How it happens

Speaking of overreactions, I think some of the commentary over what happened yesterday at the Oscar’s ceremony verges on the absurd. Admittedly, it was a shocking event – in terms of being totally unexpected – but it is hardly uncommon. What made this different is that two famous people were involved, and it happened on live TV.

Should the police have become involved? It falls within their ambit, but that would have been a mistake. Should Smith be banned because of this? Once more, I think not.

I read someone claiming that the sight of casual violence being normalised like that would have repercussions. To be honest, that horse bolted long ago. Both casual and formalised violence is on our TV screens every night. It’s part of the problem that violence, in general, has been co-opted for entertainment, and the more graphic, the better. Feel free to complain about that, but it started long ago. It doesn’t excuse what happened yesterday, but it puts it in perspective.

I may be a special case, but my first reaction on seeing the footage was a surprised amusement. I’m the cool type, and it’s rare that anything will get me het up. It was basically a bitch-slap, much like you’ll see outside a nightclub any Saturday night. Smith portrayed Ali once, and had he struck Rock with a closed fist, that would have been a different matter.

Smith has since apologised, which is appropriate. I’m surprised more people aren’t taking Chris Rock to task because of his insensitive joke.

I suspect that my view of this is primarily informed by my generation. I don’t know what it’s like for kids and young people these days, but I know there is a cultural thrust that wasn’t present when I was their age. I’m aware of it and largely sympathetic as someone older, but it’s not ingrained in me. I’m liberal by inclination. I weary of some of the didactic, tedious commentary, but I’m in broad agreement with much of it. Even so, it’s important to me that I think for myself without reference to a structured position. It’s my habit to reflect and reason things through, using my knowledge and experience. As for what I feel, I firmly believe there should be no filters on your heart.

Laying in bed last night, I was reminded of the times I’d been in a confrontation. There’s not been many since leaving school, and mostly nothing more than some fierce verballing and a bit of push and shove. It may be shocking to the casual reader here, but I never shied from these confrontations and felt quite invigorated by them. I felt like cleaning out the pipes, but times were different.

Back in the day, it was important how you did this. It shocks and shames me these days to hear of some of the violent episodes perpetrated in the pubs and streets. It was a matter of honour that you wouldn’t hit someone when they weren’t looking; indeed, you’d never king-hit someone from behind. And you’d definitely never glass anyone. It probably sounds stupid, but half the time, the confrontation would be ended with a wink and a yeah, alright. It wasn’t that serious.

Two minor altercations came to mind. In one, we were in a pub in South Melbourne, Cheeseboy and me and a girl. We were playing pool. A group came in and started making comments. I was happy to shrug it off, but Cheeseboy took offence. There ensued a verbal confrontation that threatened to become more.

In a very Australian way, I looked on with barely a word. I was supportive of Cheeseboy, but he had it under control and didn’t need me jumping in. In between, we continued to play pool. I was ready to back him up if it came to that, and the others knew it in my body language. In the end, it never went beyond the verbal. I may have said something towards the end. They went away.

I’m walking down Toorak road on a balmy Saturday night in the other incident. Beside me is a mate’s wife, who is about 60% deaf. My mate and other friends are following about 30 metres behind. We’re talking when suddenly there’s the sound of men yelling. They’re yelling at us, at my friend particularly, making all sorts of improper and inappropriate comments.

They’re in a minibus, stopped at the lights and leaning out of the window at us. My friend can’t make out what they’re saying and thinks it’s probably something fun. When I stalk off to confront them, she starts to follow until I tell her to stay behind. The men, louts in their early twenties and probably half-pissed are delighted at my approach. Watcha going to do, big fella? I hadn’t thought about that, but I was open to pulling them through the window and teaching them some manners.

The thing is, I didn’t think about any of this. It was automatic – much as it seems to have been with Will Smith yesterday. My body took over. I went to them, full of disdain and cold anger. I had no fear. No part of me had begun to question what I was doing. It felt right.

In the end, the lights changed, and the minibus moved off with the hoots of the men inside it. I turned and went back to my friend.

Nothing came of it, but something might have. Was it wrong? Part of me thinks you can’t let such behaviour go without acting – but then, I know a large part of that may well be my masculine ego. I think mostly I was shocked that people could be so disgusting towards an innocent and very kind woman who happened to be a good friend. My intrinsic reaction was rage. I couldn’t let it go unpunished. But this is me afterwards, trying to explain it. At the time, my body took over.

Perhaps it is wiser to turn the other cheek. It would have been wiser for Will Smith to do that. But sometimes, it just doesn’t sit right.

No excuses, no explanations, and that’s the point – right or wrong, sometimes things just happen, and you can’t know unless you’re there. That doesn’t excuse it. It’s just reality as we know it.

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