By now, surely everyone and their mother has seen the video. All the facts are in, and the peanut gallery has had its say. Still, I’d like to provide a brief recap. While at the Moscow premiere for Men in Black III (Which is currently unseating The Avengers from its number one spot at the North American box office), Big Willie shoved and smacked an overly affectionate reporter. The target of Smith’s aggressions was Ukranian Reporter Vitalii Sediuk, who embraced and then attempted to forcibly kiss Smith.
As with every celebrity scandal these days, reactions from both the public and the news media were instantaneous. Smith, an ardent supporter of gay rights and same sex marriage, was labeled by some as both hypocrite and a homophobe. The Box Office performance of Will’s latest blockbuster seems to indicate that most people have recognized this small blip on the tabloid radar for the non-event that it is. That’s a good thing. However, as a Hip-Hopper and movie buff, I’m not prepared to let Will’s critics off the hook so easily. If they can take him to task for a perceived transgression, I can take them to task for being a bunch of overcompensating, reactionary idiots.
First and foremost, bringing homophobia and gay rights into this is utterly absurd. Will physically resisted the advances of a complete stranger. He pushed his attacker away and gave him a light slap on the cheek. He rightly reacted out of instinct and a sense of personal violation. His superstar status requires that he maintain a certain level of self-control, and react accordingly to displays of affection from his adoring public. However, he is not required to sit passively by and be a victim of random physical assaults from the paparazzi.
There is also the school of thought that suggests that Will Smith should have respected Vitalii Sediuk’s culture. Sediuk is, after all, Ukranian. Kisses on the cheek are considered a customary greeting where he is from. Close examination of the video in question shows that Smith had no problem with that, as it certainly wouldn’t have been the first time he’s seen that. But Vitalii didn’t simply kiss Will on the cheeks. He grabbed the back of his neck and attempted to kiss him square on the lips. That was intentional, and goes well beyond the parameters of a customary greeting. For Vitalii and Smith’s detractors to pull the “cultural differences” card is both dishonest and cowardly.
Yet another issue is the prankster subculture which has changed the face of American humor in the past decade and change. Performers like Sacha Baron Cohen, as well as shows liked Punk’d and Jackass, have taken the hidden camera/practical joke format well beyond its logical extremes. Nothing is off limits. Anything that garners a negative and/or embarrassing reaction from a target is fair game, especially if said target is a celebrity. Cohen has even brought a level of respectability to the form. He’s seen as a master performance artist and provocateur that specializes in exposing casual bigotry. Personally, such as stance is not only pretentious, but gives Cohen way more credit than he deserves. It’s merely justification for the mean spirited and voyeuristic turn that American humor has taken. Now, Vitalii Sediuk can conveniently use such pretense as an excuse for his shenanigans.
While I’m not the biggest fan of his work, my respect for Will Smith only increases with time. He is the living embodiment of the American dream as seen through the eyes of Hip-Hop. Hell, he is Hip-Hop. If anything, he showed great restraint in this instance, disproving the idea that all rappers are violent homophobes. He could’ve blacked dudes eye, which would’ve been totally justifiable under the circumstances. Instead, he left the pin in the grenade and gave dude a “love tap” (no pun intended) to let him know never to cross that line again. Bravo, Fresh Prince. You are a testament to the idea that rappers can keep it hood while keeping their composure at the same time.
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