Smith versus Rock

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Live TV still has the potential to surprise

I asked students in my social media class at Franklin College to write an opinion piece answering a series of questions concerning the Will Smith slap at the Academy Awards. I was most interested to see how they reacted to an event many of them saw live.

They had diverse opinions, ranging from “it was staged” to “Will Smith is a villain.” Many noted that Smith initially laughed at the joke before transitioning to a “death stare.” It’s not my place to debate the whys and whats of the incident. But here was something many of us saw live, on broadcast TV, without filtration from social or news media.

It was high drama on a live stage. Many in the audience, watching on TV and at the event, were stunned at first, trying to figure out exactly what was going on. Video soon started circulating on social media, including one unedited version distributed by an Australian source that contained more spicy language from Smith. Like many others, I looked at these to help me make sense of what I saw.

It was a return to when seeing was believing, and live television – a medium that became popular in the ’50s – was delivering killer content! While countless channels added commentary and context later, we saw the news unfurl directly with our own eyes.

Two of the questions I posed to my students were, “Did the slap hurt or help Chris Rock’s career? Did it hurt or help Smith?” But really, both questions are almost immaterial at this point. Smith later accepted one of the most prestigious awards for an actor, but from now on people will remember his moves, not his movie.

While Smith was reacting to a joke from Rock that many viewed as insulting to his wife, it’s not uncommon for comedians to roast someone at the Oscars. (In my younger days, I always felt a bit nervous when Don Rickles took the stage.) Even in the face of a classless comment, stars are expected to shake it off.

It’s hard to say what the slap will mean to either man long term. But moving forward, one thing is certain: I won’t let myself doze during other live events. To see something unfiltered … that is priceless.

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