Opinion: Where is the punch line?


There is no obligation on the part of celebrities, actors, politicians, athletes and the like to be anything more than good at their jobs. Being a reasonably competent lawmaker may be more important than being an abusive boss or terrible driver. Being a skilled athlete may provide excuse for misogyny or at least counterbalance our reprehension at the idea. And the impressive feats of make-believe that thespians deliver entertain us every day. So, can’t we overlook their illegal and violent acts? Occasionally, anyway? It is painful when heroes fail to live up to our expectations.

Long-reigning box office champion Will Smith recently took occasion at one of Hollywood’s many self-congratulatory awards ceremonies to physically attack the host of the show, claiming that he’d been offended by a joke made about another actor, his wife. Smith has been quite forthright about the “open” nature of that marriage and the insufficiency, for him, of monogamy.

Four years younger, 4 inches taller and 57 pounds beefier, Smith believes his attack to have been justified because of the tone of the lampooning from the host, Chris Rock, which Smith may have rightly held had gone too far. One can empathize. Most of us don’t like it when we feel ourselves to be the butt of the joke. Likely the comedian, Rock, is used to being bullied since middle school and will laugh it off, but it raises the question, when do we have the right to violent recourse? Do we deputize ourselves vigilantes, fully imbued with the power of retribution? Or do we live in a civil space where we tolerate those that we perceive to be ignorant, even offensive, only using force through codified law? Do we scold Smith or Rock, or neither? Does what we say of them point to us?