This event seems to encapsulate a tremendous number of issues and questions that are brewing in our collective consciousness:
- What is privilege and who displays it?
- What is acceptable humor?
- What is an acceptable response in the eyes of society to hearing things you do not like?
- What is a masculine response to a joke?
- Does race matter in this context? Would people have different responses if either member of this were a different race?
- Would it be acceptable for Will Smith to smack Jim Carrey?
- Would it be acceptable for Mel Gibson to smack Chris Rock?
I kind of wish this was as simple as "Hollywood douche bag goes overboard" because then I wouldn't give it another seconds thought.
As a man I am often told that I need to calm down when I get excited. It is frustrating; I can't get angry about things because even the slightest display of anger is immediately tamped down.
But there is probably a reason that the masculine ideal is the stoic Marlboro man; someone who doesn't rise up unless the situation really calls for it. The reality is that because I am stronger than just about anyone I know a rise in my energy is intimidating. For all the talk about societal conditioning the reality is that as a man I have a certain amount of potential power and strength that few people ever get a hint of seeing because it is dangerous.
I see Will Smith and Chris Rock and I see two men who do not know the proper way to channel their masculine energy. Will Smith should have walked away or he should have just said "not cool Chris...". At the same time Chris should have smacked Will back - there is no reason to ever let a man disrespect you in public like that and not put up a fight.
While nobody intelligent blames Chris Rock for this, and many respect his calm and cool behavior, a number of men are thinking "if anyone had done that to me I don't care what happens I'm throwing down". And I think that is the correct response - fight back when someone crosses that line with you. Don't ever let someone think that they can just walk all over you.