The fiasco at the Oscars
An angry outburst over a personal insult is not a threat to our First Amendment freedoms.
Imagine this scenario: Bubba is walking down the street and sees Billy Bob and his wife Charlene. After a friendly chat about jukebox vandalism and water tower graffiti, Bubba mocks Charlene for a medical problem that has been causing her grief. Billy Bob punches Bubba in the face. Is this a free speech issue? Is this an example of cancel culture? Is this a threat to a comedian's ability to tell jokes?
No, it is not. This is a personal issue between the two men over Bubba's treatment of Billy Bob's wife. You may not approve of Billy Bob's reaction to Bubba's joke, but the punch is not a broader threat to artistic freedom or freedom of speech.
I do not hate myself nearly enough to watch the Oscars, but my social media feeds blew up the next day after a confrontation between Will Smith and Chris Rock. Smith's "wife" Jada Pinkett Smith has a disease known as Alopecia, which causes rapid hair loss. Rock joked that Mrs. Smith's disability qualifies her to be in a remake of "G.I. Jane" and Mr. Smith slapped him for it.
If Smith loved his "wife," they would not have an "open marriage" that allows them to commit adultery at will. It is somewhat difficult for me to take Smith's outrage seriously when he has no problem allowing other men to have sex with his "wife," or sees no problem with having sex with other women.
In any case, the slap led to a number of conservatives virtue signaling on social media about the danger this represents for free speech, with a British politician claiming that socially acceptable violence is no longer confined to self-defense and that a Rubicon has been crossed:
Now it’s ok for anyone to walk up on to any stage and smash someone in the face if they are offended by what’s being said.
This, obviously, is a misrepresentation of what happened. There have been many speakers attacked for what they have said. "Feminists" vomited on Joe Scheidler when he spoke at Indiana University three decades ago, and "Antifa" terrorists have rioted to prevent people like Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on college campuses. The heckler's veto is a problem, especially when backed up by violence.
But that is not what happened here, so we should chill out a bit. This is not a frontal assault on free speech. This is not a heckler's veto or an angry mob silencing ideas they dislike. This is not about canceling comedians for "offensive" jokes. This is a man who got slapped for mocking a woman with a disease to her face and in front of her "husband." Yes, Rock's joke was free speech, and it was also tasteless to do it right in front of the Smiths - like mocking someone who lost her hair due to cancer treatment.
This is not a broad free speech issue. This is a personal issue, that just so happened to play out in public. Not everything needs to be shoehorned into a broader political agenda.