When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars for mocking his wife’s medical condition, the internet entered a 24-hour-long concussive state. Almost everything was about the slap — at first jokes, then takes, then articles attempting to explore the depths of what happened, and what it means for society.
The slap is the perfect catalyst to make social media go completely insane, not simply because of the popularity of the Oscars, but because it involved a surprising, norm-defying event. The Oscars are well-known as being a flaccid, drab celebration of (in many cases) the celebration of a very specific kind of movie, one that critics call “important” or “a breath of fresh air” or something or rather.
These events have always had a degree of simulated chaos — mostly in the form of people reading out the wrong winner (there was also one streaker and Samuel L Jackson got caught complaining about losing) — but there was always a set tone and implicit agreement that things happened in a certain way in a certain order. The decorum of The Oscars — an increasingly meaningless circus of not-quite-qualitative evaluations — was always counted on the professional actors in the audience to not get up and cause problems.
Except Will Smith did, and he did so in a way that was equal parts chaotic and organized. He cracked Chris Rock in the face, sat back down and then yelled that he should “keep [Jada Pinkett Smith’s] name out of his fucking mouth” — twice! — and then went on to win an Oscar not long after. It is utterly incredible that this event happened, but also extremely obvious — this could have happened any time to anyone on that stage.
This could not have happened at a better time for internet chaos, as we enter the 54th cycle of cancel culture panic as people are “afraid of not being able to speak their mind,” by which I mean “people are afraid of not being able to speak their mind because of the consequences of doing so.” Twitter has also become a kind of moralism flywheel, where people are convinced that every follower is waiting for their judgment on a particular event, leading to plenty of people claiming that ‘violence is never the answer’ and demanding Will Smith have his Oscar stripped because he slapped Chris Rock.
Furthermore, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led many people to get angry that even an ounce of attention is diverted toward a man hitting another man when a war is going on. This was the Super Bowl for those looking to be morally superior…