Sociopathic Hollywood

Smith slaps Rock.

Backstage at another insane version of the Oscars:

Flunky1: “Who’s got a blank piece of A4 paper?? Give me a marker pen! Okay – who’s name do I write?”

Flunky2: “Any of the others – doesn’t matter!”

Flunky3: “Well, Bardem’s won an Oscar – so has DW.”

Flunky 3: “Cumberbatch?”

Flunky1: “Look, we haven’t got time to get the spelling right, okay!”

Flunky2: “So DW – we all know how Washington’s spelled.”

Flunky4: “But he’s had a Lifetime Achievement Award – that’s the end of his -“

Flunky1: “Alright, alright – so Garfield – “

Flunky2: “Gar- who?”

Flunky1: “Oh for god’s sake – I’ll write Bardem. What the hell! Someone’s got to get this award!”

Anyone who watched Will Smith’s acceptance speech, for the Oscar he should never have received, and didn’t notice how sociopathic his outpourings was asleep – or else a member of the Oscars Academy. Smith’s fantasising about his god-given mission to protect women – by means as sophisticated as belting someone in the face – speaks to a chronic hysteria which overwhelms a capacity for reason and imagination. Given one of the most prominent platforms in the world and an hour to think about it a mentally-stable Smith could have come up with an Exocet zinger to destroy Chris Rock – in the chubby-cheeked, cheeky-chappy retort which Smith is known for. Except he couldn’t. He needs his lines written for him. He’s an actor – a vessel waiting to be filled up with zingers. So instead he talked about “shining a light” on his cast and crew, about his mission to be a “vessel for love” – surely exposing mental health issues towards which we should be sympathetic.

But now to the faces in the audience – few, supposedly, suffering similar mental health issues. These were indulgent, licking up Smith’s tears like theatrical nectar – what exquisite drama! Smith apologises to all present – “awwwww” – but not to Chris Rock – there hadn’t been time for his PR team to guide him back into reason. The result? A standing ovation for a speech that implicitly and senselessly accused Richard Williams – Serena’s and Venus’ father – of subterranean psychosis –“Crazy Father – like me!”.

This was a collective sociopathic moment, a heaving expression of disregard for normal social physics, unqualified admiration for peak celebrity. As though Zeus had descended Mt. Olympus with a tear in his eye and an apology to be met with redemptive awwws and aaahs for raping and marrying his sister. Did you notice how quickly Smith’s innocently boyish face was darkened into a violent, gangsterish stare – the look of he whom he calls “the General” – and then just as quickly is swept out by the pleading look of the kid arguing to be allowed back into school? This was the psychological theatre that merely confirmed to the bejewelled, be-bosomed, self-awarders how much this minor Zeus deserved the award he should never have received, allowing them their reveries. Smith was left hanging in the wind, his insane ramblings fully on show – what else was he to do? The commentary has all been about the Academy’s failure to repress Smith and punitively deny him his award. No. Their failure was one of exposing him to this hyper-public humiliation.

There is a chronic sociopathic tendency in the world of celebrity self-awarding. Look no further than the ticker tape downpour of awards to Hollywood’s leading sociopath, Martin Scorsese whose starred films project his personal Catholic obsession with blood and redemption. His roundly awarded movies include such as Goodfellas which obliterate the line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to the point where we are asked to sympathise with a character who kills as indiscriminately as a Sandy Hook shooter. But, then, Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy had been lavishly self-awarded for its admiration for murderous psychopaths. Hollywood gave Scorcese premier awards for Wolf of Wall Street, which tried but utterly failed to be critical of ruthless, anti-social avarice and sympathetically portrayed a money-crazed man raping his wife.

There are other tendencies – including that for rewarding the sensitivity and complexity that might have acknowledged Smith’s difficulties: the films Crash (good people do bad things, bad people do good things); Doubt (the attack on certainty and simplification); Smoke (Paul Auster’s stunning investigation into truth and validity); No Man’s Land (surely among the top three anti-war films); and Brokeback Mountain (which exposed Hollywood’s homophobia). But the admiration for nuance that might have given insight into Smith’s condition did not extend to it.

Which tendency better defines Hollywood self-awarders? Historically, at least, the sociopathic, I guess. Today? Well, the Will Smith episode raises serious questions. Perhaps, once the hysteria dies down, an intelligent film-maker will pen something serious about the impact of celebrity on mental health (Birdman?).

And they danced on into the night….

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