I am irritated at all the weighing in on Smith’s slap, and here I am weighing in. But there is something to say I have not heard.
Will Smith is mega-famous and wealthy because we (the American/global audience) have paid him to star in big-budget action movies in which he portrays “the myth of redemptive violence,” which may be the true American mythological story/religion. Americans love the myth of redemptive violence—the story that all conflicts are ultimately solved by the overcoming of one form of violence by a more dominant form of violence.
It is specious for people who applaud an actor in his movies for using violence to “right wrongs” to be utterly appalled and stunned to see him apply the same logic in real life.
Maybe by showing us how wrong it feels for a real-life somebody to punch another for being mean and harmful*, Smith showed us something we need to see. He held up a mirror to our collective wrong-headedness about violence, and its redemptive “power” and “justifiability.” Maybe we shouldn’t reward Hollywood for spreading the myth of redemptive violence by so uncritically fawning over films that portray it again and again—especially to children. There is a difference between an actor portraying violence in a role and being violent in their real life. Of course there is. But it is the same story, and we have collectively bought into it. May we look at Smith’s confusion and wrong-headedness over the justification of violence and see ourselves.
Violence is sometimes a last-resort necessity within social institutions after the seeds of violence have sprouted and grown out of control. But it is never redemptive. Let’s get that into our heads. Violence sows seeds of more violence; we must try to stop sowing the seeds. And that starts with the myth/stories we tell ourselves.
Will Smith held up a mirror. May we be brave enough to look at it.
*The Chris Rock comment about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair should not be downplayed because it was a “joke,” any more than a joke about a disability would be permissible because it is a joke. It was mean and harmful and out of line.