The Oscars have been in decline for years. Until Will Smith rose up to give Chris Rock an open palm smack across the face in retaliation at a joke Rock told about Smith’s wife, this year’s Oscars looked like another snoozefest. That moment resulted in the Oscars’ viewership going up 56% from 2021’s numbers, according to Axios. Despite that, the 2022 Oscars had the second lowest viewership numbers in history. Smith’s assault on Rock is not enough to save the Oscars.
Rock was the MC during the third hour of the telecast and got up to present the Oscar for the year’s top documentary. Leading up to that, he joked about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith appearing in the next GI Jane film, referring to her clean shaven head. Pinkett-Smith suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss. Pinkett-Smith immediately squirmed, while Smith went through the full range of human emotion, initially laughing, and then getting up and walking up the podium to Rock and smacking him with an open palm. After that, he got back to his seat, twice shouting at Rock, saying, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f– mouth”. Rock reacted with, “Wow, Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” and succeeded at pivoting toward the presentation.
How Did This Affect Oscar Viewership?
The Academy Award has tried different things to increase viewership, without much success. 2021 was the lowest point in the award’s history in terms of viewership, partly due to the dearth of new movies due to Covid-19, and the reluctance of many stars to go to an event where they could perceivably contract Covid-19. The format the Oscars settled on -in a train, short, with no jokes and clips- was dull and gave people no reason to watch. 2022 was supposed to be a celebration of movies and see the Oscars return to glory. Yet, despite the 56% improvement on last year’s numbers, the Oscars are still far from the 57 million viewers it had in 1998. The last pre-Covid-19 ceremony, in 2020, had just 23 million viewers. This year’s Oscars had just 15.5 million viewers. Basically, the Oscars are boring, smug and irrelevant. The Oscars are hours and hours of dull content that would be better spent catching up on your Botox certification training.
Before Smith struck Rock, the Oscars looked doomed to be yet another non-event. After the assault on Rock, everyone was talking about the Oscars. Some people wondered why Smith wasn’t kicked out, others thought he sabotaged himself and should apologize to Rock -which he avoided doing during his acceptance speech and only did the next day in a statement, others wondered if he had not played into a stereotype about African Americans, and others speculated about the dark forces that led him to this moment.
Will This Save the Oscars?
Well, if you’re willing to watch several hours of a ceremony in anticipation of the next big scandal in the Oscars, then you could make an argument that the Oscars will be revived. But it says something that it took an event that has nothing to do with movies and the actual ceremony, to get people talking about the Oscars. Consider the effect that Janet Jackson’s 2004 SuperBowl wardrobe malfunction had on SuperBowl ratings: the next year, SuperBowl ratings continued to decline. People can always watch the packaged clips after the Oscars without going through hours and hours of an industry congratulating itself on how great it is.