Half way through Lent, and these days that have been filled with the violence of war in Ukraine, the women MP’s who have been travelling Europe seeking support are reporting rape and abuse of women among many other crimes ( report on Women’s hour this morning, it is the women, because the men are unable to leave the country). The war continues, with daily horrors brought to our attention, and we must not allow this to slide into the background, abuses, and evidence of war crimes are added to over and over.
Today though another form of violence has caught the headline news, Will Smith, prior to receiving the award for best actor publicly hit the comedian Chris Rock who was at the Oscars presenting a different award. The silence that fell upon the room was palpable, and there have been many pictures of the incident and reactions to it shared. What proceeded it though should surely also have caused shock and silence rather than laughter. Where is it okay to make a joke out of someone else’s struggle, yes comedians have insulted and berated audience members as fair game for years, but that does not make it right or funny! Jada Pinkett Smith has been open about her struggle with alopecia, and her choice to shave her head :
Posting an update about her “struggle” with the condition to Instagram last December, Pinkett Smith said she was coming to terms with the disorder and that “me and this alopecia are going to be friends … period!”
Hair loss has always been a sensitive subject, balding men with dreadful comb overs have been the butt of many jokes, but for women who don’t often loose their hair perhaps there is another depth to this, that said it is not right to laugh at anyone for their physical appearance. Maybe it is time for us to consider what is actually funny, and when the line is crossed into bullying. Fat shaming is now frowned upon, as is racism and many other forms of abuse, so why did Rock think it was okay to pick on Pinkett Smith in this way? Was she supposed to laugh along, hiding he humiliation and even the shame that rises from being the subject of such a joke? Could it be that Rock is a bully, hiding behind a microphone and a podium, expecting no come back for his “joke”?
Of course Smith’s reaction wasn’t the best show of his character, but maybe seeing his wife’s distress it was an instinct rather than a thought out response, maybe he shocked himself as well as others in the auditorium, who knows. Maybe it was the result of pent up anger and frustration, and yes maybe it revealed what many are calling toxic masculinity and that needs dealing with.
That said, they were both at fault, there is never just one side to any story, it is so easy to blame and to take sides without understanding, maybe both men left with a sense of humiliation and shame, and a taste of what Jada suffered as the joke was told. The public reaction however has been huge, people who didn’t watch the Oscar’s ( like me), all have opinions, some are applauding Smith and others are condemning him, a few are looking at Rock and at the “joke ” that so badly mis-fired. I wonder what all of this reveals?
Could it be that our humanity has been touched in a very human way, what played out through the Oscars ceremony was something we can personally relate to? To make fun of another’s suffering has long been a school yard bullying tactic, youngsters shunned in the lunchroom, always picked last, giggled about in corners know the searing shame of being excluded and laughed at. What makes a bully a bully, is it maybe something going on at home, a desire to be accepted, a sense of personal inadequacy that needs to make another small? I wonder if any of us have leapt to the defence of another and managed an over the top response? Maybe we can all relate to all of those in varying different ways. So before we criticise maybe we need to look to the speck in our own eye before sharing opinions and apportioning blame.
Violence and bullying are still alive and well, in situations of peace as well as situations of war, they should never be condoned, but changing things should always start with us.
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. Matthew 7: 1-5