Cardinal Newman said that “it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.” The key word there is almost, because some things are worth more than gentleness. Honor, for one.
For those who somehow missed it, at the Academy Awards on Sunday, host Chris Rock made a crack about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head (Mrs. Smith has alopecia). Her husband Will Smith then climbed onstage and slapped Mr. Rock.
America was horrified. Yet Mr. Smith was just obeying the first rule of chivalry: if you insult a guy’s wife, get ready to throw hands.
To be fair, Mr. Smith probably should have struck Mr. Rock with a glove or something. Cold-cocking him wasn’t very dashing. And the language he used afterwards was a little crude. But it’s good to see there’s at least one man left in Hollywood.
Mr. Smith then won Best Actor for his portrayal of Richard Williams (father of tennis stars Venus and Serena) in King Richard. “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams,” Smith joked during his speech. “But love will make you do crazy things.”
He’s right about that. But clocking a grown man after he makes fun of your wife’s hair — or any other part of her body, or anything about her — isn’t crazy. That’s Manhood 101.
Yet Jim Carrey still traveled all the way from 1994 to say he was “sickened” that Mr. Smith got a standing ovation after accepting his award. “I felt like Hollywood is just spineless en masse,” said Mr. Carrey. “We’re not the cool club anymore.”
No offense but, if there was ever a cool club, Jim Carrey wasn’t in it. And Hollywood hasn’t had a spine since John Wayne bit the dust. But it’s at least sitting up a little straighter this week, thanks to Will Smith.
Richard Williams himself also piled on. “We don’t condone anyone hitting anyone else unless it’s in self-defense,” he said. But that’s the thing. Mr. Smith was defending something — something worth more than his career, his reputation, even his life. He was defending his wife’s honor, as any gentleman should.
Part of the reason folks are so horrified is that we have this taboo over real-life violence. Play violence is fine, of course. You can spend your whole childhood stealing cars and running down civilians in Grand Theft Auto, like I did. That’s okay. But if two boys get into a fight on the playground, they’ll spend the next six months in workshops on the dangers of toxic masculinity.
Nonsense. Ask anyone who’s been punched in the face before. It’s not that bad. Mr. Rock’s eyes didn’t even water up. He was fine. But going forward, he’ll probably think twice about making fun of a woman’s appearance. Job well done, Will Smith
In fairness, we don’t know if Mr. Rock knew about Mrs. Smith’s condition. And he did take the whole incident in stride. “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” he said. “Greatest night in the history of television.” That’s how it’s done. He crossed a line, as one does, and Mr. Smith helped him cross back over. What more is there to say?
Unfortunately — inevitably — Mr. Smith apologized. “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,” he wrote on Instagram. “My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable… There’s no room for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
Sorry to break it to you, Will, but this isn’t a world of love and kindness. And if violence is wrong, always and everywhere, then the people of Ukraine should throw down their guns and let Russia occupy their country. Obviously no one thinks that’s a good idea. Obviously it’s a little more nuanced than that.
Deep down, we all know that sometimes good men need to use violence to end injustice. No, you can’t pull a Bobby Hill and go around kicking people in the nuts because they look at you funny. Violence isn’t always the answer. But it’s sometimes the answer.
A friend of mine said that Mr. Smith was in the wrong because, “if you’re in comedy, you need thick skin.” Hey, no argument there! Yet it wasn’t Jada who slapped Mr. Rock. She turned the other cheek, as she should have. It was her husband who stepped up, as he should have. For once, all was right with the world.
Michael Warren Davis is author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021) and The Times Are Wretched (Sophia Institute Press, 2024). Subscribe to his newsletter, “The Common Man.”