In Dangerous Times

Earlier this week Dave Chappelle was ending a show at the Hollywood Bowl when he was assaulted by a man who came up on stage and tried to tackle the comedian. The attacker, who was armed with a fake gun that contained a knife blade, was subdued by security as Chappelle finished his show. Ironically, during the show Chappelle had apparently just been joking about having increased security in the wake of the Will Smith-Chris Rock-Oscars incident, and Chris Rock–who was at Chappelle’s performance–came on stage and jokingly asked Chappelle whether the assailant was Will Smith.

We can tip our caps to Chappelle and Rock for their faithful adherence to “the show must go on” tradition in show business, but the attacks on performers obviously aren’t funny. The Hollywood Reporter has published a piece headlined “Nobody’s Safe: Dave Chappelle Attack Raises Concerns For Performers” that addresses the incidents that reflect the increasing risks involved in performing in public. The concern is that the invisible but previously respected barrier between the stage and the audience has been breached, and that performers now have to be wary of the possibility of being physically confronted by some lunatic every time they go before the public to do a show. While that is a risk for any live performer, the risk is greater for a comedian, who is up on stage, alone, and might just make a joke that some unbalanced person in the audience finds personally provoking. And the Chappelle incident, coming on the heels of the Will Smith-Chris Rock assault, raises heightened concern that copycats might be lurking out there, ready to charge the stage at any comedy venue.

Chappelle, who is a real pro, issued a statement after the attack saying that he “refuses to allow last night’s incident to overshadow the magic of this historic moment.”  I hope that turns out to be true, and that performers everywhere continue to perform before live audiences, albeit with enhanced security and greater attention to their safety. There is a certain magic in seeing a live performance that simply can’t be replicated in a Netflix special, and I would hate to see that lost. But if these kinds of incidents continue, I wouldn’t be surprised if some performers decide that live acts just aren’t worth it. In dangerous times like these, who could criticize them for being unwilling to take that risk?

Hollyweird

I haven’t watched the Academy Awards broadcast in decades, so I didn’t see the slap incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock that happened Sunday night. Of course, that incident ended up being the focus of news reports on the show–rather than who actually won the Oscars in the various categories–and has been a huge topic of discussion in opinion columns and on social media.

My primary reaction to the whole thing is that it’s another in a long line of illustrations of just how weird and awful the whole Hollywood culture really is. In any normal reality, no rational person would even consider marching up on stage during a television broadcast, striking a person across the face because of an offensive joke, and launching an f-bomb for the national viewing audience, but the entertainment industry isn’t a normal reality. Instead, it’s an otherworldly, toxic culture, a witches’ brew of countless sex scandals, substance abuse, philandering, cheating, colossal egos in constant search of recognition, cowardly failures to expose sexual predators, toadying, posing, lack of accountability, and just about every other negative quality you can identify.

In saying this, I’m not blaming the culture for what Will Smith did; he’s got to be responsible for that. Instead, I’m just making the observation that no one should be surprised by anything that happens in Hollywood these days, no matter how inappropriate or shameful. The messed-up culture is fertile, enabling ground for misconduct, and this incident won’t be the last example of it.

Chris Rock apparently handled the incident with incredible professionalism on Sunday night, which is the only thing that kept the matter from escalating still further. The entertainment industry should recognize that it is forever in his debt for that. Not many people would have been able to restrain themselves from responding in kind to a slap, and if Rock didn’t show enormous self-control we would have been treated to the unseemly spectacle of tuxedo-clad celebrities brawling on live TV. As for Will Smith, he’s now issued a public apology to Chris Rock, and the celebrity culture will undoubtedly promptly close ranks and say that the incident is behind us and it’s time to move on.

But for many of us, we’ll still wonder what on earth is wrong with these people–and we’ll be grateful that we aren’t part of their titanic weirdness.

Armed, Extremely Dangerous, And On The Road

A former Ohio State football player, Will Smith, was killed in an apparent “road rage” incident last night in New Orleans.  Shortly before midnight Smith’s car was rear-ended by another vehicle, and the driver of the vehicle shot Smith multiple times and shot Smith’s wife as well.  Smith was pronounced dead at the scene, and the driver of the other car was charged with second-degree murder.

025c7293182a50bcc0f8e68d8fc47838It’s one of those senseless deaths that make you shake your head.  Of course, I heard about it only because the victim was a great defensive line star at OSU and one of the players that helped the Buckeyes win the 2003 National Championship.  But lots of people who aren’t pro athletes are victimized by “road rage.”  Statistics are hard to come by, but one recent report indicated that 1,500 people each year are hurt or killed in road rage incidents — and the number appears to be increasing.  If you’ve been out on the roads lately, you probably won’t find that difficult to believe.

Reports indicate that road rage incidents often start with something small, like a bad driving maneuver, or tailgating, or giving someone the finger, but they for some reason escalate to the point where cars are chasing each other at high rates of speed through rush-hour traffic, trying to run each other off the road, or following each other until one car stops and a physical confrontation occurs.  Who knows what set off the shooter in the Will Smith incident — but a simple rear-ending fender bender wouldn’t cause a rational, sober person to start spraying bullets.

It’s frightening to think that there are people so filled with anger just below the surface that one traffic incident or rude gesture could cause them to become so unhinged that they are willing to murder a complete stranger.  When you add loaded firearms to the mix, it becomes an even more terrifying scenario.

The lesson is clear — if you see someone driving aggressively, get out of the way.  Avoid eye contact or any form of provocation.  The old ’60s-era driving slogan has an even more pointed meaning these days:  Watch out for the other guy.