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What Will Smith can learn from Moby about celebrity feuds (Podcast with Moby)
It’s not every day that a puppet dog is attacked by Eminem on national television. Here's what we can learn from the Moby/Eminem fight.
It was the slap heard round the world. Just a few days ago, the actor Will Smith walked onto the stage at the Academy Awards and slapped comedian Chris Rock in the face, who had just cracked a joke about Smith’s wife.
“Get my wife’s name out your fucking mouth!” he shouted. When the audience responded with chuckles, he said it again.
“Get my wife’s name out YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!” This time, his tone of voice was deadly serious; the crowd goes eerily silent.
The incident instantly became among the most talked about events in internet history. A Google News search shows 264 million hits for the words “Will Smith slap.” By way of comparison, “Ukraine crisis” generates just 141 million hits, meaning that Will Smith’s slap was approximately twice as important, at least by that measure, than a conflict that could very well lead to World War III and nuclear apocalypse.
My first reaction to this was to shake my head. “The news media once again is driving the public towards absurdity, all while the world burns.” But a conversation I had with Moby recently, that I recorded for the Green Pill Podcast, changed my mind. You see, Moby went through a bizarrely similar experience 20 years ago at the MTV Music Video Awards. The video, which shows Eminem threatening Moby and assaulting a puppet dog, speaks for itself.
I asked Moby to share his thoughts on these two fights: Smith v. Rock and Moby v. Eminem. And I think there’s something important we can learn about what happened, and didn’t happen in each of them. Something that can teach us a lot about conflicts unfolding across the world today, from political debates in the United States to the violent conflict in Ukraine.
Partly this is a lesson about the very basic nature of the brain. When we are placed in a fight or flight state, blood flows to the more primitive regions — the amygdala (which causes fear and stress) or hypothalamus (which secretes the stress hormone cortisol). Moby and I talk a bit about the importance of reversing this biological process and getting the blood flowing to the parts of the brain, like the prefrontal cortex and other frontal lobes, that cause rational action and empathy. Music, in turns out, is one such way. By allowing us to focus on the simple beauties of life, it shifts our attention away from the thing that is causing anger or fear and puts us in a more reflective state.
Partly this is a lesson about sociology. So much of modern life is teaching us to fight. But to solve the world’s greatest problems, and our personal problems too, we have to learn to do the opposite: cooperate and build, even in the face of disagreement. Too often, mob mentality leads us in a different direction. Resisting that, and the social media pile-ons that have become so common today, is crucial to creating change. The various public figures in the Smith/Rock debate, voicing condemnation on one side or the other, may draw attention, but it’s doubtful they’re creating positive change. To do that, we have to shift from condemnation to acknowledgement of each side’s perspective on a conflict, a much harder thing to do.
But partly this is a lesson about who we are as a species. And this is where Moby and I disagree, at least in part. Moby sees conflicts like what happened between Smith and Rock, or between him and Eminem, as an endemic part of the human condition. We are a species that simply wants to fight, even when it does no one any good. I push back on this, and point out the tremendous sacrifices so many have made, now and through history, to make the world a better place. We settle on a compromise, of sorts: perhaps humans can be good, or evil, based on everything from the brain regions that are activated, and the company that we keep. The question of who we are, if that is the case, is really just up to us.
The next few decades will be a crucial chance to answer that question.