In a world dominated by images
The "Oscar Slap" has created a virtual cottage industry that profits from processing a particular on-stage action that took place during the 94th Academy Awards-giving gala on March 27. The internet is divided in its reactions to the incident, which is being interpreted as either male chivalry or masculine toxicity. But is it a coincidence that Will, who lobbied hard to smith an Oscar following his first nomination for the award some twenty years back, self-sabotaged his moment of fame by "smacking the s***" out of a fellow comedian (who stood like a rock) to protect the hurt feelings of his wife from a rather docile (albeit, insensitive) joke, and jeopardised his glory of being finally trophied for playing the lead role in a film on (surprise, surprise) protecting the family involving the tennis sensation Williams sisters to prove how the Fresh-Prince-of-Bel-Air has come a long way to become the patriarch King Richard who knows (as a dialogue in the film posits), "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail"? Curse me for the long sentence, but I wanted to create a spectacle to disrupt the spectacle that has been offered to us. We are dealing with spectacular Hollywood, at its best! And I want you to think beyond that provided image.
Otherwise, how do you explain the stage intrusion of a member of the audience during a high-profile award ceremony? How do you explain the presence of the perpetrator after the violence is committed? Why wasn't he immediately escorted out of the venue? How do you explain the narration of the action by the anchor ("Will Smith just smacked the s*** out of me") and the consequent business-as-usual attitude after being hit by a man who is trained like a Mohammad-Ali-like boxer? How do you explain the standing ovation offered to the violator within 15 minutes after the violence took place? What is the link between the core message of the speech of "protect your family" and the interlude that preceded it?
Whoever has stage-managed this deserves an Oscar. After all, the image of the Oscar Slap has momentarily drifted our attention from the bombing of Ukraine, the dropping of a financial nuclear bomb on the petrodollar scheme, the dark side of the mega projects in Sri Lanka that have brought the country to a halt, the no-confidence vote on Imran Khan's premiership who reportedly irked the secret society for being on the wrong side of history, the death of a young girl shot by a stray bullet of a professional killer and whose father refused to seek justice from the authority concerned, or the long lines of diarrhoea patients at ICDDR,B. Oh, did I miss out on price hikes and traffic jams (maybe I will mention them during my Jummah prayers)? The list goes on as we remain awestruck by the glitzy slap of a man protecting the honour of his wife, who has lost her hair due to a medical condition. The image affects our social relations. We try to make sense of our world by taking a bite of knowledge, the forbidden fruit that has been dished out to us with the fallacy of control over our own thoughts and actions. Even though the secret insignia is hidden out in the open as a logo on my phone, I allow its AI to regulate my behaviour.
The Will-power has pulled me away from the city I wanted to write about. The Will Smith action has made me reflect on the power of the image. I am looking at an image of one of our city's mayors. He is standing on a boat flowing along a freshly excavated canal in Mohammadpur that opens up to a river mouth of Buriganga. Mayor Atiqul Islam deserves our thanks for the angioplasty with which he removed the blocks and ensured flow in long-lost drains and canals, needed to keep the city alive. The media entourage with which he customarily travels quotes him to shed light on another block plaguing the flow of the city's traffic.
I thank him for his honesty and courage in identifying two government structures responsible for blocking the incoming flow of vehicles to the city from the airport area. The bottleneck from the Mohakhali flyover has a domino effect on one of the two main roads running through the city. The Minister responsible for the two buildings has been musing over finding an underground solution to the traffic problem. Of course, millions of taka need to be spent on the feasibility studies before anything concrete can be said on this topic. Maybe such studies can also explore how certain portions of Dhaka can be demilitarised to create more civil thoroughfares. Those in service may not feel the urgency now—but once they retire, they too will realise how their game of golf is blocking the two main roads of Dhaka city from meeting just like the two tall buildings near the flyover are.
The image of a mayor standing on a boat in freshly furrowed water makes me think of the illegal buildings and constructions he had to demolish to unblock the canal. Can we think of similar unblocking for our roads? Sometimes you need to self-sabotage to draw attention to something that you aspire to. Sometimes you need to resort to or orchestrate violence to garner support for your cause. Will Smith, if you ask me, used theatricality to pitch his film on "protecting one's family." Our mayor's boat trip, for me, has the potential to pitch the idea of "unblocking."
We have seen the image-saturated mass media and the message that it wants us to consume. Whether the message will be manifested or not is another debate altogether.
Dr Shamsad Mortuza is the pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).