All of Our Opinions All of the Time
Will Smith, Chris Rock, and our insatiable hunger for attention.
I don’t know about you, but my social media feeds (particularly Twitter) were filled with hot takes yesterday about whether or not it was acceptable for Will Smith to smack Chris Rock for the joke he made about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair.
I was texting with friends about the smack heard ‘round the world yesterday morning. I knew my opinions weren’t worth broader consideration, so I declined to make any comments about it publicly, showing a measure of restraint I wouldn’t have had as recently as a couple of years ago.1 Also, I think sharing opinions with friends about something, especially as a means of processing one’s own thoughts, is a bit different than pontificating about it from a platform.
Likewise, because I know that someone will say it: I don’t think commenting on the deluge of hot takes is the same thing as having a hot take in the same way that commenting on the foolishness of a bar fight is not the same thing as participating in a bar fight. You may think the following is self-defeating, and I would encourage you to zoom out a bit. I’m not offering an opinion on whether or not Will Smith smacking Chris Rock was okay, I’m offering an opinion on why we should hesitate hopping in on the controversy of the day. I think those are different levels of conversation, and I hope you would have the awareness to see that.
Anyway, my friends were sharing some of the hot takes they were seeing on Twitter, which I will mercifully not share here, and I saw a fair share of them on my own timelines.
I don’t care to share my opinion about what happened because you shouldn’t and don’t care, but I want to call our attention to a monologue from Bo Burnham’s 2021 special Inside in which he says:
Here’s a question for you guys. Um… Is it… is it necessary?
Is it necessary that every single person on this planet um, expresses every single opinion that they have on every single thing that occurs all at the same time?
Is that… is that necessary?
Um… Or to ask in a slightly different way, um, can… can anyone shut up? Can… can anyone, any… any… any one, any single one, can any one… shut up about anything—about any… any single thing?
Can any single person shut up about any single thing for an hour? You know, is that… is that possible?2
If, as the media theorist Neil Postman observed, jokes and entertainment might one day undo our ability to perceive things properly, then Smith’s televised assault on Rock illustrated that thesis eerily well—offering a colossal WTF moment to digest and meme and tweet-then-delete dubious takes on into infinity.
There are many noisy people on Twitter who may be considered “thought leaders” in evangelicalism. These are very smart people who write books, host podcasts, speak at events, and generally have lots of Twitter followers.
What all of these so-called “thought leaders” have in common is that they manage to position themselves as experts not in a specific area of expertise (like medicine or preaching or parenting), but that they comment on every single issue du jour, no matter what it is. If I am ever curious about what the “controversy of the day” is on Twitter, I know where to turn—to these accounts. In fact, this is how they accumulate large followings on social media. Providing hot takes on the issue of the day is an effective way to grow a social media following, and it’s why Christian publishers should put very little stock in “platform,” but that’s another thought for another day.
In 2020 these people were infectious disease experts. They are on their second round of judicial nomination expertise in the last two years right now, which has come right on the heels of being foreign policy experts. I don’t know how they manage it! On top of that, if they are evangelicals, they have been very hard at work mediating the dozens of cases of leadership malpractice in the church over the last few years.
We make a mistake when we see these people as thought leaders.
If you build your platform on hot takes about every current event, you’re not a thought leader—you’re a 21st century carnival barker whose main attraction is himself.
This is something I’ve had to learn the hard way over the years. I didn’t used to understand this and sometimes still slip into the noxious habit of farming controversies for attention. Sanctification is a process.
No one cares what I think about COVID, or presidential elections, or judicial nominations, or foreign policy, or whether or not it’s right that Will Smith smacked Chris Rock.
At least no one should care. And that’s okay.
Sanctification is real, praise God.
Edited out some vulgar language here.