By Tommy Druen
Avalanches are difficult to predict. There are a host of factors that go into the forecasting about them such as wind, precipitation and temperature. At the end of the day though, it’s all amount that one last snowflake, the one that makes the burden too much to bear. That miniscule snowflake can set into motion a path of deadly destruction. And even when meteorologists know the cause, it’s not like they can pinpoint where it started or how to prevent it again in the future.
We are all accustomed to pictures and videos going viral through social media. However, sometimes viral isn’t enough to describe what happens. Sometimes it goes way beyond a social media post and ends up being discussed on television, radio, at the office water cooler and beyond. To me, those situations are much more analogous of an avalanche than a virus. Of course, that could be because after two years, I’m not exactly in the mood to think about viruses when it’s not necessary!
Recently, we had another cultural avalanche. On Sunday, March 27th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held their 94th Awards Ceremony at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. Admittedly, as usual, I did not watch. In fact, I haven’t even seen any of the films that were nominated for Best Picture, although I hope to rectify that soon. However, I understand that the night started off in a typical manner with all the glitz, glamor and self-aggrandizing that has come to be expected.
The night took an unexpected turn, however, when host Chis Rock came on stage to announce the nominees for the Best Documentary Feature. While reading a joke that involved actor Will Smith, Rock looked over and saw Smith and his wife, Jada, sitting to the side. For those who are unaware, Jada Pinkett Smith, due to alopecia, has sported a shaved head since last summer. Chris Rock went off script and said he looked forward to seeing her in G.I. Jane 2. G.I. Jane was a horrible movie from 1997 that featured Demi Moore as a fictional woman going through intense military training, complete with a buzz-cut.
While I didn’t watch the show, like many of you, I have watched the replay countless times. The joke was clearly an aside, not that edgy, and frankly not even that funny. It got polite laughter, even from Will Smith. That is, until Will decided to take offense. Unexpectedly, he stepped up on the stage and slapped Chris Rock. At that point, most people were assuming this was part of the act. That was until Smith went back to his seat, no smile on his face, and began making expletive laced threats towards Rock, who was clearly stunned and close to speechless.
Cue the final snowflake.
In the time since, the avalanche has commenced. This incident has been featured on news programs, podcasts, news articles and everything else you can imagine. And we’re not about Variety or The Hollywood Reporter. As I write this, the New York Times has published over a dozen articles and op-eds about “the slap” in a mere four days!
Per usual, the most heated environment has been social media. Almost immediately, I began seeing people taking sides on the issue. It appeared people were determined to put themselves either in Team Rock or Team Smith. And, by golly, they were going to defend their choice!
When one of my friends made a post on Facebook on the issue, people began opining quickly. On one side, you had “No one should ever put their hands on another person’s body in any way that is unwanted by the other person no matter the circumstances.” That was in conflict with another person’s view that she would not just want, but expect her husband to take the same action.
Personally, my view is that it was a poor joke; perhaps an insensitive joke. However, clearly it was meant to be a joke and should not have sparked Smith to physically assault Rock. This would have been the appropriate time for a stare from Smith and a comment to the media afterwards of why alopecia is no laughing matter.
My opinion, like everyone else’s though, is beside the point. The bigger issues I see here are that when you look for offense, you find it everywhere whether real or perceived. And, more importantly, avalanches are unexpected. In today’s society, we often tell our children that they should be extra careful, more so than we were at their age, of what they do and say because of how it will be perceived. Considering I have now seen three different angles of cell phone footage of “the slap,” despite it being internationally televised, it is obvious that we live in a society where nothing goes unnoticed and there is no such thing as “off the record.” Reputations can be destroyed with one small slip up, as everyone now wants to be judge and jury as they view the twenty-seven 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows.
You never know what little action, mundane as it seems to you, may be a tipping point. For as famed naturalist John Muir said, “In all my wild mountaineering, I have experienced only one avalanche ride; and the start was so sudden, and the end came so soon, I thought but little of the danger that goes with this sort of travel . . .”
Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, a graduate of Centre College, and is currently employed with the Legislative Research Commission in Frankfort. He and his wife, Erin, reside in Georgetown with their two children.