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Opinion | Will Smith is showing why ‘gaslighting’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Will Smith is promoting his new movie, “Emancipation.”

Streaming on Apple TV Plus Dec. 9, the film is “inspired by the gripping true story of a man who would do anything for his family — and for freedom. When Peter, an enslaved man, risks his life to escape and return to his family, he embarks on a perilous journey of love and endurance.”

So, yeah, not a slapstick comedy. But forget Peter. The real questions: Can Will embark on a perilous journey of promotion and emancipate himself from his reputational shackles? Can he make us forgive and forget this year’s Oscars when he strutted toward the stage like a violent peacock before slapping Chris Rock?

Cue the Will Smith Rehab Tour.

It started Monday night on “The Daily Show.” Smith fielded queries from Trevor Noah, an achingly gentle fellow who, as a side note, is emancipating himself from the grind of late night comedy on Dec. 8. Noah, to his credit, did not shy away from asking Smith about the slap heard ’round the world.

“That was a horrific night, as you can imagine,” said Smith, looking like he just found a roach in his organic sprouts. “You know, there’s many nuances and complexities to it, you know. But at the end of the day, I just, I lost it, you know.”

All I know is Smith says “you know” way too much, you know?

If you or I attended a wedding and suddenly head-butted the groom because we objected to a joke in his speech, I’m not sure “nuances and complexities” would justify our pugnacity. Civil society requires individual restraint.

But Smith was not done with the excuses. He gazed into the audience. He told them they were among strangers and speculated: Maybe someone’s mother just died. Maybe someone’s child is sick. Maybe someone lost a job. Maybe someone discovered their spouse was cheating. Bad things make good people act bad.

Smith was now slapping the cosmos.

“I was going through something that night, you know,” he told Noah. “And not that that justifies my behaviour at all … You know, you’re asking what did I learn. And it’s that, um, we just gotta be nice to each other, man, you know. It’s like, it’s hard. And I guess the thing that was most painful for me is I took my hard and made it hard for other people, you know.”

No, I don’t know what that means.

Earlier on Monday, before Smith shed more crocodile tears than Amber Heard on the witness stand, Merriam-Webster announced its Word of The Year: gaslighting.

I don’t want to sound heartless. I’m a big believer in forgiveness and second chances. Cancel culture is a social cancer. But at the Academy Awards, Smith reared back and smacked Rock with enough force to jiggle a Steinway.

It’s a miracle Rock’s molars aren’t in outer space right now.

Smith says he was “going through something that night.” That’s too vague to be acceptable. When seeking forgiveness, bygones can’t be bygones until the apology is flame-broiled with sincerity. But watching Smith, eight months after his psychotic assault, it doesn’t feel like he’s sorry — it feels like he’s gaslighting.

He mentioned how a rage just bubbled up inside him and it was possibly connected to witnessing his father beat his mother when he was a child. That’s undeniably horrific. But when Smith repeatedly dabbed at his tearless eyes with a tissue, it seemed like he was just giving another performance.

On Tuesday, cable pundits praised Smith for his “candid bravery” and “willingness to take responsibility.” Huh? Why is he getting praised for assault? He’s the perpetrator in this sordid tale. He is not the wounded.

When is someone going to interview Chris Rock’s cheek?

“I understand, you know, how shocking that was for people, you know,” Smith told Noah, before winning over the audience with an anecdote about how he came home from the Oscars and his nine-year-old nephew had one burning question.

“Why did you hit that man, Uncle Will?”

Victimhood is a hell of a drug. And the Will Smith Rehab Tour is gaslighting at its Hollywood finest. When he says he must “forgive” himself “for being human,” he’s overlooking the fact that 99 per cent of humans would never do what he did. And he’s hoping we lap up this scripted introspection and don’t realize the only reason he’s saying anything at all this week is because he’s promoting a movie.

Smith didn’t just go berserk and trigger one of the most insane moments in the history of the Academy Awards. He set a dangerous precedent for copycats. Since the slap heard ’round the world, Dave Chappelle was attacked onstage. In October, an irate heckler hurled a beer can at the head of Ariel Elias.

Comedians should not need flak jackets. Why did you start this, Uncle Will?

After the Oscars, I wrote that Will Smith was dead to me.

He said nothing on Monday that warrants resurrection.


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