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David Knight: Will Smith’s ‘punishment’ sends the wrong message to bullies

Will Smith poses with the Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role, which he won after slapping Chris Rock during the awards (Photo: AMPAS/ZUMA Press Wire Service/Shutterstock)
Will Smith poses with the Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role, which he won after slapping Chris Rock during the awards (Photo: AMPAS/ZUMA Press Wire Service/Shutterstock)

I have it on good authority that at least two teachers at an Aberdeen school deserve Oscars for dampening down the Will Smith effect among over-excited pupils.

Already hyper on chocolates, burgers and fizzy drinks over the weekend, kids turned up on Monday morning, after that infamous night before, with Smith mania buzzing in their ears.

Two weeks on from Smith ringing Chris Rock’s ears at the Oscars, where do we stand now? Did the movie hierarchy get it right with his punishment?

They were always kind of stuck between a Rock and a hard place.

Damned if they did, damned if they didn’t make an example of him.

There was not enough time to brush the shameful fiasco under the red carpet – in the time-honoured traditions of Hollywood studios – but they did their best, as it turned out. They should have made a stand, like John Wayne in The Alamo.

As fellow star Jim Carrey reportedly said at the time, Smith could easily have been arrested on the night. In a Los Angeles street, that is what would have happened.

Impressionable children are watching

I suspect teachers up and down the land faced similar moral dilemmas to those in Aberdeen.

Their role in offering some kind of moral compass over acceptable behaviour is vital as kids grow into adults. Especially as many parents cannot be relied on to do it.

Bullying is often a learned behaviour (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

You can just imagine impressionable children watching mum and dad jumping off their sofas shrieking “good on him” after Smith delivered his full-on slap to Rock’s mush. And, then, those same little darlings rushing out onto the school playground to try out the “Smith slap” on each other.

After all, Smith appeared to get away with it without intervention on the night.

I suppose that is a key challenge of this dilemma: a top actor at the peak of his profession is a powerful icon who sets an example.

Award shows are not the playground

Teachers keep a keen eye on playground behaviour as crazes come and go, some of which might actually be life-threatening.

I remember a craze on our school playground. Someone would get down on all fours and crouch behind an unwitting victim.

These playground high jinks were more like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie

Others would push the victim hard so he flew backwards over the crouching accomplice and landed on his back. Slapstick comedy if you were watching from a safe distance, but shocking and often painful for the unsuspecting victim

I was not aware that anyone actually broke their neck being propelled through the air backwards. But maybe our teachers turned a blind eye because we performed on grass rather than the concrete playground.

I doubt this performance had its roots in an Oscars ceremony; not one I have ever seen anyway. These playground high jinks were more like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie.

Punishment must fit the crime

Smith blurred fantasy and reality: heroes meting out violence with impunity for wronged damsels is as old a film script as they come.

In reality, violence as an act of revenge, punishment or humiliation should not end in applause, but in court. Victims of violence all over the world must have shuddered as Smith swaggered back to his seat, clearly brimming with self-satisfaction after his handiwork.

Would Smith have ever shown up to the Oscars again anyway, given the shameful pantomime which would surround such a reappearance?

Hang about any sheriff court for a few days and you’ll see a depressing succession of violent bullies – and they have all learned it from someone.

So, this brings us full circle to decide if the Academy’s punishment actually fitted the crime. Is a 10-year ban from the Oscars and other prestigious events as painful as it first looks?

Would Smith have ever shown up to the Oscars again anyway, given the shameful pantomime which would surround such a reappearance?

Like a priest who had just wilfully burned down a similar “holy” edifice – maybe his own place of worship – he could hardly return to the scene while the establishment was trying to rebuild the damage, and its reputation.

Will Smith struck Chris Rock during this year’s Oscars (Photo: Rob Latour/Shutterstock)

There was only one realistic punishment which would fit the crime for me, and that was Smith being dragged into court and his Oscar taken off him. But I do show mercy, as I sit in pious judgment.

Both actions might seem harsh, but I would have tempered them with suspended sentences. So, Smith could have been ordered to serve a few years of community service in anger-management clinics instead – with his Oscar only handed back after a similar period.

At least it would send the correct message to bullies who revel in this type of thing and whose actions are influenced by such disgraceful examples.


David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of The Press and Journal

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