Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 03/30/22

Plot twist at The Oscars. Nobody saw it coming – especially Chris Rock – when Will Smith hauled off and belted (okay, slapped; This wasn’t exactly a fight scene from Ali) the comedian for ad-libbing a relatively mild joke about his wife Jada Pinkett which he initially laughed at. Apparently, Smith (after deciding “Hey! That’s not funny!) assumed Rock knew about Jada’s struggle with alopecia because, well, doesn’t everyone know everything she brings up on her, I guess, smash-hit Facebook show Red Table Talk – especially that episode in 2018 when she first told viewers about her condition. Well, apparently, Rock – like almost everyone else – didn’t know because, let’s be honest, most people probably aren’t even aware that the show exists. Yet, of course, the Smiths seem to think that everyone hangs on every word they say.

In any event, from the ladies of The View to Candace Owens, the incident has all the talking heads talking. The best take, I think, has come from former second-rate comedian-turned-first-rate social commentator Russell Brand who expressed compassion for all involved (despite my sarcastic tone I, essentially, agree with that) while noting that the incident does sort of signify how The Oscars – and, really, Hollywood itself – is falling apart. More after the video.

So, yes, don’t judge. That’s true. All of us have had moments we wish we could take back. I, personally, do feel that Smith was clearly in the wrong but that doesn’t make him a bad person. He’s a talented man who I believe has a good heart. I wish him well in getting the help he needs and getting through this. As for Rock, I don’t see that he did anything wrong. A comedian tells jokes and this one, in my view, wasn’t really over the line. Even if it was, we simply can’t have people walking on stage to pop comedians who say things they don’t like.

Moving on to Brand’s larger point, his question “Why are we even having Oscars?” is a good one. As is why are we watching? – or, more to the point, why are so few of us watching?

IMHO, Oscar’s declining audience is a direct reflection of Hollywood’s declining respect for its audience. People watch movies to be entertained. It’s fine and good to challenge moviegoers with perspectives they may not have considered – but to smugly spit on their basic values with such regularity is another matter. And this goes beyond the nearly uncountable number of self-important award ceremonies that ignore movies people have actually, you know, seen and liked in favor of little-watched films that very often punch down at the very people they then expect to cheer them on.

I agree with Brand when he declares “I didn’t even like the swearing!” that followed as Smith sat back down after his act of violence. BTW,  you can bet that had he been an offended non-celebrity seat filler and not an elite celebrity his (bleep) would have been out of there and in police custody (instead of, a short time later, receiving a standing ovation and being handed a trophy).

But, I also have to add, I’m not too fond of swearing in movies either. I mean it’s not like Hollywood won’t censor words. There are some words you are absolutely not allowed to say – and with good reason. They coarsen society and, with good writing, you can tell the same story without resorting to them. Unfortunately, the coarsening of society (which exists side-by-side with Cancel Culture) has become something that Hollywood simply does. The industry no longer provides an escape from the world but -with the ubiquity of devices and social media – is the world we need escaping from.

I’ll add one more thing. I write this as someone who loves movies and storytelling in general. I love how they have to power to lift us up and get us through challenging times (and, God know, these are challenging times). Unfortunately, the industry has become an oil can rather than a fire hose – Take Disney. Please. The company has the gall to insinuate itself into the Florida politics with regard to a Parents’ Rights bill that, quote, “prohibits school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying parent about specified information or that encourage student to withhold from parent such information; prohibits school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification & involvement in critical decisions affecting student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being; prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels; requires school districts to notify parents of healthcare services; authorizes parent to bring action against school district to obtain declaratory judgment; provides for additional award of injunctive relief, damages, & reasonable attorney fees & court costs to certain parents.” The so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill” actually doesn’t say gay and is clearly about respecting parents as being an integral part of the process of determining what their kids are taught in school.

Meanwhile, a Disney exec is apparently making it her mission to ensure that LGBTQIA characters and themes are put forth in nearly all the company’s entertainment output. A lot of parents – who have supported Disney over the years and don’t want their kids to be anti-anybody – are, nonetheless, likely to deem that agenda inappropriate. Disney+ may find itself minus a lot of subscribers. Maybe they can pick them up in China where the company’s social conscience about human rights appears to be far less acute.

Hypocrisy, double standards and arrogance have, unfortunately, come to rule the Big Media companies. The Oscars merely reflect that. Change is coming.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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