It’s virtually impossible to escape talk about the incident between Chris Rock and Will Smith at Sunday’s Oscars. Rock told a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, from the stage. Will Smith got up from his seat, walked onstage, slapped Rock hard across the face, and then returned to the audience. They exchanged comments, and then Rock went on with the show. Normally this is the kind of thing John McWhorter and I might discuss, but we’ve pushed back our regularly scheduled conversation by a week. By then, this may well be old news.
Luckily, someone stepped up to the plate to put “the slap” in context, and that someone is TGS fan favorite Clifton Roscoe. As Clifton sees it, the Smith-Rock affair may speed along a backlash against progressive policies and attitudes that is already well underway. If Republicans perform as well as many people think they will in the midterms, we may see Clifton’s views confirmed.
And I am, of course, interested in what all of you have to say. Weigh in on woke backlash and “the slap” in the comments!
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I didn’t watch the Oscars, but I heard about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock on Sunday night. I couldn’t believe the initial news reports. It made no sense for Will Smith to do something so self-destructive on what should have been one of the best nights of his career. But the video didn’t lie. Will Smith had behaved badly in response to a lame joke.
Reactions to “The Slap Heard Around the World” have been all over the map. While some have condemned Chris Rock for an insensitive joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair, the consensus seems to be that Will Smith’s actions were inexcusable. Here’s an excerpt from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s response on his Substack page:
When Will Smith stormed onto the Oscar stage to strike Chris Rock for making a joke about his wife’s short hair, he did a lot more damage than just to Rock’s face. With a single petulant blow, he advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community.
Kareem’s view reflects that of many other black people who were shocked by Smith’s actions. What does it say when even a highly successful black man with a nice-guy reputation can be so easily triggered into acting the fool at the worst possible time? My take is that Smith’s meltdown may add momentum to a cultural, ideological, and racial backlash that was slowly brewing before the George Floyd uprising but has gained momentum since then. It’s not hard to connect the dots and find signs of this backlash across America.
Progressive prosecutors, like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Kim Foxx in Chicago, Kim Gardner in St. Louis, and Alvin Bragg in Manhattan, are getting strong pushback against what many say are “soft on crime” policies. Chesa Bouldin in San Francisco and George Gascón in Los Angeles are facing recall efforts. Paul Howard lost his reelection bid in Atlanta and was replaced by a new prosecutor, Fani Willis, who has taken a tougher stance toward crime. Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore is facing federal felony charges. She's up for reelection this year, so who knows if she'll win a third term?
Black Lives Matter has been exposed as the farce many of us knew it was. We hoped it would fade away quietly, but it has imploded in response to a leadership vacuum and questions about how it handles its finances. New York State Attorney General Letitia James ordered the Black Lives Matter Foundation to stop seeking donations in New York in July of 2020. Her counterparts in California and Washington State have taken similar actions.
Public support for BLM has been fading since the summer of 2020. People who bought into the concept that black lives matter were turned off by the civil unrest, riots, and looting that took place across America. Here’s a deep dive into polling data that illustrate the trend.
The NAACP and the National Urban League are still raking in cash, but not many people are paying attention to them. Their legislative priorities (e.g. policing reforms, criminal justice reforms, new federal voting rights laws) have stalled out in Washington, and Republicans at the state level are passing laws they oppose. These include allowing citizens to carry concealed firearms without permits, new voting integrity laws opponents say are voter suppression laws, and bills that give parents more visibility and input into what’s being taught in publicly-funded K-12 schools.
Mayors have felt the pushback as well. Keisha Lance Bottoms grew weary of the fight and decided not to seek a second term as Atlanta’s mayor. Andre Dickens, Atlanta’s new mayor, has managed to fend off an attempt by Buckhead residents to form their own city. He has sent a clear signal that he understands their concerns about crime and will take steps to address them. Jenny Durkan decided not to seek a second term in Seattle. Bruce Harrell, a black man who promised to address Seattle’s crime and quality of life issues, replaced her.
A referendum to disband Minneapolis’s police department and replace it with a vaguely defined new public safety department was voted down, even though preliminary polling suggested it would be approved. Some of Minneapolis’ most “woke” city council members were voted out of office. Mayor Frey, who at one point seemed to be on the side of “defund the police” activists, is singing a different tune today. So is London Breed in San Francisco. Eric Adams won New York City’s mayoral election by positioning himself as an ex-cop who’s tough on crime. Mayors around the country, including those in “progressive” cities, are being forced to respond to crime and quality of life issues they ignored before.
K-12 education is a flashpoint as well. Several “woke” members of San Francisco’s school board were recently recalled because they seemed to be more interested in renaming schools than getting kids back into classrooms. Glenn Youngkin’s pushback against "woke" school boards contributed to his successful gubernatorial campaign in Virginia. He and Winsome Sears, Virginia’s new lieutenant governor, are unapologetically right-of-center.
This article from The Hill suggests that some progressive candidates are shying away from the term “progressive” and are now calling themselves “populists.” Here’s an excerpt:
They’re pushing for environmental reforms, embracing single-payer health care and calling for more government assistance. But increasingly, many are reluctant to call themselves “progressives.”
Left-wing candidates from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Missouri are shying away from the P-word on the campaign trail, in messaging and online fundraising, and even in media blitzes, signaling an attempt to rebrand their wing of the party as Democrats debate how to win the midterm elections.
All the above suggests that we hit “peak woke” somewhere between the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021.
There will be consequences for both “the slap” and “peak woke.” The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents Hollywood actors, have opened investigations into what happened Sunday night.
There's a lot of speculation about the potential consequences of “the slap.” Will Smith is unlikely to face criminal charges or lose his Oscar. His reputation will take a hit (pun intended) and AMPAS will “punish” him, but these things are unlikely to derail his career. Chris Rock's stock will rise. People respect the way he handled himself. His new tour is off to a good start and ticket sales are strong. AMPAS is in a box. They've been criticized for mishandling the incident. Will Smith crossed a very bright line in a very public way. AMPAS has to show that even an Oscar winner will face consequences when they misbehave this badly.
November's midterm elections will tell us a lot about the political implications of “peak woke.” Democrats are bracing themselves for big losses, but Republicans can still screw things up.
Here’s a theory for the gossip column. This is a heel turn to precipitate Smith’s return to music. The “nice guy” is going to release a thug album, and it will probably sell a million copies. Lest we forget where Smith came from, and who he is married to. It’s about show business more than it is politics. Best part is, everybody wins. Rock looks like the face, Smith is the heel, Jada is still married to a thug who keeps it real, in fact she turned the nicest nice guy rapper ever. I couldn’t have written it better myself.
Enlightening and deep analysis as always Mr. Roscoe. I have two thoughts:
First, While we may be seeing political revolts against the woke ideology, is it meaningful in a era where business and capital trumps political power? I've long been concerned with this. Examples include Halliburton's out-sized impact on our war footing in 2003 or, separately, the way that business provide better services during a disaster than FEMA. Essentially, American governance is weak and faltering in the shadow of our industries and culture.
A recent post on Wesley Yang's substack, Year Zero, by guest contributor Darel E. Paul, does a great job of laying out this argument and demonstrating how labor is subverting public policy. He uses the recent Disney LGBT quarrels with Florida as prime example, but has numerous other examples and a fairly deep case, IMO. (https://wesleyyang.substack.com/p/woke-capital-in-the-twenty-first?s=r). It may be that a shifting political awareness changes the economic realities eventually, but Mr. Paul lays out a seriously compelling case that all of this 'wokeist' behavior is simply a reflection of class war in overdrive and there's no guarantee that 'the will of the people' will win out over the will of a powerful minority. We find ourselves at the whims of an elite class which can only reliably be expected to eschew principled reason and rationality.
This leads to my second question: if we have reached 'Peak Woke' and we're entering the reactionary period, what will prevent us from backsliding into the exact opposite footing? It's easy to point at all of the bad stuff, but it's foolish to pretend that it comes from nowhere of crazy simpletons, and is not an expression of some sort of need or problem in society, even if that need has been addressed or attenuated. While I think it's unlikely that we're going to 'react' our way back to Jim Crow, or anti-gay lynch mobs, these are always dangers, and it's not difficult to find examples of people going from, "CRT is wrong to teach in schools," to throwing bricks or assaulting school board officials. These are difficult and complex topics and that makes it almost certain that a large portion of the populace will engage at the most superficial,and by extension, dangerous levels. I fear the backlash, and then the backlash to that; at some point we're going to tip over into absolute authoritarianism because people can't regulate their beliefs.
Do these seem like reasonable concerns, particularly if your hypothesis is correct?