When recently I was frantically trying to see all 10 movies that had been nominated for best Picture, I never realized that the Oscars ceremony would so closely mirror the films and life. After they award show was over where Will Smith walked up to Chris Rock who was introducing an award and made a poor joke about his wife I was amazed. It is amazing how much we can learn about life from art and about art from life.
I had noticed from the stunning film The Power of the Dog how masculinity could be toxic. Phil one of the two brothers in that film shows himself as a vessel of toxic masculinity when he mocks the “art” of Rose’ son Peter who he clearly sees as effeminate and weak. Later he comes to change his views, perhaps because of his own latent homosexuality. Then Peter is driven to extreme measures to protect his mother, much like Will Smith at the Oscars was driven to extremes to defend his wife from a perceived insult. This may have been brought on by the fact that at a young age Smith saw his father beat his mother and always considered himself a coward for not defending her. At the Oscars he tried to be more manly and do better. Did he succeed or cruelly flop again?
I noticed that when at first Smith heard the poor joke about his wife that he was laughing and enjoying it. Then the camera switched to his wife who started laughing but quickly switched to disapproval when she realized what was being said. Did she communicate her disappointment to her husband? Did she goad him to act? That was not shown, but it was remarkable how quickly Smith’s manner change from jocularity to menace. It is also remarkable how quickly men can stoop to violence to defend the honour of their women. Do women like that? Do they want their men to get violent in their defence? Sometimes it seems so. I was surprised to read 2 New York Times female writers presumably, weak kneed liberals, say they thought Smith did the right thing?
I had just the day before watched the film The Tragedy of Macbeth. The tragedy was that Macbeth’s wife goaded him into killing the king and in doing so mocked his lack of courage. If that is not toxic femininity what is? When Macbeth hesitates to do the dirty deed she urges him to do it. This is part of what she said,
“When you durst do it, then you were a man;
…I have given suck, and know
How tender it is to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face
Have pluck’d my nipple from his toothless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I sworn as you
Have done to this”
Then after he kills the king but still has doubts, she mocks him and finishes hiding the evidence for him.
I realize that this entire Oscar incident was coloured by the ugliness of a black man defending his insulted wife. Many a black man has been cruelly emasculated by such actions. Violence is deeply engrained in American and Canadian societies. This is true even in societies where black men react violently against other black men. This is one product of centuries of oppression. Deep and persistent hatred has led to deep and persistent self-hatred. After all they learned it from their masters. What can be more cruel than that?
But to deny this painful and ugly fact, as we are urged to do by white supremacist pundits today, is to drive the hatred and resentment deeper where it can do even more perverted harm. Ugly truths must be faced. Denying them is not the way out. It just makes things worse.
What really bothered me about this incident at the Oscars was that about an hour or less later, when Will Smith won the award for best actor, and he stumbled through a tearful speech that included an apology to the Academy and fellow actors, but notably not Chris Rock, the audience erupted with applause. What are the rest of us (including children who witnessed it) to think? Are we to think that violence is the answer to insults? That after all is the American way (with Canadians not far behind). Is this not how cycles of violence perpetuate themselves harming no one more than the victims turned aggressors?
Art can help us understand such questions, but it offer few clear and definitive answers.