for 10 years:
Minutes after press time for this piece I got word from the editor that Will Smith had been banned from attending the Oscars for 10 years. I read Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson’s letter announcing their decision as I was sharing this article with my people on the socials.
Everything from Smith’s motivation for striking Rock onstage at the 94th Academy Awards, to his prideful doubling-down and grandstanding equivalence with the Williams sisters, to his by-rote contrition and resignation from the AMPAS strike me as disingenuous. Obviously, I am not a fan. Far from feeling vindicated with the latest news, I’m as unimpressed with the Academy.
As an underground writer, I’ve been largely unfazed by Hollywood’s Biggest Night for a lot longer than 10 years. So, is this what it will take? For 12 days the antics of a humorless bully and his self-important wife have competed in news cycles with what could be Europe’s biggest humanitarian crisis since the 90s. The Academy could continue by stripping the awards of its anti-semite and rapist inductees. Now that would be a newsday.
Will Smith is a shill. I’m unmoved by the arts and mainstream culture, and the AMPAS is no exception.
As Deadline reported, Smith “could have faced up to six months […] and a $100,000 fine if found guilty on the misdemeanor charge [of assault] under California law.” I’d be happy to never see the Smith family again but will settle for us not talking about them this time next Friday. The best thing the Academy can do is keep the reckoning coming or at least have Chris Rock host for life.