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Shattered Illusion


What if, instead of Chris Rock, it had been Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson cracking jokes before presenting an award at the Oscars? Would Will Smith on being offended have taken the same action to protect the honour of his wife? That would have been impressive indeed. What if a white person had hit Chris Rock? Or, if the recipient of the slap had been white?

According to experts, Will Smith’s act was technically a crime under, both, criminal and civil laws of the US. One cannot assault anyone unless there is an imminent threat of violence. Rock chose not to make a complaint to the police, maybe because he felt, in retrospect, that he had been truly offensive; or because he would damage his career prospects by taking on Will Smith.

The world waits to see what action the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will take in the matter, but it is a fact that the viewership of the Academy Awards went up immediately after the slapping incident. Given the nature of the entertainment business, nowadays, could such incidents become the new normal in television viewing? After facing the ‘all white’ criticism and working to correct that, the problem now is with people being bored with the ‘self-congratulatory’ ‘self-serving’ handing out of awards to themselves by celebrities. Nothing could be worse than that for an organisation and event that depends on viewership for its status and popularity.

This competition for eyeballs, irrespective of content, is what is increasingly driving the industry nowadays, particularly with the advent of social media. The definition of funny was sought to be transformed by eliminating bias against race, gender, disability and so on, but things have not exactly improved. Instead, comedy has become more political and personal, obtaining validity from the high-priests of ‘wokeness’.

Also, the distance that television and social media provides from the audience makes performers forget the element of physical proximity. Mostly, even so-called ‘live’ performances are staged with compliant audiences. Chris Rock and Will Smith got a bitter taste of reality in what is otherwise their largely make-believe world. Would Will Smith have defended his wife’s honour if the person on the receiving end had been a man twice his size? Very unlikely – he would have expressed his displeasure differently. However, in the moment, he chose to act like any other bully – be it in Los Angeles or Gurgaon. And, to be politically correct, surely his wife could have spoken up for herself! She did roll her eyes at the comment – perhaps that was appropriate and more civilised.