No event in recent history — not Harry Styles in a dress on the cover of Vogue, not changing the green M&M’s footwear, not even the horny Beto O’Rourke tweet — has inspired so many brain-dead takes as the Slap Heard ‘Round the World, a.k.a. the altercation between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars.
To recap: while presenting the Best Documentary Feature award, comedian Chris Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, being bald, making a reference to the 1997 Demi Moore film G.I. Jane. (Pinkett Smith has been open about her struggles with alopecia, a condition that causes sudden hair loss.) While Pinkett Smith looked visibly uncomfortable by the joke, no one was so irate as Will Smith, who immediately leapt from his seat, jumped onstage and slapped a clearly stunned Rock in the face. In unedited versions of the broadcast, Smith, who was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for King Richard, could be heard shouting, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
The incident was not the first time Rock had publicly skewered the Smiths: although the three have been friendly in the past, in 2016, when the Smiths boycotted the Oscars for its lack of nominees of color, Rock made a joke about how Pinkett Smith had likely not been invited to begin with. Rock also made a snarky comment on the Instagram profile of Smith’s ex-wife Sheree Zampino, the father of their son Trey.
A mere few minutes after the slap, Smith won the award for Best Actor, giving a tearful acceptance speech in which he apologized to the Academy for his behavior (notably, he did not apologize to Rock in his speech, though he later did in an Instagram post he published on Monday.) Yet the incident caused an uproar on social media, which very quickly became overrun with terrible posts from people who absolutely had to weigh in on what seemed like a deeply personal conflict between two people that had been broadcast all over the world.
First came the celebrities. Judd Apatow tweeted (then deleted) that Smith “could have killed” Rock with the slap (he very much could not have), referring to Smith’s reaction as “pure out of control rage and violence,” while Howard Stern compared him to Donald Trump. “This is how Trump gets away with shit,” Stern said. “Will Smith and Trump are the same guy. He decided he’s going to take matters into his own hands, you know, at a time when the world is at war.” On the other end of the spectrum, both Tiffany Haddish and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (in a now-deleted tweet), leapt to Smith’s defense and romanticized the slap, with Haddish referring to Smith’s outburst as “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen because it made me believe that there are still men out there that love and care about their women, their wives.”
On Twitter, many people posed hypothetical alternative scenarios, such as speculating what would have happened if Betty White had been on stage and the receiving end of the slap. (Considering White has been dead for months, that seems highly unlikely.) Others started comparing Smith’s outburst to Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine, or saying that the slap was tantamount to domestic violence. Many zeroed in on a video of Smith partying and celebrating his win after the awards, arguing that the Academy had not held him accountable for his actions (on Monday, the Academy announced it would be launching a review of the incident).
While the Slap was undoubtedly a shocking moment, as others pointed out, however, the Academy has tolerated far worse than a single slap during a broadcast. Take, for instance, the Academy awarding director Roman Polanski (who pled guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old and subsequently fled the country) the Best Director Oscar in 2003, or nominating Mel Gibson (who has made numerous public racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic statements and pled no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge involving his ex-wife) for numerous awards for 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge.
“The Academy has tolerated a whole lot worse than what Will Smith did,” says Ej Dickson on this week’s episode of Don’t Let This Flop, Rolling Stone’s podcast about internet culture, which dissects the multifarious internet takes on the Slap.
“Probably almost every single Oscar in history for Best Picture could be revoked for the people involved with it,” says Brittany Spanos, pointing out that Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein, who was imprisoned for sexual assault and rape, has not been called on to give back his Oscar for producing Shakespeare In Love.
In addition to discussing the Smith/Rock fracas (and the subsequent social media brain-breaking), Spanos and Dickson also talk about Harry Styles conspiracy theories on TikTok, Love Is Blind drama, a misinformation campaign about a summer sex-ed camp, and the renaissance of Steve Harvey, who we name our Himbo of the Week.