Was it staged?
All violence is a means to an end. A way to make things happen.
Staging violence is a way of telling the story.
Smith and Rock are both professional actors. They are very capable of telling whatever story they set themselves to, in any manner they see fit.
And the story on stage at Oscar night is determined by the Academy.
Absolutely fucking nothing about their encounter tells a story that the Oscars would want told.
Ergo, it wasn't staged.
Why wouldn't the Academy stage an encounter like that?
I'll get to it (eventually) by answering a different question.
Was it assault?
Oh hell yes. By the laws of any state in America.
But that's the law. What happened on stage that night isn't a matter of law, but of culture.
If you're a middle-class suburbanite, your culture relies on law and order to administer justice. Because in your generational experience, that reliance generally works.
It's the soil in which the "violence never solves anything" nonsense was planted.
Middle-class suburbanites are used to Back to the Future Justice. We're used to Marty's character arc being that reacting with violence when accused of cowardice always leads to dire consequences. Those movies give us multiple universes in where attacking someone that calls you a chicken=bad.
Played really well in middle-class suburbia.
Also played very well in the wealthy elite, where violence is either intimately personal or something to be outsourced. Where you don't bother calling the cops because you have a security detail to handle that for you. Like the maids.
That said, there are vast swaths of the world where, culturally, you have to maintain your own justice.
Because you sure as hell aren't going to get it from laws or cops.
Where physically attacking someone accusing you of cowardice is not only a good thing, but expected of you.
And everything about that encounter tracked culturally with that.
The fact that it was a slap instead of a punch.
Smith immediately turning his back and walking away.
Rock standing there and taking it.
Smith repeatedly saying "keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth."
Rock following that direction, making a self-effacing comment, and moving on with the show.
NONE of this makes sense for any story the Academy may have wanted to tell.
But it ALL tracks with a good old fashioned educational beatdown.
Rock verbally transgressed.
Smith applied a painful correction. Not damaging, but painful.
Rock neither ducked nor counterattacked.
Smith gave crystal clear instructions about exactly what the transgression was and about how to prevent further pain.
Rock followed said instructions and continued on.
Was violence the answer?
Those involved seem to believe so. Rock hasn't pressed charges and Smith has issued an apology, they seem to consider the matter closed. Nobody seems to be asking Jada's opinion, but that's more or less par for the course cross-culturally.
Just about every social media outlet has fresh hot takes being served on the hour, but the toppings vary greatly.
Why wouldn't the Academy stage an encounter like that?
Because it culturally doesn't track for THEM. The Academy is overwhelmingly old limousine liberal. Mayonnaise leftists. (With apologies to Terry Pratchett: Mostly white, rich, thick, and oily). They outsource their violence.
So what's happening now?
Cross-cultural damage control.
Remember that episode of Star Trek where Worf killed Duras? The entire Klingon Empire considered it a closed case with nothing to be done about it. Picard still gave Worf an ass chewing over it. Because while killing your mate's killer is just what one does in the Klingon Empire, killing a foreign diplomat is the kind of thing that Starfleet frowns upon.
Smith and Rock both acted according to the cultures that raised them in ways that offend the one they live in now. And that culture is trying to downplay it as much as possible. Rock, likely for cultural reasons mentioned above, declined to press charges. The Academy is merrily spinning away trying to convince everyone to believe in Back To The Future Justice again.
Look at the first line of Smith's apology.
"Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive."
Huh. My ass.
That, my friends, is the same boilerplate that brought us thoughts and prayers. Smith's team is soothing ruffled feathers with his adopted culture, secure in the knowledge that we'll all be talking about something else in two weeks.
Was that the worst night in the history of the Oscars?
I don't think so. I mean, there's a laundry list from Hattie McDaniel having to be snuck into the back row to John Wayne having to be restrained by security from attacking a first nations woman. My personal candidate is the standing ovation for a child rapist back in 2002, but that's just me.
I am a bit grumpy. I didn't want to talk about this for a couple of reasons, but here we are.
I'm one of those who is comfortable with violence as an option but considers it far down the list for most things. I carry a gun because a cop is too heavy, I carry a knife because opening a bag of chips with a gun disturbs people, and I don't just use my dick because the last time I tried that on a home invader, he went into therapy and I wound up on yet another watchlist.
Wealthy elite like to look down their noses at people like me and sneer "violence doesn't solve everything."
But what they really object to is the fact that I haven't taken their money to do violence against those they don't like and I have the audacity to speak to them as an equal instead of a servant.
Fuck 'em. I don't live in the Neofeudal empire of California for a reason.