Toxic masculinity keeps intruding on life.
It turns athletes into gladiators, politicians into fools, Ukraine into rubble. And now it has distracted from the Academy Award telecast.
This was headed toward a feel-good story. After three straight no-host years, it had three hosts and rippled with humor. After exiling the best-song nominees last year, it had big-deal performances from Beyonce and Billie Eilish and Reba McEntire and more. After years of white-male dominance, it would have a Black best-actor winner (Will Smith) and a Black Latina supporting-actress winner (Ariana DeBose); for the second straight year, a woman would be named best director (Jane Campion) and a woman-directed film would be best-picture (“Coda”).
This was a bright night, at the end of a long, gloomy winter. Then came the toxic-macho moment.
Chris Rock told a mild joke; noting Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head, he said he’s “looking forward to GI Jane II.” That was a minor reference to a film in which Demi Moore had a shaved head. It deserved, at most, a chuckle; instead, Smith walked onstage and hit Rock. When he got back to his seat, he shot some F-words, which were muted from viewers’ ears.
Ironically, Smith was soon called back onstage as the well-deserved best-actor winner, for his terrific work in “King Richard.” He apologized to the Academy (but not to Rock) and made tearful references to “protecting my family.”
That might sound admirable, at first. Jada Pinkett Smith has a condition called alopecia, which causes hair loss. By one view, Smith was in the tradition of guys nobly defending their wives.
Except, that’s a few decades (or a few centuries) outdated. We’re not in an era that has quick-fisted guys defending damsels in distress. Jada Pinkett Smith can defend herself; she’s a smart, skilled person — smart enough to know you don’t take a swing every time someone tells a mild joke.