Will Smith's slap mirrors degeneration of Hollywood, US hegemony
By John Wight
Hollywood actor Will Smith’s entire career is now defined by a slap that was seen and heard around the world. At this year’s Hollywood Oscars ceremony Smith, in the judgement of his critics, crossed a line by engaging in this act of violence against comedian and host Chris Rock over the latter making a joke at the expense of the former’s wife, sitting next to him in the bejeweled audience.
It’s worth noting that many of these same outraged liberals, aghast with dismay over a face slap, have been extending themselves in agitating for WWIII with Russia over Ukraine these past few weeks.
Anyway, taking a broader view, the degeneration of the Oscars into something akin to a slap (pun intended) stick comedy, mirrors the degeneration of Hollywood as the world’s pre-eminent engine room of culture, entertainment and ideas, which in turn mirrors the fading global hegemony of America itself.
When in its prime, Hollywood was more effective than America’s nuclear arsenal in cementing Washington’s dominance. This aspect of empire — cultural imperialism — is a neglected field of study, which only confirms how effective it is. Indeed, a key component of every empire is in advancing its culture and cultural ideas as universal ideas, thereby depicting non-dominant cultures and cultural ideas as regressive and backward.
American sociologist and media critic, Herbert Schiller, mined this subject to great extent. “For manipulation to be effective,” he once stated, “evidence of its presence must be non-existent.” Hollywood produces an unending array of TV shows and movies which are instruments of the very manipulation Schiller references.
Growing up in Scotland, I, along with my peers, was reared on a cultural diet of Hollywood produced movies and TV shows, conditioned as a result to believe in the mythos of America and the American Dream. It served to instill a desire to move there from an early age, which I eventually did in my early 20s. It is precisely from this dynamic that America has traditionally maintained its status as the most powerful and alluring country in the world.
It was a lie then and it is most assuredly a lie now. The difference is that today we live in a world that has awoken to the lie. This is reflected in the diminution of Hollywood as that engine room of dominant cultural ideas. A key metric in this regard is the reduced popularity of the annual Oscars ceremony itself. This year’s event drew 16.6 million viewers, the second lowest tv audience in the event’s history, thus proving that a once must-see event is today a mustn’t-see event.
Hollywood has increasingly been supplanted by the onset of online streaming channels such as Netflix, Prime Video, and the like. Its reach is nothing compared to what it was decades ago, and its increasingly moribund fare of franchise movies with their emphasis on spectacle and noise instead of story and character have dumbed down rather than elevated American culture overall.
It explains why the masses of the people in the US are so uninformed. Like mushrooms that have grown in the dark, they have been denied the daylight of knowledge and ideas about their own culture and society other than the simplistic ones they have been fed by those with a vested interest in the perverse, unjust and entirely unsustainable status quo that constitutes the grim reality of their existence.
This explains the growing traction of conspiracy theory in the supposed ‘land of the free’, reflective of the growing need to find answers to a world that is seemingly collapsing around their ears. It also explains the fixation with the lives of the rich and famous as a vicarious and temporary escape from a lived reality of struggle and despair.
As for Hollywood the place, it is a veritable dystopia — an opinion I express having spent too many years living there back when I harbored the ambition of establishing a career writing movies. Apologies in advance for the self-promotion, but I cover this period in my 2013 book Dreams That Die.
Those who continue to believe that America, per the propaganda, is a classless society, need only take themselves to Hollywood to be disabused of the fact. There you will be struck by the ocean of broken humanity that fills its mythical gilded streets. After just one day there not only will you be left in no doubt that there is no more a society defined by class than American society, but that every minute of a every day a fierce class war is raging in its towns and cities, with up to now only one side in this war, the 99 percent, taking all the punches and doing all the bleeding.
Ultimately, the outcry over Will Smith slapping Chris Rock in the face is confected and it is fake. Coming from rich liberal champions of the false narrative that America is beacon of hope and that ‘one indispensable nation’, even as it leaves a trail of carnage in its wake while bestriding the world like an out of control juggernaut, it also falls into the category of rancid hypocrisy.
John Wight is an author and political commentator based in Scotland.