The Oscars: Different Kinds of Pain
Helen Gallagher would have liked the Oscars last night, I think.
Helen, my companion of 22 years, had two great passions in life. One was teaching the deaf and hard-of-hearing to speak. The other was a fascination with popular culture. Her feast day was the annual Academy Awards ceremony.
During those years, we accumulated a shelf of books on movies and TV and the Oscars themselves. But I never chose to look things up in them when I had her close at hand. She was delighted to revisit her memories and tell me about them, and I felt privileged to hear them.
In the late 1990s, we always stayed up late on Oscar night. Tom Snyder would invite Bonnie Hunt, David Steinberg and Gene Siskel to talk about what they had just seen, and it was always great television.
Remembering fondly, I watched the 1995 and 1996 versions on YouTube Saturday night. They still hold up.
The four would put a human light on what they had just seen. That was always the best part of the Oscars show: when larger-than-life-people showed us what they might be like inside.
Sally Field’s “You like me, you really like me!” Jack Palance, 73, doing one-armed push-ups to show he still had it. Roberto Benigni running across the tops of the chairs.
I remember things like that. I don’t remember the perfect speeches.
I know I will remember Will Smith slapping Chris Rock last night. Helen and I watched the two men grow up on screen, and we developed affection for them. After Helen passed 11 years ago, I saw them mature, and grow into the talented but damaged men they are.
“Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2’ – I can’t wait to see it.” That was the joke that Rock told that preceded the slap heard ‘round the world. Smith laughed easily at the time.
Either Mrs. Smith (who is bald because of the hair-loss disease alopecia) spoke to him, or he unilaterally changed his mind, and took it upon himself to make a very public point. The incident was foreshadowed by Oscar co-host Regina Hall making a crack that reflected on Jada Pinkett Smith’s public discussion of straying during the marriage.
Rock talks about his own infidelity and 2016 divorce on- and off-stage. “I was a piece of s–t,” he says.
Six years ago, he told other jokes from the Oscars stage at the expense of the same couple. Nothing interesting happened then.
After being hit by Smith last night, Rock seemed stunned, then recovered quickly. “Wow. Will Smith just smacked the s-t out of me.”
After Smith returned to his seat, and a shouted exchange between the two, Rock proclaimed it “the greatest night in the history of television.”
It will be great for Rock, most likely. A headline this morning in the Florida Sun-Sentinel: “Chris Rock – Will Smith Oscars Slap Will Energize Florida Tour”
It might not be great for standup comedians who make their bones “working the audience” or “owning hecklers.” If I was running a comedy club, I would station a large man near the stage from now through the foreseeable future.
Smith should be charged with battery. He’ll never be incarcerated. But if he’s not charged for a crime seen by millions, every drunk at every venue will be more of a threat.
It’s not entirely appropriate to smack a guy onstage and the only thing that happens to you is a standing ovation accompanying a Best Actor award.
But all that aside, we got to see two household names mix it up on TV. We saw an actor losing his temper and acting … like someone we know, probably.
Should Smith have done what he did? Of course not. Did we feel like we knew him better afterward? Of course we did. The question is whether we like what we learned.
Helen told me years ago that people should appreciate each other for who they are and want to be, not necessarily how they appear after life has kicked them around. Nobody is perfect, and within limits, our imperfections are what makes us human and interesting.
She learned about that in her tiny public school speech pathology room. The young people she worked with lived in a different world, she’d say, and it’s okay if we don’t understand it. They understand it.
“CODA” – Children of Deaf Adults – featured three deaf characters. The film’s backers reportedly planned to only hire one deaf actor, Marlee Matlin, who became the first deaf person to win an Oscar, for “Children of a Lesser God (1986).”
But she reportedly put her foot down, so the other two deaf parts went to deaf actors, including Troy Kotsur, who won the Best Supporting Actor award last night. “CODA” was Best Picture.
While the winner of the Best Actor award demonstrated his inability to handle himself under pressure, the deaf actors of CODA face tough odds every day. They live in a world where communication is a constant challenge.
They couldn’t even hear Rock’s joke.
I’m sorry Helen isn’t alive and at work to see their triumph. It would be a pretty big day for her and the kids today.
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