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Oscars slap: the over-normalization of violence in the media

After Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars on Mar. 27, many have been criticizing the new normalization of casual violence in the media as willful ignorance of the fact that violence has been over-normalized for decades.

The 2022 Oscars, also known as the 94th Academy Awards, cemented itself as one of the most scandalous events of the year when actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had referenced Pinkett Smith’s shaved head—a result of alopecia, a medical condition that causes hair loss—after which Smith took to the stage to slap Rock.

Viewers were shocked, and clips of the slap collected tens of millions of views. In fact, The Guardian’s video of it is still top 10 on the Trending page on YouTube, multiple days after the Oscars occurred. Of course, this quickly evolved into the creation of hundreds of memes mocking the event, ranging from allusions to hit anime series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to recreations of the slap in popular video games like Roblox and Rainbow Six Siege.

Nonetheless, not everyone finds the joke Will Smith’s slap has been made into humorous. Janai Nelson, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund,  is one such person.

“I know we are all still processing, but the way casual violence was normalized tonight [at the Oscars] by a collective national audience will have consequences that we cannot even fathom in the moment,” said Nelson on Twitter on Mar. 27. 

Nelson’s tweet has since received over 150,000 likes, and thousands have left comments agreeing with her statement.

“Bad enough [that the slap] happened, but what is the message that was sent out worldwide [when Smith] was allowed to stay in the front row until the end, accept an award and make excuses? This is America today. There is no excuse for what 12 million people just witnessed,” one Twitter user said under Nelson’s tweet.

However, many more criticize Nelson’s post, stating that the normalization of casual violence is not as new as Nelson claims. Modern entertainment is proof of this. It is not unusual to find a TV show made for casual viewing featuring violence. In fact, violence is the entire basis of kids’ cartoons like Tom and Jerry.

More than that, violence is seen on the news all the time. The violence between Russia and Ukraine has been broadcasted since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war in Feb. Likewise, the attack on the Capitol in 2021 and the video of the death of George Floyd in 2020 are both examples of violence on TV. Media coverage has long since desensitized the nation to violence, and to say otherwise—that violence has only now been normalized after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock—is to be willfully ignorant of the countless victims of violence seen on TV every day.

This willful ignorance has unfortunately become very common, of which the casual disinterest of the nation to support victims of the Russian-Ukrainian war is a prime example. It has become all too easy for people to scroll past the clip of a missile in somebody’s home and look at the funny TikToks instead. Exposure to violence has made it casual—and maybe too much. The over-normalization of violence has desensitized us and made violence seem like it is not a big deal. As a result, many have become less inclined to support those who need it and alternatively watch videos about all the clothes someone bought.

In spite of this, we need to denormalize violence and give support to its victims rather than complain about a rich man slapping another rich man at a self-congratulatory event like the Academy Awards. Janai Nelson and others can still help victims of violence in ways that count.

For example, by bringing awareness and support to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and other organizations like them. The Save Uighur Campaign is another group that deserves attention, as it aims to raise public awareness to help the Uighur people in China. In addition, the World Food Program USA and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) help combat world hunger and provide humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide respectively, and the International Rescue Committee supports fleeing Ukrainian refugees through the provision of food, medical care and emergency support services. 

Overall, Janai Nelson was right in that the normalization of violence has consequences. However, posting on Twitter about it does no more for victims of violence than willfully ignoring violence when you see it on social media. Ukraine, Uyghur Muslims, African Americans and other victims of violence still exist and deserve help, and stopping to bring attention to them is still important, just as it always has been—it did not start with Chris Rock.

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