Will Smith might have been in the right, but in the real world his slap would hurt a lot more - Alastair Stewart

Anyone who declares they have never dreamt of punching someone in the face is lying.

After all, movies have made it look entirely plausible for decades.

Not only will the injuries to the other chap be entirely superficial, but any damage to myself will be nominal. Perhaps I will rub my knuckles with a manly grimace and complain it was like hitting bricks.

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It is very easy to forgive Will Smith for slapping Chris Rock at this year's Oscars. The actor has clearly started to believe in his action hero prowess. Who can blame him? It would go to anyone's head if you starred in movies called I am Legend and Bad Boys.

Will Smith arrives at the now infamous 94th Oscars in Hollywood  - he has now resigned from the Academy after slapping host Chris Rock during the ceremony.
(Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)Will Smith arrives at the now infamous 94th Oscars in Hollywood  - he has now resigned from the Academy after slapping host Chris Rock during the ceremony.
(Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
Will Smith arrives at the now infamous 94th Oscars in Hollywood - he has now resigned from the Academy after slapping host Chris Rock during the ceremony. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

The fascinating fallout from Will Smith's 'incident' at the 94th Academy Awards is how polarising it has been.

Some are hailing Smith as doing what needed to be done about a comedian who was publicly mocking his wife's alopecia condition. They say they would have done the same themselves. Chris Rock, they add, overstepped into a realm of the profoundly personal, and if Smith's response was unexpected, even savage, it was entirely apropos.

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Others are less sympathetic. Rock is a comedian and hardly the first to make obscene, even cruel jokes about a celebrity audience. No one has punched Ricky Gervais or Frankie Boyle, and both regularly push the envelope to great acclaim.

Some go further: Smith not only disgraced himself, but he also committed violent assault. The Oscars should have never given him the Best Actor award a mere 45-minutes later. Condemning him after the fact is absurd when a room full of people did nothing between an assault and cheering him for winning an Academy Award.

Is there any way to defend Smith?

Anyone who has ever held a controversial opinion should have learnt long ago to know their audience. There is a time and a place. There are far too many wild cards to think I can say whatever I want, about whomever I want, without some reprisal.

Smith, by an extension of this logic, was in the right. This was not a comedy show: it wasn't even a homage to the brilliant Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts or the newer celebrity Comedy Central Roasts. Here, celebrities voluntarily put themselves forward for a rollicking, but with rules.

Pamela Anderson restricted jokes about her Hepatitis C infection, and William Shatner asked that the death of his wife not be mentioned. Acclaimed insult comedian Don Rickles circled a nerve but never tortured it and was certainly never cruel about family illnesses.

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Chris Rock might be a professional comedian paid to elicit laughs, but he chose a sensitive subject that could only gleam the worst reaction at a professional awards ceremony.

Despite that, Smith slapping a man on stage during a live broadcast is the ultimate expression of a celebrity privilege. Beyond a late Instagram apology, Smith faces none of the real-world consequences the rest of us mere mortals would have to handle.

I have sat plenty of times in the front row of Fringe shows being ripped to shreds by comedians. Sometimes they mocked my job, weight, the diminishing returns on my hairline or my family. I hardly get to choose what jokes I laugh at and which I choose to take gross offence when I am chuckling at them doing the same to other people. I know what I signed up for.

Even if I did take such umbrage, the door is right there. A well-orchestrated exit stage left can be more damning than getting up on stage and throwing a right hook.

And if I spectacularly lost my temper, may God help me. The police would be called, and I can hear the conversation now.

"Yes, officer, I was disgusted on my wife's behalf and felt compelled to sort him out."

"But Mr Stewart, the footage shows you were raucously laughing until she burnt holes into your shirt, and before that, you were chortling at every other joke Mr Rock made. You do realise this is assault?"

My wife's roaring contempt would muffle the sound of the clinking handcuffs. She was the first to say she would murder me if I conducted myself like Smith. The half-serious retort that I might "need to defend her honour" was met with scorching fury: "Defending my honour does not include jeopardising your job, your safety, and my reputation so you can get a testosterone kick.”

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I cannot imagine it would be just another Monday at the morning team meeting, either.

Once again, the gulf between celebrities and ordinary people is much more than just the lavish lifestyles peddled in magazines and online. Everything can be forgiven with an apology/prepared statement if you are rich and famous enough.

Smith's reputation has been sullied, but he will keep his job and financial security. He may have now quit the Oscars Academy, but even if he is stripped of his Best Actor gong it is nothing on par with the reaction the rest of us would face.

Why Smith did not express his disgust by walking out is beyond me. It would not have looked petulant; it would have exposed Rock for going too far.

That Smith lost control so thoroughly and publicly is a sad reflection of deeper issues that must have been tormenting him. The entire debacle is the pinnacle of our awful obsession with celebrity culture. One almost misses the days when the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. threatened to "sock" Gore Vidal in his "goddam face" without actually doing it.

And as for consequences, Smith may find himself having to move state. After all, as the song goes, he got in one little fight, and his mom got scared, so he's moving in with his auntie and uncle in Bel Air.

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