Be Like Chris Rock

You’ve probably seen it all: Will Smith’s onstage jab at Chris Rock.

It was one those rare moments in life that seem almost staged. That was not the case. In response to a joke Rock told about Smith’s wife—the comedian mockingly congratulated Jada Pinkett Smith on starring in “G.I. Jane II,” an apparent reference to the star’s shaved head and recently-made-public struggle with hair loss—Smith strode onto the Oscar stage and delivered a single, firm, right-handed slap to Rock’s face before returning to his seat and shouting several expletives at the host.

James Vincent Michael O’Brien (“Jomboy”) is the best source for an in-depth breakdown of the entire incident.

It’s not exactly clearThe role that the Smith Slap plays in the culture wars is unclear, sides are already being taken. Is Smith won Best Actor for his performance later in the night. King RichardHe is a role model of masculinity and strength, who defends his wife’s honor. He isn’t a Hollywood star who won’t laugh at a joke. Rock is Rock being assaulted because he dares to break Hollywood’s restrictions on freedom of speech? Did he deserve what he got for mocking someone who had a medical problem?

Sincerely, none of this matters to me. More interesting than the actual slap is what occurred immediately afterwards.

Rock shows how he handled being assaulted by one of Hollywood’s biggest stars during an unscripted incident. He doesn’t flinch. He does not respond and doesn’t make excuses. He actually laughs at how ridiculous the moment was—”Will Smith just slapped the shit out of me” is now one of the most quotable lines in Oscars history—and then he just…gets on with the show. He is unflappable and seems unintimidated.

Chris Rock won Oscars slapfight. He won it by refusing to escalate the violence and by refusing to ask an authority figure to step in on his behalf—there was no call for “security” and he appears not to be pressing chargesSmith.

He stood up, and he told a joke (pretty stupid) that could offend others. His words were punished. He then continued to do his job, announcing who the best documentary nominees were.

Smith is not exempt from responsibility. It is not a good idea to resort to physical violence when responding only to words. Too often though, those who use provocative or potentially offensive speech to get away from their target are doing so only in order to run to authorities and the Twitter mob. The restraint and good humor demonstrated by Rock should be a role model for those who want to defend free expression from bullies on the right and the left—and from whichever side of the culture war ends up claiming Smith.