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You’ve all seen it by now. The videos, the memes, the articles. Quite frankly, I’m surprised I still have to write about this almost a week after the fact. But alas, here we are. Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, yes. Chris Rock made a joke in poor taste, yes. Both things can be true at once. 

Neither man is justified in their actions. For the sake of being honest upfront, I think both deserve some time away from the Academy Awards. Rock bombed as host of the 2016 Oscars too, so at this point, it’s probably time for a well-earned hiatus. As for Will Smith? He effectively swung and missed on his best chance at international critical acclaim (he still technically managed to win Best Actor, astoundingly, on the basis of his merit).

Worse yet is the way in which both Rock and Smith avoided accountability. Rock reportedly ducked out of the theater to an after-party — shocker — while Smith gave a half-baked, long-winded apology. Suffice to say, neither addressed the situation head-on. I guess Smith did a day later, but let’s be honest: that was probably at the urging of his publicist, not his own goodwill. Does he feel remorse for physically assaulting someone in front of a global audience? Maybe, but I think he’ll carry the truth with him to his grave.

Meanwhile, Rock continues to grasp at straws. He failed to exercise forethought, astonishingly, for a second time as it relates to the Smiths. He made a joke once before about Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the 2016 Oscars, one that didn’t receive a warm reception from the couple. Forget about knowing that Pinkett Smith has alopecia — which Rock very much still should have — maybe don’t make the pair your punchline! Common sense, man. 

The issue, I believe, is the immense self-infatuation that these celebrities have. None of this was needed. Rock could have cracked a light joke, like all of the other presenters, read the award and moved on with his life. Smith could have (and should have) handled matters privately, perhaps backstage or after the ceremony. That’s how true professionals do it, guys. 

Yet what transpired last Sunday evening was an ugly display of the two grasping to assert their dominance. Smith, who is fresh off his turbulent private life being exposed to the world, perhaps wanted to send a message within his home. Rock, who is on the decline in comedic popularity, perhaps wanted to revamp himself among his peers. This is not an issue of toxic masculinity; it is about two entertainers unable to put their egos aside. 

We can ask ourselves: what the heck was Will Smith thinking? Why would he do that? We can try to cancel Chris Rock: he shouldn’t have said that. However, the truth is that we’ve enabled a culture where action without consequences is less reprehensible than it used to be. I mean, we had people who thought they could storm the U.S. Capitol and did! They assumed that because of their identity — racial, political & economic — they were immune from all earthly consequences.

Barring a longer discussion of this phenomenon in recent history, I would invite the reader to think of the last viral video, absurd news story or crazy interaction with someone out in the public sphere that prompted you to think “how in the world did they think they were going to get away with that?” It is a problem that permeates much of our culture, and one that is only amplified once you get closer to the seats of wealth and privilege in our world — whether that seat be in Bel-Air or Mar-a-Lago

Sure, rioters were tried and Trump was impeached, but the way in which that riot embodied and advanced the fractures of our democracy? You’re still feeling those effects today and may continue to for a while.

While we may not agree on politics or who’s at fault between Smith and Rock, we cannot argue with the fact that we’ve fostered a culture of violent dissent. We no longer “use our words” but instead stomp our feet louder (or, in the case of Smith, physically strike). The morality of discourse has become mistaken for what has now become the more attractive battle between who is the loudest. In the case of Smith and Rock, both of their actions seem to have achieved the objective of shock value.

I digress. All I’m saying is that if you think the actions of Will Smith and Chris Rock were completely unacceptable — and they unquestionably felt like they were — take a look in the mirror. This is just the latest addition to a growing pattern of self-absorption. Their type of irrational behavior is becoming more frequent and that, quite frankly, is the most alarming aspect of this whole situation.

Sam Woiteshek is an Opinion columnist and can be reached at