The news, social media and conversations on couches lit up Sunday night after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars. He did so after Rock told a distasteful joke about Smith’s wife - a fact that some have used for justification while others have argued the opposite. Still, it is not the actual slap or what led to it that has caught the attention of many. It is what happened afterward, which is to say nothing. Celebrities gasped, Rock recovered and not much later, Smith was greeted with a standing ovation as he was awarded the Oscar for Best Actor.
What should have happened? It’s hard to say. Smith could have been made to leave or he could have chosen to do so himself, for example. Regardless, the fact that nothing happened highlighted how we, as a society, view casual violence. It’s normal.
However, normalizing casual violence is dangerous. It implies an acceptance of violence and invalidates the victim, who may sometimes be a comedian on stage being slapped by a peer but is more often a romantic partner or a child. Normalizing casual violence increases the likelihood of casual violence and puts many without power in more danger.
Now is Will Smith slapping Chris Rock the most violent outburst seen in Hollywood or normalized by the world? No. It’s not even close. But it is an example - one that in a society of short attention spans, sits at the forefront presently. While it does, we should remember that our view of violence doesn’t exist in isolation. It has ripples. And so when violence does occur, we should respond appropriately with action.