The whole world is still talking about the altercation at the 2022 Academy Awards between Will Smith and Chris Rock.
When Chris Rock took to the stage to present the Oscar for Best Documentary, he made an innocent joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved head. "Jada, I love you," he said. "GI Jane 2, can't wait to see it!"
Jada previously shaved her head, a choice that was related to her hair loss due to a condition called alopecia. She actually looks fabulous without hair, a fact that very few people would disagree with, and she seems to be a very confident woman when it comes to her looks. But she did not take Chris' joke well, so much so that her husband Will Smith felt the need to stick up for her and run up to the stage to slap Chris across the face on live television.
Since this incident occurred, everyone has been chiming in with their commentary. Most publications and news outlets are siding with the Smiths, claiming that Chris' joke is completely inappropriate and shouldn't be tolerated. POPSUGAR published an article titled "Jada Pinkett Smith's Alopecia Is Not a Joke For Your Oscars Entertainment" in which the writer attempted to make it a racial issue, saying "hair in the black community is revered." LA Times also published a piece that had the phrase "We're done with black hair jokes" in the title.
It's unbelievable that we even have to say this, but Chris' joke had nothing to do with race. GI Jane wasn't even black. The fact that so many people are desperately trying to make this incident about race is indicative of a culture that is positively obsessed with skin color.
More importantly, though, this popular response to a mild joke by a comedian at the Oscars shows us just how sensitive our society has become and just how quickly the important role of comedy is being squashed.
Comedy Plays a Very Real, Useful Role in Our Society
On the surface, comedy seems superfluous and silly. Loud-mouthed people stand up on a stage and make fun of everything under the sun, from marriage to weight to politics. But comedy isn't just a shallow form of entertainment that exists in our society. Comedy is a form of expression that helps us all encounter our individual and collective suffering in a useful, uniting way. The only thing we are all guaranteed in life is suffering, which comes in all different forms. But that's the beauty of comedy — it helps us face suffering head on and choose to overcome it rather than cower away from it in fear. If we cannot laugh at ourselves every once in a while, then how are we supposed to get through this life?
Years ago, the brilliant late comedian Joan Rivers was performing a standup comedy set in Wisconsin and she told a joke about how she wished Helen Keller were her daughter so she'd never have to hear her speak. A man in the crowd yelled at her and insisted that it wasn't funny.
"That's not very funny!" he screamed at her from the audience. "It's not very funny if you have a deaf son!"
Joan didn't skip a beat. She walked towards him and said, "I have a deaf mother! Oh, you stupid ass!"
"Let me tell you what comedy is about," she said. "Comedy is to make everybody laugh and deal with things, you idiot. My mother is deaf. Don't tell me."
"Don't you tell me what's funny," she continued. "Comedy is to make us laugh. If we didn't laugh, where the hell would we all be? Think about that. Where the hell would we all be?" The crowd roared and she continued her set.
This exchange is what comedy is in a nutshell. A joke would not exist unless there was the butt of a joke. And inevitably every one of us will be the butt of a joke, whether it's about a characteristic we have no control over — being deaf, hair loss, etc. — or a choice we made in our life — who we married, what job we have, etc. Joan Rivers understands that comedy is the very thing that helps us overcome suffering and pain, and it is a uniting factor that brings society together through shared laughs and experiences.
Chris Rock's GI Jane Joke Was Mild, and Jada Should Have Laughed It Off
Nobody is spared by comedy; it doesn't matter what your political affiliation, age, gender, or level of fame is. You're always prime to be the butt of a joke. And if you're unable to take a joke about yourself in good stride it's often indicative of insecurity or unhappiness with your own life. Jada Pinkett Smith seems like a confident enough woman who is proud of who she is and what she looks like. At least, that's what it seems like from the outside looking in. But perhaps she's insecure about her hair loss — and that's completely normal and okay.
Imagine how much easier it would have been to laugh at Chris' joke, to accept the fact that yes, she does have hair loss, but there's nothing she can do about it so she might as well laugh and embrace it. Not only would Jada have felt better about herself if she had merely laughed the joke off, but she could have saved her husband the embarrassment of trying to stick up for her by assaulting a man on stage.
Censoring comedians from run-of-the-mill jokes simply because they highlight a characteristic about ourselves that we're insecure about is a surefire way to create a young generation of sensitive, entitled individuals who are so self-obsessed with their own image that they can't humble themselves enough to laugh at themselves.