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For perhaps the first time in 30 years, something interesting happened at the Oscars. Mr Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to King Richard actor, struck a Mr Chris Rock, a noted American comedian.
Presenting an award at the ceremony on Sunday, Mr Rock made an ungallant joke about Mr Smith’s wife, who was in the front row alongside her husband. Mr Rock and Mr Smith have a long-running feud over something or other that is not very important in the grand scheme of things.
Mr Smith marched on stage and struck Mr Rock. On returning to his seat, Mr Smith remonstrated with Mr Rock. Expletives were involved. Twenty minutes later, Smith won the best actor award and, this being Hollywood, burst into tears.
Overnight, news of the extraordinary incident flashed around the world.
The BBC Radio 4 news at 8am led with the Smith story, presumably on the basis that we all need cheering up in the middle of this horrible war in Ukraine.
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Twitter went into outrage overdrive over Smith’s behaviour. Such is the speed of the news cycle these days that by 10am in London the more sophisticated Twitter consensus was that there had already been too many tweets about it and the coverage was becoming boring. This is an unrealistic position, sadly. Such is the hunger for good, amusing or quirky news amid the gloom that there are several days of coverage still to go. Columnists will hunt for new and increasingly implausible angles. Features executives on newspapers will cast around for something, anything, to say about this on their pages.
You may feel the need to join in. If you haven’t got an immediate “hot take” on the Will Smith incident it’s possible you feel left out and confused. Fear not, here is the Fleet Street guide to preparing your own column on this major news event.
There are a wide range of approaches you can adopt.
1) The “OMG did you see what literally just happened?” quick hit.
Before the internet this classic option would have, repeated several times, got some tabloid and mid-market columnists and analysts through 48-72 hours. The writer is simply noting, over and over again, that something extraordinary happened, and pointing at it. Unfortunately, the speed of the contemporary news cycle is such that if you want to get this take in it will have to be on your website within five minutes of the incident. It has a shelf-life of about 90 minutes, or less.
2) The “oh what a terrible role model” angle.
A media staple as old as the printing press. Smith is a global super star. He is exceedingly famous for playing himself very effectively in all sorts of films, including Independence Day, Men in Black, and quite a few others you’ll have to look up, including the tragic one with the homeless dad trying to train as an accountant. Surely, you might ask, Smith should be setting a better example to young men who might get the wrong idea? In this mixed up world they need role models. If any young men were watching the Oscars, which seems unlikely, or they were exposed to any of the coverage, who knows where it might lead. They could be radicalised, becoming inspired to storm the stage and setting about random comedians if they feel they, or their girlfriend, have been disrespected during an awards ceremony. This option also includes the potential for older columnists to write poignantly about the golden age of Hollywood and hymn perfect gentlemen such as Jimmy Stewart, Sidney Poitier and Gene Kelly who would have never for a moment… etc.
3) The “why is this getting so much coverage?” column.
A contradiction in terms. You’re adding to the wall to wall coverage of a story you think is getting too much coverage. But for the columnist wanting to sound like a counterintuitive, sceptical type this could be the ideal way to cover the story. To be deployed 48 hours in, if the editor isn’t looking.
4) The mildly annoyed feminist analysis.
There are several ways to tackle this from a feminist perspective. How does Mrs Smith – “no, she has a name, say it, it’s Jada Pinkett Smith” etc – feel about this? Does she really need her macho man husband defending her honour as though it’s flinging out time at the Queen Vic pub in EastEnders and some scumbag male has questioned her honour? She can stand up for herself. Jada is a strong career woman. Alternatively, you can choose to make this the fault of Jada Pinkett Smith. Don’t for a second say so directly. But there’s clearly (is there?) something dysfunctional going on when Smith feels he has to demonstrate his affection in this fashion, by striking another man. The dynamic in the Smith-Pinkett-Smith household merits examination, or perhaps it doesn’t, but you can kick this around for 800 words or so.
5) The desperate Saturday or Sunday newspaper columnist.
Infuriatingly for Weekend and Sunday correspondents, this story happened late on a Sunday. That leaves almost a week until the next publication date. There will be little left to say. History suggests certain columnists will be undeterred and will pitch in regardless. You might consider the incident in the context of American screen violence or trends in global communication. Or there’s Will Smith’s dreadful dinner jacket to deal with, because Chris Rock in a velvet smoking jacket was far better dressed in a classic Hollywood style that reminded you of Jimmy Stewart, and Sidney Poitier… etc.
Or there could be something left over on how it all looked very silly with a real war going on.